My blueberry pie lie: Bake Off’s Tom on why food doesn’t have to be Instagram-perfect

The Great British Bake Off contestant Thomas Gilliford admits cooking up a blueberry pie ‘food porno’ in an Instagram-fuelled moment of madness. Let’s stop social media making food perfectionists of us all, he proposes, and reclaim the kitchen as a hub of creativity

Like many people, I enjoy a bit of food porn now and again. I even enjoy making my own. But last year I did something for the camera that I’m not proud of, and it made me ask: is food porn killing our creativity?

Cooking, and especially baking, has always been a creative outlet for me. I love to try out ideas that pop into my head, be that chocolate-covered steak, or fatless crumble. Cooking is an ideal activity to develop the habits and behaviours that support creativity. In particular, it offers the chance to embrace one of creativity’s most important elements – failure.

When people like me only ever present perfection, we begin to distort reality

If I only ever made things that I could do perfectly, then my culinary career would have stopped with beans on toast instead of leading me to The Great British Bake Off tent. Of course, like everyone else, I’m disappointed when something doesn’t go to plan, and have even tried to redecorate the kitchen walls with uncooperative pastry. But the important thing is not to give up. Scrape the pastry off the wallpaper and try again.

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But last year I betrayed this ideal. I had an idea to make a blueberry pie covered with delicate leaves of pastry. If you’d have glanced at my Instagram feed, you’d think that this is exactly what I did.

Image: Thomas Gilliford / Instagram

But the truth was that I’d totally misjudged how long the blueberries would take to cook. By the time the pie was edible, the pastry around the edge was cremated.

Image: Thomas Gilliford / Instagram

(Looking back, the finished pie was pretty tasty, if a little singed.) But the point is, I so wanted people to ‘like’ my photo that I was willing to lie for their praise. What I didn’t consider at the time was the message this sends to people just starting out as cooks and looking for inspiration. Food porn can form a very healthy part of your culinary life, so long as you also understand that it represents a fantasy. Sure these images are beautiful, but in reality, cooking – more often than not – doesn’t go to plan and ends up pretty messy. When people like me only ever present perfection, we begin to distort reality. Like images on the covers of magazines, we subliminally tell people that because they don’t conform to an idealised, Photoshopped image they are somehow deficient. If I were just learning to cook, I don’t think I’d see myself in these images and would feel alienated from the whole process.

People are at their most creative when they are in a safe and supportive environment

My experience as a teacher has shown me that people are at their most creative when they are in a safe and supportive environment. If someone thinks that they will be judged as less than their peers because they have made a mistake, they’ll tend to play safe and repeat the things they know have been successful in the past. The fact that platforms such as Instagram are driven by ‘likes’ means they create a judgemental environment that is highly risk-averse. It was this environment that pushed me to fake it with my pie.

The culture of food porn has come about because we ‘like’ it. These images, like conventional pornography, have been selected because they arouse us. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t make a conscious effort to change this culture. It is within our power to redefine food porn. We can choose to ‘like’ different things. We can, as a community of creatives and food lovers, praise the failures and first attempts too; the sunken cakes; the flat Yorkshire puddings and cremated blueberry pies.

Thomas Gilliford is a baker, teacher, writer and former contestant on the BBC television programme The Great British Bake Off.

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