Saturday 22 October 2016

Great Irish Bake Off - meet the contestants from architect to Leaving Cert student

One of them lost two false nails in some scones once...

Published 20/10/2015 | 10:39

Bakers taking part in the new series of The Great Irish Bake Off on Tv3. Picture Brian McEvoy
Bakers taking part in the new series of The Great Irish Bake Off on Tv3. Picture Brian McEvoy

Great Irish Bake Off returns on Sunday night and we're told this year's troupe of 12 baking connoisseurs from across the country are more passionate and determined than ever.

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Expect a quirky character or two (we're looking at you Damien Carter), a few tears, and stalking (according to presenter Anna Nolan they're a talkative bunch with a habit of popping over to each other's counters, ostensibly for a chat, but really to check out the competition).

So, here's the diverse bunch of contestants who will be charming and horrifying you with their creations over the next eight weeks...

DARINA COFFEY (27) from Killarney, Co Kerry

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Darina is a PhD Student in International Law, specifically around the area of nuclear weapons and trying to make sure no-one gets them!

She lives with her mum and says she has a wide and adventurous baking repertoire having tackled bakes such as macaroons, Florentines, Opera cake and pistachio dacquoise layer torte with kirsch soaked cherries.

She hopes to open a café selling a mix of indulgent cakes and pastries, with lighter, healthier options and she shares baking tips with her 80 year old grandfather, a self-taught baker.

You might have seen Darina on Masterchef Ireland for two episodes in 2014 but she was eliminated due to her overly adventurous with flavour combinations.

JAMES GAVIN (23) from Kildare

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Gavin is a student of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences in DIT and lives at home with his parents, brother and sister.

He's a classical baker and a fan of bread.  He has fond memories of, after a hard day working at his uncle's farm, going back to his granny's for brown soda bread fresh from the oven.

He follows Chefsteps on YouTube and Instagram. They provide classes giving detail into their recipes and techniques and provide background information on the science behind cooking. He enrolled in four of their classes: Ice Cream, Sous Vide Cooking, Spherification, and Knife Sharpening.

 He’s been building a catalogue of recipes and started a blog showing how he makes his food from start to finish. He would like to publish a recipe book one day.

Gavion currently works front of house in ‘Antoinette’s Bakery’ and is starting to get more involved in the baking.

FÍONNADH MCGONIGLE (31) from Monaghan

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Architecture Graduate Fionnadh lives with her parents, some of her siblings, and her son Naoise (2)

Fíonnadh is least confident with pastries as she can be a bit hit and miss despite repeated attempts to get her puff pastry just right. Apart from that she feels very confident with biscuits, breads, cakes, desserts, pies and tarts.

She's veggie and has a selection of vegetarian shoes.  She's also really looking forward to the showstopper challenge so she can go OTT.

In University, while trying to show off her homemade pizza making skills, she set an oven on fire in the Halls of Residence kitchen, setting off an alarm and causing the fire brigade to come out.

AILISH CARRIGAN (41) from Laois (lives in Dublin)

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Accountant Ailish has ditched her job in Bank of Ireland to concentrate on baking.

She's a traditional baker and loves baking coffee cake, lemon drizzle cake, chocolate Christmas logs, profiteroles, black forest gateaux, chocolate biscuit cake and Victoria sponge.

She has her own hens, so has fresh eggs all the time. She actually hides the hens in her back garden in Swords – her neighbours don’t even know about them.

Her greatest ambition is to open up her own café, for the baking and the daily interaction with people.

Once, she stupidly baked a batch of scones wearing false nails and after taking the scones from the oven noticed she was missing two nails. Needless to say they went to the hens.

SANDRA MCGARRY (44) from Navan, Co Meath

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Sandra is an IT tutor who works with Progression, a youth education group.  Sh's married and lives with her husband and three sons Jamie (23), Alex (8) and Isaac (5).

She's a self-taught baker whose speciality is cakes and cupcakes and she loves experimenting with flavours. She's also very close to her dad who he taught her all the basics in the kitchen while Dickie Rock was blasted from the record player.

Her greatest ambition would be to own a French style café with her own bakes and crafts.  She started a cupcake business called ‘Pixie Dust Cupcakes’ two years ago and has a Facebook page for it with over 4,000 likes. 

You might remember her as a bridesmaid on Don’t Tell the Bride in 2013.

CATHY MC KENNA (27) from Monaghan

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Cathy has just finished her job as Restaurant Manager in a Texan BBQ restaurant to pursue her baking career. She's currently single and living with her dad in Monaghan.

She learned how to bake from her mother growing up.  She lost her mother eight years ago and she and her dad try to keep her recpies alive.  She believes her mum would be proud to see how she's progressed.

She describes herself as a beginner but she has tackled a friend's wedding cake.

She's very interested in nutrition and healthy eating would love to have her own retail line of healthy homemade food- soups, chutneys, spice mixes etc.  She also makes natural cosmetics from herbs, natural oils and foods.

SANDRA O’REILLY (51) from Malahide, Dublin

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Sandra is a play school teacher.  She's separated and living with her partner Michael and three of her four sons (aged 21-27) - the eldest lives with his girlfriend.

She began a stall at Malahide market selling cakes - she loves chatting to people and getting feedback about her baking from what they like to what she can improve upon.  Her sons' friends are always calling around for her baking leftovers.

She's very proud of her sons and would love to do well in Bake Off to make them proud - was a single mum for 18 years.

Sandra is a really good singer and, if she hadn’t married so young, she would have loved to have been a professional singer in the West End.

DAMIEN CARTER (31) from Laois


Secondary school history and religion teacher Damien is most comfortable baking desserts, pastries or cakes and less confident with bread or pies.

He loves playing sport, mainly GAA, and played on Laois senior hurling team for three years.

His dream would be to see his signature bake - the ‘Smarter Carter Pie’ go into production and be sold across the country.

EMER HOUGH (32) from Limerick

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Financial Advisor Emer recently bought her first house in Limerick, although she's originally from Clare.

She believes she's an excellent baker and although she has less experience with decorating she has taken classes in Decobake to improve.  Biscuits, bread, desserts and cakes are her favourites.

Pastry is her least favoured part of baking – although she uses shortcrust quite often, she always buys puff pastry and hasn’t tried Danish pastries or croissants.

Emer also sings in a choir called Ancór – she’s had a lot of success with them in national competitions and in 2014 they went on a tour of Italy, performing concerts in Florence and Venice. She also loves writing and wants to get into food blogging.

She and her friends formed a baking club last year, getting together regularly to bake together. Their abilities vary and she says that she ends up feeling like the mammy most of the time, teaching them what to do.

NEIL REID (36) from Dublin

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Neil works in Sales and Marketing for and is doing a Masters in Digital Marketing.  He's married to Anne and is dad to Alfie (4).

He describes himself as a confident, experimental and scientific baker.  He has used dry ice to make ice cream and has tried ‘reverse spherification’ to make a yoghurt and mango dessert look like a poached egg. He comes from a scientific background, having studied chemistry at University so he applies this methodical approach to his baking. Heston Blumenthal is his hero.

He's into fitness, golf, football, hurling and also performs in amateur musicals.

Hobbies/Interests: Into fitness, golf, triathlon, 5 a side football, hurling. Also performs in amateur musicals.

In 2005 he sang live with a Westlife tribute band on The Afternoon Show.

His greatest ambition is to write a baking recipe book that is fool proof.  He’s very precise e.g. it annoys him when recipes say things like ‘heat to just below point’, he would prefer it to say ‘use a digital thermometer and heat to 84°’.

NATASHA DAWSON (17) from Donegal (Welsh born)

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Natahsa is a Leaving Cert student at 6th at St. Columbus Comprehensive, Glenties, Co. Donegal. She also works part time in a restaurant, helping to prepare desserts and starters.

She lives with her parents and two siblings, Thomas (18) and Tara (15).

Natasha bakes everything from simple scones to more complicated French patisserie. She likes trying modern recipes and making up her own recipes. Her Mum had a cake business so she was brought up around baking.

She has always wanted to go into a baking career. She hopes to go to DIT catering college. She wants to get a general culinary degree then go to France and specialise in baking.

Her favourite family recipe is her grandmother’s Welsh cake recipe, as it brings back fond memories of baking with her mother and grandmother in Wales.

Her greatest achievement was winning Donegal Young Chef of the Year 2013. She won a day’s work experience in Nevan Maguire’s restaurant. From this experience she developed one of her favourite recipes, a trio of apple desserts: sticky apple tart, apple panna cotta and an apple gel.

Her Dad has MS and she has done lots of charity bakes to raise money for MS.

CLARE RYAN (32) from Limerick

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Clare is a Primary School Teacher and married to Shane, with three children, Blaise (6), Lucy (3), Honor (1).

Desserts and cakes are Clare’s strongest suit; the most difficult she’s attempted being coconut macaroon cake and a 3 tier superhero cake with four different colour sponges on each layer.

Clare shows and occasionally breeds Great Danes. She is on the Irish Great Dane Club committee and they have named their house “Rydane” in reference to their love of the breed. She is also a fitness fanatic – running and CrossFit.

One of her fondest baking memories is from when she was a child and used to visit her blind grandmother who lived alone in rural Mayo.

Amazingly, up to her early 90s she would bake a lemon Madeira cake with lemon icing ready for their arrival. It wasn't a very good cake by baking standards - there were always lots of pips in the icing and the cake was flat and often overcooked – but it is a very vivid memory for her and she cherished the thought and effort that went into it.

A very special achievement for Clare was winning the reserve CC in Crofts 2010 with her first show dog.

Baking helped me through my marriage break-up, says Great Irish Bake Off contestant Sandra  

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