One of Edd Kimber's earliest memories is of making mince pies at Christmas with his mother. The shy, then-6-year-old boy would stand on a kitchen stool happily cutting up pastry at his home in the working class town of Bradford in the north of England. Cooking was something that always brought his family together. And especially later on in Kimber's life—whenever he was bullied in school, made to feel like an outsider or when he became disillusioned with his job as as a debt collector—the kitchen is where he would retreat. For comfort, stress relief and the creative outlet.
And then all at once, the amateur baker who used to think how great it would be to just have a job one day in the local pastry shop became an unlikely reality TV star.
In 2010 Kimber was the very first winner of the hit reality TV show The Great British Bake Off, acclaim he's since parlayed into his own brand—The Boy Who Bakes—and a food writing career that's included contributions to UK food magazines and three of his own books, with a fourth in the works. He lives in London now, he's happy and says he doesn't even recognize the pre-show version of himself that had confidence issues.
Speaking of that—he will, of course, forever be associated with a British TV brand that's become something of an international cultural phenomenon. A brand that, to be sure, while it remains beloved has also accrued an uncharacteristic rolling sense of drama these days, as Bake Off left the BBC for a rival UK network and the BBC attempted a replacement show of sorts. The Great British Breakoff, as it were.
One reason it became such a hot British TV property in the first place has to do with, well, its Britishness. Viewers tuned in to watch regular men and women—gruff Scots, placid grandmothers and bright-eyed 20-somethings—frantically run the gauntlet of cooking challenges thrown at them by the judges. They endured the presenters' corny humor, judge Paul Hollywood's piercing stare and fellow judge Mary Berry's calm reassurance, because the payoff was the welcome respite from the world outside The Great British Bakeoff—from everything that was not cakes, pies and bakers at work under a tent in the English countryside.
To understand why the show got so big, spending some time with the series' first winning baker is as good a place as any to start.
"Before the show I was so shy some friends had to actually convince me to audition," admits Kimber, who now has 128,000 followers on Instagram.
"I remember having a conversation with Sue (Perkins, one of the presenters) about halfway through the show, and it wasn't on camera. It was during a break. And I was telling her how nervous I was and how poor my confidence was about a lot of things. And she was telling me this was my opportunity to kick it, that it was an opportunity to try and make some change in my life."
Kimber took it, he says, as "a massive opportunity." It was also a grueling one. In the show's first season, everyone traveled to a different location for each episode, which made the 14 to 15 hour days extra tiring. "I didn't collapse at the end of it, but I think I spent a week in bed after the show finished because my body just went—you have no adrenaline left."
After filming wrapped, he quit his job two days later. He made a bet with himself. Move to London, see what happens. If he's paying his rent by the end of the year, if he's okay with things and content professionally, he would stick with it.
He stuck with it. He's gone on to teach baking around the world, pen articles for magazines and write a few books. Kimber also has a podcast called "Stir the Pot" in which he interviews people from the food industry about why they cook and why they love food.
His most recent cookbook, published in 2015, is Patisserie Made Simple, a product of a year-and-a-half spent working on recipes while traveling around France. It includes how-to's for treats like raspberry tartlets, eclairs and apple turnovers.
"Ever since the show," he says, "I've taken on what I think is the mantle of the show, which is to try and encourage people at home to get in the kitchen and bake. I think [Bake Off] is one of those shows that even if I'd never been on it, it would have been handpicked for me. I'm not necessarily a big reality TV fan, because I think they can be a bit mean and they don't really celebrate talent. Whereas Bake Off is this very simple, sweet, really laid back show that just celebrates these very normal people's love of baking.
"I do think it's a reaction partly to other styles of TV and just the current situation generally in the world. It's quite stressful, and I think something like Bake Off is this super simple, super sweet show. There's no politics, no game playing. And I sometimes forget how much the Britishness is appealing, especially to Americans."
This story originally appeared on Foodandwine.com.