One of the most popular shows in the UK has been The Great British Bake Off, a baking competition that has aired since 2010, which gives contestants challenges each week, leading to the selection of the best amateur baker among the lot. Contestants come from all professional backgrounds. Last year, a bright young Derby-based man by the name of Andrew Smyth won the hearts of many with his contagious smile, positive attitude, and engineering-inspired bakes. You see, when Smyth isn’t baking up a storm in the kitchen, he’s an aerospace engineer for Rolls-Royce.
What better place to showcase the intersection of baking and engineering than Maker Faire? On April 1 and 2, Smyth will be a headlining maker at the seventh annual Maker Faire UK, taking place at the Life Science Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne. We spoke with Smyth to learn how he got started, what inspires him, and what Maker Faire UK attendees can expect to see from him.
1. When and how did you develop your passion for engineering?
I was always a curious child, interrogating my teachers and parents as to how things worked and why they were made that way. I also really enjoyed physics and maths. It was only quite late on at school that I realised engineering was the ideal fit for me, where I could put my curiousity and creative side to good use. I initially planned to do my engineering degree and then apply to become a pilot, but I enjoyed the engineering work so much I decided to become a full-time aerospace engineer!
2. Tell us about the kind of work you do at Rolls-Royce.
I work as an aerospace engineer in engine performance. It essentially involves running models of jet engines and comparing these to real tests of those engines. We carry out these tests at facilities around the world to work out how the engine is performing and if each component is behaving as we expect. My job is to interpret the information and make recommendations for how we can improve the engine further and confirm it’s working okay.
3. What initially sparked your interest in cooking? How did you learn your skills?
I’ve always been a bit of a foodie and fondly remember helping my mum and gran stir pots and assemble cakes when I was much younger. When I moved away from home, I had no option but to cook myself so I learnt more and developed my skills in the kitchen with trial and error. In the past few years, I decided I really wanted to improve my baking so I read up on baking principles and the science behind it and then threw myself into it to learn by doing. Trial and error can teach you a lot.
4. When did you start experimenting with blending your engineering and cooking skills? Tell us about your first foray.
The first time I used my engineering skills in earnest was when I decided to make a gingerbread bridge to bring into the office for my colleagues. I have no idea why I decided to do it, but it involved working out the breaking tension of gingerbread and then designing a self-supporting bridge that I could bake! I made blueprints for the bridge and then baked and assembled the whole thing. It worked out brilliantly after a few attempts. It was so much fun and was something totally new; from that point on, my engineering skills have been prominent in the kitchen.
5. Have you attended a Maker Faire previously? If so, what were your impressions?
I’ve only ever been to smaller Maker events, the main one being the Mini Maker Faire in Derby, where I live. I loved the spirit of the Faire and how it celebrates inventiveness, creativity, and embracing the mindsight of giving things a go and experimenting! I had great fun and can’t wait to attend the proper Maker Faire this April!
6. What do you have in store for the Maker Faire UK audience?
I’ll be bringing along replicas of the rotating pies I became well-known for whilst on Bake Off and also a replica of the rotating jet engine cake I made for Prince William’s visit to Rolls-Royce last November! Best of all, I have a unique science-themed bake that I’ve never shown to an audience before that I’ll be making live on stage. It’ll involve a specially carved cake, some precision positioning, and edible coloured crystals — but that’s all I’m saying for now!
7. What inspired you to make a turbine engine cake for Prince William? What was his reaction?
When I got the phone call one day saying that the royal household had requested a cake for Prince William’s visit, I was shellshocked. It was incredibly nerve-wracking as I knew I had to bake something special. Because it was a Rolls-Royce visit, I had to make a jet engine and spent several weeks designing the cake and how it would work with rotating fan blades. He seemed to love it, much to my relief! He couldn’t believe the cake and fan blades were edible. It was a massive relief that it went down so well — more nerve-wracking than the [Bake Off] tent I’d say!
8. Is there a particular aspect of sharing your knowledge at Maker Faire you’re most excited about?
I’m just really excited to meet the Makers in the audience and maybe give them a bit of inspiration for how to bring science and engineering into their kitchens. Hopefully people will be dashing home to get creative with their own bakes.
9. What advice do you have for young makers who are just getting started?
Embracing failure is easier said than done, but it’s so important if you want to improve at what you do. The first time I’ve attempted many bakes, it’s gone very wrong and has turned out a bit of a disaster. The important thing is to learn from it and not give up. When you’re getting started, you might have more mishaps than you expected, but embrace them! They’re a fantastic opportunity to learn!
10. What’s next for you? Do you have any new projects in the works?
I’ve got a busy summer planned with a mixture of food and science festivals to combine my loves of engineering and baking. My dream is to get into TV presenting, as I’d love to bring the exciting world of engineering (and how we can use it in the kitchen) to a wider audience. We desperately need more young engineers in the UK, and if I can help break a few stereotypes, then that’s something I’m excited to do.