Annabel Coulter couldn’t help thinking “what if” after being crowned the first winner of The Great Kiwi Bake Off.
The Timaru teenager beat Taranaki-based Jeffrey Poole, Hannah Ward from Wellington and Invercargill’s Stacey Johnsen in the show’s grand finale, but just a week earlier, fans wondered whether she would even make it to the final after she fell ill during the semi-final and was unable to finish that week’s challenge.
“That was devastating. I couldn’t think of anything worse than going out on a medical thing. I would far, far prefer to go out on something I have baked, but I couldn’t go back in and finish,” she said.
“When I said I couldn’t finish, I thought that was it. Someone had to go home, and if it was anyone, it was going to be me.”
But The Great Kiwi Bake Off proved worthy of its reputation as the nicest show on television when Coulter was advanced to the final alongside her competition. It was a life-changing decision from the show’s production team.
“I was speechless - I don’t know how many times I said thank you. I was utterly ecstatic. I was so thankful and incredibly pleased to be part of the final,” Coulter said.
The other contestants were on hand alongside the crew and medical staff to help look after her while she felt unwell, and the 12 still talk frequently.
“It was a close bond and I am very grateful for that,” Coulter said.
“Because the show traditionally has no prize, I think it makes it less of a cut-throat environment. Everyone is just there to get the experience and have fun.”
However, like many of the other contestants, Coulter was serious about her preparation.
When she found out she was going to be part of the series, she created a calendar of things she wanted to practice each day.
“I tried to cram in as much as I possibly could, just so I could be prepared - although you can never be completely prepared for those technicals.”
The show’s youngest baker, who will be making her Bake Off challenge-winning pavlova for Christmas, said the show had changed her life in more ways than just becoming a better baker.
“Even making the short application video is so funny to look back on. I felt so nervous just standing in front of dad and his camera phone, and to think then that I grew to be comfortable in front of big cameras and a crew.
“I remember mum and dad coming up before the finale and they were shocked - they said I seemed so different, so grown up. That I seemed like a completely different person. And I think, without even noticing, I have grown a lot.”
Winning the show also confirmed what Coulter said she always knew - that food is in her future.
The teen is planning on studying pastry at culinary arts school, Le Cordon Bleu in Wellington next year.
Coulter had to hold off applying until the show was over, so she could tell them she is the best home baker in New Zealand, but all going to plan she will start studying in April.
“I’m hoping I can jump straight into the advanced class. That’s the sort of stuff I really want to learn - the sugar sculptures, the chocolate sculptures and things that will push me.
“It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was really young, so the competition has given me a confidence boost to get into the industry.”
The Great Kiwi Bake Off is available on TVNZ OnDemand.
Bridget Jones is a TVNZ publicist and former entertainment reporter.