Sweet tooth: Dal dentist trades in fillings for frostings on Great Canadian Baking Show

- September 18, 2018

Dal prof Sachin Seth combines dental work and delicious baking. Here he is pictured in his Halifax home. (Danny Abriel photos)
Dal prof Sachin Seth combines dental work and delicious baking. Here he is pictured in his Halifax home. (Danny Abriel photos)

Editor's note, Nov. 8: Now that the season is finished, you can also read our post-finale Q&A with Sachin.

Dal Dentistry prof Sachin Seth is as accomplished in the kitchen as he is in the clinic. Now he’s bringing his skills to a new arena: your living room (or wherever you watch television).

Dr. Seth, director of group practice in the Faculty of Dentistry, was chosen from among hundreds of home bakers across Canada to compete in the second season of The Great Canadian Baking Show. The season debuts this Wednesday, September 19 at 8 p.m. (8:30 Newfoundland) on CBC, the CBC TV app and streaming at CBC.ca/watch

Adopted from The Great British Bake-Off — a series that’s been a phenomenon in its home country for nearly a decade — the concept of The Great Canadian Baking Show (GCBS) is simple. Ten of Canada’s best amateur bakers complete three challenges each week — one of which (the “technical challenge”) they can’t prepare for in advance — with the top-performing contestant crowned “star baker” and another contestant sent home. At the end of the season, one baker is crowned Canada’s champion. But the series, like its British counterpart, has a feel that sets it apart from your typical cooking competition: it’s delicious, delightful fun.

The entire season was filmed this past summer, and Dr. Seth is sworn to secrecy on how he did. (You’ll have to watch each week to find out.) But he was more than happy to answer our questions about his Baking Show experience – and offer a fun, simple and delicious recipe as well, perfect for students.

Baker bio: Sachin Seth - Great Canadian Baking Show (CBC.ca)

Dr. Seth, inside the Baking Show tent. (CBC photo)

Dal News: How long have you been baking? And what first attracted you to it?

Sachin: I’ve been baking since my early teens, possibly earlier. I would wake up early in the mornings before anyone else. Back then, cooking shows were just starting to be introduced into mainstream television, like The Galloping Gourmet and Wok with Yan. I remember watching them and being intrigued by what was going on. I eventually tried playing around in the kitchen before everyone woke up, making a mess and having my mother freak out at me for destroying the kitchen while she was sleeping! I started out like that.

Dal News: Do you cook as well as bake?

Sachin: I cook every day. I’m not someone who just does the baking. But baking is special. It’s because it’s so precise – it appeals to the scientist in me. In cooking you can be a little more organic. Baking really requires you to be well measured and thoughtful in what you do. I think it is my personality. I know people who like to cook but who hate baking because it is too structured for them. They don’t like the confines of the recipe. Baking is truly a lab experiment: you have to have everything measured correctly, incorporated correctly, stirred correctly or it doesn’t work.

Dal News: Do you think your interest in baking led to your interest in science?

No, I think the interest in science was always there. I always knew I wanted to be a dentist, actually. I knew that for a long, long time. Dr. Lee Erickson (DDS’81) was my orthodontist when I was 12 — around the same time I started baking — and I was enamoured with what he was doing. I loved the whole dentistry/orthodontics thing. I wanted to do that. Everything came together at an early age for me and worked out well.
Dal News: Are you completely self-taught, or have you had some lessons along the way?

Sachin: I am completely self-taught and haven’t taken any formal lessons, other than the school of Food Network. Five or six years ago a friend and I went to Nova Scotia Community College for a continuing education program. It was just two sessions and we got to go into a kitchen with a pastry chef and make some things. It wasn’t really a formal class — more of a get-together to have fun.

Dal News: What about family members?

Sachin: Nothing like that. My mother is a wonderful cook and as a child I’d always take an interest in what she was doing. I remember she used to make great banana bread. But then she stopped doing it because I do it all. I don’t think she’s baked anything for the better part of two decades.

It’s funny, being an immigrant, and certainly coming from India, you don’t bake. It’s not part of our background. We make sweets, but that’s not necessarily baking. My mother makes a lot of Indian sweets. But it’s like sweet cooking. There are no directions, no quantities. She cooks by feel and look and taste. What I do is a real departure from what I grew up witnessing. My interest in baking really came out of nothing. But it had a strong foundation in eating well. I was a chubby little kid who loved eating. I enjoyed sweet things. I still do. Learning to make them was part of that addiction, I think.
Dal News: There are so many different categories of baking on the show: breads, pastries, cakes and more. Do you have a specialty?

Sachin: I get asked that question a lot and I have a hard time answering it. It’s like trying to pick your favourite child. I like a lot of different things. I would say that I love making croissants. Really, truly, there is nothing better than a hot croissant from the oven. Flaky outside and a buttery soft, pillow-y inside, with jam and coffee on a Saturday morning.

I tend to work with whatever is in season. Here in Nova Scotia, it’s blueberries at the moment, and a month from now it will be apples, then pumpkin. Every season brings a favourite. And I love Christmas. I will have a blast starting in mid-November right through until the end of the year. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate eating.
Dal News: A dentist who spends his nights baking sweets may seem an unexpected pairing to some. Do you see any parallels between the clinic and the kitchen?

Sachin: When I bake or cook, I do so in a very neat, methodical environment. I think that is a direct reflection of how I work in my clinic. Also, things don’t always work out in either the clinic or the kitchen, and you have to learn to go to “plan B” very quickly without stressing out. I think the two areas cross over, particularly in terms of hand skills. I always say dentistry is the perfect mix of art and science, plus the artistic side, and so is baking.

Dal News: Were you a fan of the show (or its original British version) prior to auditioning?

Sachin: Oh, my goodness. If you have not seen the British show, you have got to. It is such a great show. The hosts are wonderful, particularly in the older seasons, and it just drew me into that whole world. And the British sensibility is so wonderful. It’s politeness that can stick a knife in your side, but the way it is said is so perfect.

Dal News: Hundreds of people from across the country auditioned for just 10 spots on the GCBS. What appealed to you about trying out?

Sachin: We didn’t have a TV show like The Great British Bake-Off in Canada until last year, but watching it certainly got me thinking that I’d like to do something like that. The Food Network has a lot of baking and cooking competitions, but they are always closed to Canadians. So, this idea has been in the background a long time. When I saw The Great Canadian Baking Show come up, I said to myself that it’s either now or never. I missed the deadline to apply for season one, but I didn’t make that mistake this year.

Dal News: Can you explain a little bit about the process of being selected for GCBS? You auditioned in Halifax – what happened after that?

Sachin: I filled out an online application sometime in February. Quite literally, 30 minutes after I hit ‘send’ on the keyboard I got a phone call. It was someone from the CBC who said, “I’ve just received your application and you seem like a very interesting individual. Can we chat?” We spoke for about 30 minutes or so. And that was the end of that.

A couple of weeks later I received an email saying that I had made it onto the next round of interviews and that I’d need to prepare a baked good and do a quick food preparation in person here in Halifax. So, in March I went to a local catering business that had been set up for this purpose and was filmed making a cake. At the same time as baking, I was interviewed on the fly. I think it was their way of seeing if you could multi-task. Then I got whisked off for more interviews. Halifax was the first stop on the CBC’s casting circuit, so they were going across the country. When I heard from the CBC again, it was around April – and that’s when I found out.

Dal News: What was your reaction when you knew that you were one of the final 10?

Sachin: From the way the phone call started to go, I thought they were going to tell me that I hadn’t been successful. They said they hoped I had had a good time auditioning. . .and then they said, “We hope you’re going to have an even better time filming the show!” I thought I would freak out, but I calmly said, “Well that’s wonderful. Thank you very much.” Inside I felt like a balloon that’s been inflated too much. Of course, I called my wife and parents. But then I couldn’t say much — which made getting excited about it so difficult. In retrospect I shouldn’t have told people I had applied, because it made it hard to lie to people afterward. People would say, what’s going on? And I’d say, “Just waiting to hear.” That story quickly became old.

Dal News: How do you prepare for the show – especially with technical challenges where you don’t know what you’re baking in advance?

Sachin: What I can tell you is that the show provides you with a little bit of structure around what an episode might be like, should you be there. And you can start to get your head around what you’re going to do.

Dal News: What was it like in the tent – dealing with the pressure and your fellow competitors?

Sachin: Walking into the tent the first time was surreal. It was like a dream. Being on this show — being on any show — is not an opportunity you get very often. And that tent is so iconic. They did such a wonderful job of creating it here in Canada. It’s filmed at the Canadian Film Centre in the most beautiful area of Toronto. It’s all gardens and green grass and loveliness — and it’s massive. It had 10 stations in it, with 10 ovens and stove tops for 10 contestants. You can see the other contestants as you work; you’re almost side by side.

One of the hardest things to get used to is the fact that you’re not just cooking. It was also about talking — performing, I guess. At the same time, you are dealing with so much going on around you: other contestants, the crew, the interviewer, people around your feet grabbing some of your dirty things. What amazes me is that you don’t see any of that when you watch the show. None of it. When you look at the British show or last year’s Great Canadian Baking Show, it’s calm. Yes, you know there is a competition going on and people are baking. But the reality is that there is stuff going on all around you. Plus, it got progressively hotter as the day went on when the ovens got cranked up and you baked throughout the day. By the end of the day it was like a sauna.

At the same time, you are sharing this experience with nine other people and it’s amazing what that can do to forge relationships. The most unlikely people become the most wonderful friends. At the end of each day we would recap what had happened. We were a group of safe people and we could talk openly. I didn’t go into this thinking that I would make friends — it’s a competition, after all — but I did.

Dal News: Do you think the friendliness between the competitors comes across through the show or is that a hidden aspect of it?

Sachin: It is very apparent. The interactions we have with each other on the show are very genuine. If we saw someone in trouble, we jumped in to help that person out.

Dal News: How did students and colleagues react to the news that you'd be on the show?

Sachin: What an interesting reaction I have had from students and colleagues. It’s not what I expected it to be. Everyone is very supportive, so I thought they would be pleased. But there is this wonderful sense of everyone internalizing my success as their own. This is being seen as a Faculty triumph and something I have done on behalf of the Faculty – and the university, for that matter. This is ours. It’s not everyday you’ve got someone on TV who you can all get together and watch and be communal about. Even the people who aren’t that into baking are saying that it’s going to be fun to watch because I’m on the show. I’m really happy with how wonderful everyone has been. Not that I expected any less, I didn’t. I just didn’t expect this much.

Dal News: Being on GCBS was a “bucket list” item for you. Do you have another one in your sights or was being on the show quite enough excitement for a while?

Sachin: I’m not aiming for anything right now, because my plate is quite full at the moment. But I would love the chance to do some sort of cooking show or be a judge on something to do with cooking or baking. That would be fun. I’d also love to be a brand ambassador. I don’t know if that’s a bucket list item or just parlaying this experience into something else. I would be open to something like that for sure. I do know that I will not be opening up a bakery anytime soon. It’s a hard life.

Dal News: Where will you watch the show on Wednesday night?

Sachin: I’m going to have an intimate viewing party with my family at home. I thought about doing something bigger, with everybody around, but I actually want to be able to watch the show. I’ve heard that students are going to be holding some viewing parties. I think that’s fantastic and I hope they send pictures of themselves to me so that I can post them. 

Editor's note, Nov. 8: Now that the season is finished, you can also read our post-finale Q&A with Sachin.

A recipe from Dr. Seth

Chocolate chip mug cake

3 T butter or olive oil
3 T flour
3 T milk (can use a non-dairy substitute)
3 T white sugar
2 T cocoa powder
3 T chocolate chips (or more)
¼ t baking powder + a pinch of salt
¼ t vanilla extract

Melt the butter in the microwave in a 12-14 oz mug. Sir in the cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. The result will be a thick paste. When all the ingredients have been stirred together, add in the milk and vanilla, stirring well so that there are no lumps. Finally, mix in the chocolate chips.

Microwave the mixture for 90 seconds. Allow to sit for 2-3 minutes until the cake loses its surface sheen. Serve with a scoop of ice cream. It’s a perfect, quick study break snack!


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