Bake Off's Andrew Smyth: 'I spent hours on Prince William's cake'
He's well-known for his baking skills but Andrew Smyth is also a dab hand with the savouries.
Following his success as a finalist on BBC's The Great British Bake Off, the young Rolls-Royce engineer from Holywood, Co Down, is now displaying his wider culinary skills in his new role as brand ambassador for the Northern Ireland Pork and Bacon Forum - and showing us how to make to make the perfect bacon sandwich in the process.
"I've done 12 videos cooking local pork and the recipes include the ultimate sandwich," he says. "It's sensational but simple. It has bacon and a tomato-based relish and cheese, and another secret ingredient.
"You're going to have to watch the video to find out - I can't give too much away just yet. There's a delicious sticky Asian pork meatball dish, too. I ate every single one on the plate when I made it for the video."
Since the highly-rated seventh series of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) last October, life has been a whirlwind of public appearances and media interviews for the former pupil of Sullivan Upper School.
Last week, for instance, he mingled with stars at the BAFTAs and enjoyed a bit of banter with Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders - "glamorous and hilarious", as he describes the pair of them.
Based in Derby, where he shares a house with three fellow engineers, he's taking a breather over the weekend and will be celebrating his forthcoming 26th birthday at home with his parents, Kay and Nigel, and his brother Jamie (24), who recently qualified as an architect.
Kay teaches and Nigel retired last July as director of the Confederation of British Industry, after 26 years of service.
"They both taught me the basics; there was always plenty of food in our house when I was growing up," Andrew recalls.
"My granny Helen McDowell is a good baker. I made her chocolate cake in the Bake Off final, in tribute to her, and let out her closely guarded secret - evaporated milk for the chocolate fudge icing. It's still on the BBC website.
"She's been a big influence. She has this massive tome of recipes at home in Malone in Belfast that she used to cook for my mum as a little girl. I've managed to get my hands on it but I've had to promise faithfully to give it back."
As for developing his talent? "Once I left home, I did a bit of experimenting in the kitchen and it progressed from there. I remember there was a trend for making cakes in a mug in the microwave - I attempted it and it was a disaster.
"The ingredients spill everywhere and you end up with a cake like a tyre. It's well worth the extra 15 minutes baking the traditional way and another 10 in the oven."
Red-headed Andrew stood out on GBBO not only for being the youngest, but for creations which combined baking with engineering.
He studied aerospace engineering at Cambridge University, with a research project on deployable structures for the de-orbiting of space satellites - not your average dissertation.
For GBBO, he drew on his time at Cambridge when he made a cake featuring a gingerbread man punting down the River Cam, and a moving set of gear-shaped savoury pies, inspired by the technical designs of Leonardo da Vinci.
He combined his two great passions to brilliant effect when he presented the Duke of Cambridge (left) with a cake in the shape of a jet engine during a royal visit to the Rolls-Royce aero engines plant in Derby.
To William's evident delight, Andrew used his technical know-how to make the cake's gingerbread fan blades spin, just like the real thing, prompting the prince to remark he'd "have to have a word with Mary Berry", to ask why Andrew didn't win GBBO.
"That cake was really special. I spent 10 hours altogether on it," Andrew admits. "William took a slice away in a doggy bag. I was very nervous. Customers don't come much bigger than the Royals but I heard he did enjoy it.
"I was amazed at how down-to-earth he is. He doesn't put on any airs and graces, and he was happy to chat. He doesn't pretend, he seemed genuinely interested and he has his head screwed on. Very nice chap."
Prince William isn't the only royal encounter Andrew has had.
As a Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award recipient, he received the honour from Prince Andrew back in 2009. His activities in the scheme included tennis, flute playing and working in his local Oxfam branch in Holywood.
"Oxfam was such a good laugh. There was really nice community vibe," he recalls. "It gave me good retail experience too, organising shelves and chatting to people.
"I had to do a four-day expedition for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, too. Yes, they make you work hard for it."
As if all that wasn't impressive enough, this wonder boy is an accomplished singer. A tenor in the Derby Bach Choir, he also performs in a contemporary chamber choir and in amateur dramatics and musicals.
"I started off in school choirs and at uni I couldn't get into my own chapel's choir so I shopped around the others," he explains.
"I had a fantastic four years, doing two services a week, three rehearsals a week. I've done all sorts of shows, too, like Sweeney Todd, Legally Blonde, and American Idiot, which was great fun.
"I don't get much time for singing now, unfortunately."
Given the demand for his baking demos, Andrew has gone on a four-day week with Rolls-Royce, where his job title is 'performance technologist'.
While he enjoys presenting, however, he has no plans to give up his "endlessly interesting" day job just yet.
Settling down isn't on the horizon, either - he's single - but his dreams for the future include a television show which would combine baking and engineering.
He says: "The two have more in common that you'd think.
"You have to be very precise with the ingredients and accurate for both and you have to be creative.
"Engineering involves a lot of problem solving. I'd love to do something with a really nice mix, in a TV format."
Maybe he could team up with granny Helen for a cook book some day?
"You never know. I don't tend to plan too far ahead."
In the meantime, he's keen to promote our Assured Origin local pork products, admitting a fondness for the Ulster fry, which he reckons is "more fun" than the English version.
"Northern Ireland pork is among the best and tastiest in the world," he concludes.
"Pork is really versatile and great value.
"It's incredibly tender if cooked correctly and oozes flavour, whether it's a classic slow-cooked roast, a casserole, or an accompaniment with fresh summer salads.
"The options are simply endless. Hopefully my recipes and videos will show people just how easy it is to cook and will offer some simple inspiration in the kitchen."
We know Great British Bake Off finalist Andrew Smyth, from Holywood, can create incredible sweet treats and now he is showing us how to make the perfect pork dishes... just don't ask him to make a mug cake in the microwave. By Una Brankin