We love hearing news from our OV community and this week we were delighted to hear from one of our Hon OVs! Dennis Mews (Hon OV) was a Maths teacher at King’s St Alban’s for 18 years before retiring in 2008.
Dennis has been keeping very busy in his retirement and, after discovering a passion for baking and success at the The Royal Melbourne Show with his culinary delights, became a contestant on 2019 series of The Great Australian Bake Off!
Here is Dennis’ amazing story!
“After 18 enjoyable years at Kings St Alban’s, in 2008 I left teaching and headed into retirement, not at all sure what the future held. But we know that as one door closes, another opens. The following year Pat’s mum passed away and out of that sadness and trauma, fresh opportunities opened up. We decided to join our son and his family in Australia. He teaches Maths and IT at an independent school in Melbourne. They say the apple never falls far from the tree, don’t they?
We noticed immediately the many similarities between Australia and Britain. They drive on the left; they play cricket; they speak our language (sort of). We fitted in straight away. Country shows just like the Malvern Three Counties Show caught our attention. Immediately the baking displays drew me in. Cakes, biscuits, breads, all adorned with certificates and rosettes. Competitive baking, who knew? I had been missing the creative aspects of teaching and found an outlet, to Pat’s amazement, in baking.
I began entering baking competitions, especially The Royal Melbourne Show, which attracts 450,000 visitors every year. I found my niche in baking bread and pastry and, after three years of trying, gained two first places with my bread rolls and jam tarts. My secret bread ingredient was Murray River pink salt, which gives an excellent flavour, while I concocted my pastry with just the right amount of butter to make it very short and delicate. The Royal Melbourne Show is not happening this year, like almost everything else on the planet, so my experiments with brioche, raisin bread, pizza and focaccia will have to wait.
Then, last year I applied for the tv show, The Great Australian Bake Off, and, to my utter amazement, was called for auditions. I took along a chocolate cake made from cricket flour – yes, that’s right, insects – which they eyed with some suspicion before agreeing that it tasted pretty good. Then I had to bake some little decorated orange sponge cakes in front of the cameras, all the while being interrogated about the processes involved. Eventually I heard that I was one of the final twelve bakers to take part in the programme to be filmed in Sydney. Exciting times!
I enjoyed the filming of the programme, although the days were very long and tiring. They collected us from our hotel at 6am and we did not return until 11pm. Like any television production, there were lengthy pauses, such as when planes flew overhead, although the baking continued regardless. They scripted nothing, although we had worked on our recipes beforehand, so that the right equipment and ingredients were available to us on demand. The judges liked my rhubarb and custard bundt cake, my chocolate and lavender shortbread biscuits and my orange and poppyseed pretzels. Eventually, my biscuit construction underwhelmed, and I was eliminated and able to return home, promising myself that I’d done enough baking to last me a very long time!
So, the Australian experiment, now in its ninth year, continues to inspire Pat and me as it has brought us closer together in retirement. Maybe old dogs can learn new tricks after all! The important lesson is to follow your heart and do what you love most.”