For married couple Nia Vardalos and Ian Gomez, working together is nothing new. Gomez had a role in Vardalos’ breakout hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (and will be in the sequel, coming in March), and Vardalos guested on Gomez’s “Cougar Town” TV series and other film and television projects.
However, when the couple, who met working at Chicago’s Second City, got the call to co-host an American version of the United Kingdom’s hit TV series “The Great British Bake Off,” Vardalos admitted, “We were certainly surprised, but there was something about the baking show that appealed to us. So we said yes very quickly.
“It just seemed like it was right up our alley. The British show is so irreverent and funny, and yet completely kind to the bakers. That’s my kind of reality, to be honest. We’re not into the mean stuff.”
After watching a few episodes of the original British show, Vardalos said she and Gomez decided they would want the American version — “The Great Holiday Baking Show” (debuting at 9 p.m. Monday on WLS-Channel 7) — to copy an important aspect of the Brits’ program: “Ian and I decided our goal would be to say to the bakers, ‘Please don’t let this [possible elimination from the competition] dissuade you from your love of baking.
“Of course, as soon as we met the American contestants, we discovered that never would be the case. These folks are all about their love of baking, no matter what!”
The point the actress was making was tied to her and Gomez’s chosen profession. “After all, Ian and I are in an industry where we get be judged harshly. People say things about us — as they do all actors — that sometimes are hard to hear. But you’ve just got to say, ‘This is what I love to do, this is what I’ve created, and am just going to stick to doing it.”
Before agreeing to host the show, Vardalos said she did love to bake, “and Ian loves to eat, so we’re the perfect combination.” But she also admitted working on the four-week holiday-themed series did teach her a thing or two.
“I now know how to make rough puff pastry, plus I learned that you can ice something in a very artistic way. Before, I usually just slapped the icing on a cake!”
More importantly, both Vardalos and Gomez were taught that baking is more about weighing ingredients than measuring them. The show’s judges are the British program’s “Royal Queen of Baking,” Mary Berry, and James Beard Award-winning pastry chef and author Johnny Iuzzini, who made it clear to Vardalos that she had to add an important new implement to her personal kitchen.
“You have to use a scale, so I went out and bought one,” said Vardalos. “Baking is a science. Before this I was more of a Greek baker, and would just throw in a handful of this or a pinch of that. I hadn’t used exact measures, but for baking you have to. I learned to be more exact with my baking, and guess what? It comes out better!”
Another thing Vardalos learned was “how to make gingerbread from scratch. Before, I just would buy a mix. But I learned from the bakers [competing on ‘The Great Holiday Baking Show’] that you have to grate real ginger into it to make it great.”
For Gomez, his learning curve — regarding the world of baking — was a lot steeper than his wife’s.
“She actually had done baking before. I learned things like, ‘Oh! You have to first turn ON the oven! That’s cool!'” said the actor with a big laugh.
“I also didn’t know a lot of the terminology and names of ingredients. I kept saying a lot of things completely wrong. Like, I learned how to properly pronounce ‘mascarpone’ [a creamy Italian cheese]. I kept adding a couple of additional syllables to that one. Plus, the producers kept yelling at me when I called [the Italian dessert] tiramisu ‘Tara Miss Zoo!’
Gomez particularly was intrigued that while the contestants came from very diverse backgrounds, they did share one thing in common.
“I discovered that their love of baking tended to come from the same place. In most cases, they came to learn about baking thanks to an older family member, either a grandmother or a parent.
“That’s how virtually all of the contestants came to become bonded with baking — which is truly a wonderful mixture of science and art. You have to be exact and use chemistry, but you also get to be so artistic and creative to make those beautiful confections!”