The biggest German entertainment shock of 2021 was not Kraftwerk getting relegated to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sub-category, but rather Jürgen Krauss, a 56-year-old information technology professional from Brighton, being met with an elimination during The Great British Bake Off’s semifinal episode. You see, Krauss was an absolute Winnie the Pooh maniac in the tent: He won three Star Baker honors, was consistently at the top of technical challenges, and exuded an endearingly quiet confidence that dared to ask … oh, sie think can beat mich? But something weird happened in the semifinals, which began with Paul Hollywood depriving him of a handshake during the signature challenge (he gave everyone else one) and ended with a tepid response from the judges for his Japan-inspired banquet display showstopper. When his name was ultimately called to depart Bake Off, the way his fellow contestants reacted spoke for itself.
Scrolling through social media, you’ll find myriad conspiracy theories as to why Krauss was eliminated, while others have worked their way through the five stages of grief to perhaps realize he just had an unlucky episode while the three other contestants further excelled. That still didn’t stop Vulture from reaching out to Krauss, our favorite contestant from this season, for a chat … and his responses to some of our questions left us feeling even more uncertain than before. This is now our baking Pepe Silvia!
Can you tell me about your rabbit? How long have you had Humphrey?
He’s about 8 years old now. Rabbits are pretty incredible; they can live up to 13 years. He’s a tiny one. He came into the household because my wife and son went into the pet shop and loved him so much.
It’s nice to hear about your wife, who never answered the phone when you won Star Baker.
I swear, my wife would call back minutes later. She was on other calls with friends. She has her own life. [Laughs.] The cameras were always gone by that time.
Does Humphrey have kitchen privileges?
He doesn’t go into the kitchen. It’s interesting, it’s a room he doesn’t like to hop to. Maybe he doesn’t like the floor.
How has the experience been for you over the past few weeks, both in regards to watching your season unfold and seeing the rapturous response from fans about how much they love you?
It was completely unexpected. We got prepared by the producers about what to expect for a social-media response. They said something like, “Yeah, 50 percent of the response will be positive and the rest you better not read.” I have to say, 99 percent of responses I get are incredibly positive, and the rest are still friendly. I’m blown away by that.
The experience watching myself has been interesting. It’s always hard hearing one’s voice recorded. I felt like I had less of an accent than what came through in the show. That was a surprise to me. I really liked watching the show and myself. It reactivated all of the memories and it was nice to see what the others were doing, because in the tent, I was so focused on just my stuff. I saw some of the jokes Noel and Matt did with others, but it’s like you get a glimpse and then it’s back to your baking.
When you say the social-media response to you was “unexpected,” what do you mean by that?
I was a bit fearful, I would say. I went with an attitude that I wouldn’t know what to expect and try to do my best, which got me into the semifinals. Social media is just such an unknown thing to me. I had Twitter and Instagram accounts before, but with very small followings. I didn’t open those up to the wide world. I created accounts specifically after Bake Off to separate the two, since I didn’t know what was coming. The response of going from zero to more than 100,000 followers on Instagram is crazy. Whatever I post seems to resonate with different circles. There’s a Jewish community, a baking community, and a trombone community.
What encouraged you to want to apply for Bake Off in the first place?
I had actually applied before. I did a lot of charity bakes for work and I started baking pretty frequently about ten years ago. My family and my work friends started to nag me to apply in 2013. I had a mustache for “Movember” and it didn’t look so great. [Laughs.] And my heart wasn’t in it. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get a callback then. But a lot of people kept telling me I should be on Bake Off.
Last season I felt like the whole show changed filming in that bubble. I noticed that between the bakers there was a different ether, if you will, that set it apart than what it was in previous years. I couldn’t imagine doing Bake Off in the way it was done before — commuting to the tent every weekend and then going back to work and practicing in your own kitchen. I also noticed that last year’s Bake Off had quite a therapeutic effect in lockdown, which I found outstanding for a television program. Most programs that are about contests are about “clashing” and “being fierce,” and Bake Off didn’t have that. I decided that if I could contribute something, it’s for that. It felt it was the right time to apply again. The application felt so smooth.
Did the application change at all from when you first applied?
I think they redesign it every year. I was asked a lot of technical questions and what I enjoy baking, and if I could send photos with captions. It’s putting together an art portfolio with a personal story.
I’d love to learn more about how your job informs your baking. Do you think your technical training gave you an advantage in the tent?
It’s possible. In the tent, time management is of the utmost importance. The one thing you don’t get in the tent is enough time. When I started baking, I started learning data percentages, especially with bread-making. I would put everything that I baked more than once into a spreadsheet, and I could scale the amounts depending on how much I wanted to make. I used that method in the tent. It was clear from developing the recipes that I would be tight on time, so I was very conscious thinking about multitasking while writing up my recipes for the show.
Which bake was most meaningful to you? It was fun learning about your childhood in the Black Forest.
That’s interesting to think about. I have three bakes! The Schwarzwald rolls certainly made me think about my childhood and where I came from. Paul making me judge them myself was funny. I wouldn’t have imagined that. The joconde cake with the music notes around it — that came together with the help of my wife, walking in the hills and collecting ideas. She was instrumental in the whole journey. My sense of passion for music came in and my sense of crazy flavors came in, and then you add the wine jelly. I thought of it because you can get wine jelly quite often in Germany, but there was one particular instance when my mom tried to make it and used the wrong kind of food and it went completely wrong. That was stuck in my memory for years and I wanted to try it again.
The third one was my semifinal showstopper, the Torii gate. I have a big encyclopedia that my aunt gave me when I was young. I read it back to front. It had far more text than your usual childhood encyclopedia, but it had a lot of photos as well, and I remember one photo of Torii gates and its architecture, and it fascinated me. I’ve never been to Japan, but hope to go one day. I thought it was a nice cultural piece and I was happy I could present it, but they still sent me home, so. [Laughs.]
Okay, yeah, we need to discuss that. Did your elimination come as a shock to you?
I kind of felt it coming.
Why was that?
I can’t pinpoint it to a specific thing. Well … after the three handshakes Paul gave out, it was pretty clear, I would say.
That seemed a little cruel of Paul.
Yeah, I can’t say more about that.
You did win the technical.
Yeah, but historically, the bake that counts most is the showstopper.
The majority of Bake Off episodes provide some sort of context from the judges about how or why they chose to eliminate contestants, but no explanation was given for you. Did Paul or Prue offer their reasoning in the aftermath?
I can’t really say anything about that.
This is cryptic, Jürgen.
What are you comfortable sharing, then?
I’ll say everyone was surprised. The contestants, the production crew — everyone was surprised. Different people of the crew, Noel and Matt, offered different possible explanations. I don’t want to share what those were. Sorry about that. What I can say is I probably didn’t appeal to Paul and Prue with my choice of using matcha tea and the colors for my Torii gate. That’s probably it. In the semifinals, I consciously took more risks than in other weeks. I always took risks with flavors, though. It’s a competition and without risk, why should I be there? It just didn’t resonate with them.
I’m curious how you felt about having to engage with Noel and Matt’s banter during your bakes. Do you feel that their jokes ever went from being acceptable to being annoying?
I don’t think they were ever annoying to me. When you’re baking, you have a choice with how you deal with that. You have to keep in mind that what you see is about one percent of all of the footage. They certainly weren’t there all the time. I loved them and loved acting with them. Once we got some kind of dialogue going … well, I don’t know anything about celebrities or current popular music. The basis of how they engaged with me at the beginning was just not there. We had to find our common ground, which we found quickly.
I really enjoyed their company. I know they get a lot of bad press, but for me, when they came over to my area, it was always a chance to hit the reset button to redefine where I was in the bake. I could go over the instructions and step outside of myself to ensure I did what I needed to do. It was a welcome disturbance. When things go wrong, they can be very helpful. They definitely won’t make things worse. Matt is also Jewish, so we would talk about festivals and Passover. That created a nice relationship with him and the quality of our interactions. With Noel, we talked about our children.
You were all quarantined at the hotel complex to film the season. What was the community like when you weren’t in the tent?
We spent a lot of time practicing our future bakes and looking for our ingredients. Even on the off days, we were all pretty tired. We enjoyed jogging around the grounds. I practiced my trombone. We watched movies. Nothing terribly exciting. [Laughs.] I was there for five and a half weeks in total. My family was so supportive, which made it possible to really enjoy it. They didn’t let me know about their day-to-day disturbances when we Zoomed every night.
What does the future hold for you? Do you imagine a scenario where you quit your job for a career in baking?
I didn’t go into Bake Off with any expectations other than maybe not getting eliminated for three episodes. I’m happy to try out things now that come my way. There’s some television work coming up, and I’m thinking about writing books. There’s a lot of exciting things in the pipeline for next year, but I won’t give up my job. Media work can be quite erratic. My job is flexible to some extent and possibly, at some point, I’ll reduce hours.
I’ll end with a non-baking question: What’s your favorite type of music to play on the trombone?
I really enjoy early Renaissance music and modern classics. I try to get my head around jazz, but I still feel like a beginner after six years. But it’s getting there. I have the guts to stand up and improvise.
Do you take requests?
I know too little. [Laughs.] I couldn’t sing any pop songs my Bake Off friends were singing in the tent. I had no idea what they were.