Netflix's 'Great British Baking Show' said quiet part loud – SFGATE

“The Great British Baking Show” co-presenters Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas wearing serapes and sombreros during the “Mexican Week” episode.
One of the world’s most comforting television series became one of the most offensive on Friday. Netflix’s “The Great British Baking Show” released its newest episode, entitled “Mexican Week,” and it is laced with plenty of problematic stereotypes, causing immediate backlash on social media.
But the cherry on top comes during the opening scene, where comedian-hosts Noel Fielding (“IT Crowd,” “The Mighty Boosh”) and Matt Lucas (“Doctor Who”) wore long, colorful serapes and round sombreros in the middle of a well-manicured green lawn just outside of the show’s famous white tent. As online critiques spread like wildfire, I decided to watch the full episode. As it unfolded, I blinked in bewilderment. How did this get made?
“I’m really excited for ‘Mexican Week,’ absolutely pumped,” Fielding said, while wearing a culturally appropriated outfit. “Although, I don’t feel we should make Mexican jokes, people will get upset.”
“What? No Mexican jokes at all?” Lucas asked his co-host. “What, not even Juan?”
“Not even Juan,” Fielding replied with a smile.
“Welcome to the Great British Baking Show!”
Oh boy.
If you’ve never seen the 12-year-old British baking competition that has captured America’s heart for more than a decade, this season is judged by blue-eyed, renowned master baker Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, a South African restaurateur. It’s also co-presented by comedic actors Fielding and Lucas, the bozos in the cheap costumes I mentioned earlier.
To those who go on social media while trying to avoid Bake Off spoilers… #GBBO
Each episode tasks amateur bakers with three challenges: a signature, a technical and a showstopper bake. In the case of “Mexican Week,” the contestants baked pan dulce (sweet breads) for the signature test.
At local panaderias (bakeries), pan dulce comes in countless varieties, from coconut-flaked sponge cake with raspberry swirls to the more recognizable concha, which my grandmother always enjoyed with coffee.
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Many of the bakers opted to try their hands at conchas, round buns with a sugary crackling top that’s been scored. Once conchas come out of the oven, the sweet coating resembles the tops of seashells. It’s what the word “concha” means: shell.
Throughout the challenge, it was clear that a majority of the bakers couldn’t be bothered to put much effort into pronouncing simple words such as “concha” or “besos,” which means kisses.
During the technical, bakers attempted to make steak tacos with “spicy” beans, pico de gallo and guacamole. In this taco challenge, one woman even pronounced “guacamooolee” with so many vowels that it’s turned into its own meme by now.
The show’s producers choosing tacos for the technical on a baking show really shows a lack of research into Mexican food and culture. Instead of choosing a bread-baking challenge where contestants tried recipes for crusty rolls such as bolillos, or even birote salado, which is our version of sourdough bread, the show chose tacos. For bakers.
Behold the steak tacos for the “street food technical” challenge during “Mexican Week” on “The Great British Baking Show.”
What ensued was a barrage of contestants peeling avocados as if they were skinning potatoes and pronouncing hard Ls in words like tortilla and pico de gallo, not to mention the poor cracks at “Mexican accents.” The tacos were sad, Del Taco-looking globs served with canned black beans that were blindly spiced by lots of cumin and ancho chile powder.
With all of this going on, I wondered why “The Great British Baking Show” didn’t bother to throw in “El Jarabe Tapatio,” or “The Mexican Hat Dance,” as theme music for good measure.
Lastly, our clueless contestants squared up to tres leches cake for their final showstopper challenge. Now, I absolutely love tres leches cake. Once you find a neighborhood panadería that doesn’t oversoak its sponge, but instead knows the perfect amount of three milks’ mixture to add to each layer — that’s your go-to bakery for life.
Some contestants made Aztec pyramid-shaped tres leches cakes, some made white-frosted wedding cakes with floral designs, and many oversoaked their layers so they were sopping wet messes. Meanwhile, the show’s comedic hosts couldn’t help themselves with jokes about tequila and whether or not Mexico was a “real place,” which came off dismissive of an entire country filled with culturally rich heritage.
The juan and only Matt & Noel welcome you to Mexico Week! 🇲🇽🇲🇽🇲🇽 #GBBO
In the end, the entire “Mexican Week” episode was a throwaway. Full stop. It was also a missed opportunity, draped in offensive garb.
Still, I couldn’t look away. Although this was disappointing to behold on many levels, it’s really not surprising. Mexican culture is often a punching bag for cheap laughs. It’s also not new to Norte 54 owner and baker Raquel Goldman, who is known for her delicious modern twist on traditional pan dulce, which she often sells at the Ferry Building.
“I don’t understand why they had tacos in that episode, because there’s just so many other options. There’s conchas, but there’s also the salty bread, like bolillos and teleras,” Goldman said. “That’s the mind-blowing thing about, for me anyway, rediscovering my culture through pan dulce, there’s myriad breads from all different regions in the country and I will never get through all of them. They didn’t do their due diligence. And that’s not that hard to do.”
It’s not. There certainly could have been more research, thought and any semblance of effort dedicated to shaping a solid “Mexican Week” episode. Co-host Leith said it best herself toward the beginning of the show, which offered a glimmer of hope they would at least try beyond sombreros and serapes:
“Mexico is full of vibrancy, color, wonderful food, great flavors, and that’s what we expect this week from the bakers,” she said.
Mexico is all of those things and more. I just wish that came through in the challenges and in the overall treatment of the episode. “The Great British Baking Show” put more effort into the offensive costumes worn by its hosts and the laziest jokes imaginable sprinkled throughout the episode, rather than stopping to think about whether or not the episode’s depiction of Mexican culture was racist.
Contestants on “The Great British Baking Show” were challenged to make a four-tiered tres leches cake. The mustache was optional.
As someone who is proud of her Mexican American culture, and especially the delicious and labor-intense dishes I grew up eating, there is so much more to Mexican food outside of tacos and pan dulce. If we’re going the cooking route: How about a technical challenge on the plethora of ingredients that goes into making a mole from scratch? Or, as Goldman suggested, taking the initiative to research and explore the variety of baked goods that are points of pride from region to region.
Food is hands down the best way for people to learn about other cultures, not childishly laugh about the sounds of common words like “guacamole” or “pico de gallo.”
“It’s a British baking show. A lot of their challenges are centered around other European pastries,” Goldman said. “Why not tap into the connection of the European influence in Mexico, and then how Mexico then took off with it and made it its own?”
“The Great British Baking Show” had an opportunity and instead, it truly revealed to millions of international viewers what it thinks of Mexican culture. The show said the quiet part out loud, including the pronunciation of “tortilla” with many hard Ls. 
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