Josef Maršálek is known in the Czech Republic as the person who baked in London for the royal family. And then also as the one who judged bakers in one of the most watched shows The Great Czech Bake Off. But for us, he is the happiest and cheeriest baker in the world. In an interview for LP-life.com, he told us how the show changed his life, and also talked about how his life took a 180 degree turn in a single year - he fell in love, moved to a village, got married, finished the garden at home and now in addition to writing books, he breeds special guinea pigs.
What is the biggest news that brings you to Prague?
The biggest news that brings me to Prague is definitely not that I got married a month ago. I'm here because I had a meeting with the Albatross marketing department. We are now dealing with marketing and PR events surrounding my new book, which will be published on October 8. It will be all about holidays, Advent, New Years and the Three Kings. It will be a great holiday book about baking.
Can we look forward to some kind of highlight that none of us make for Christmas, but you will teach us?
There will be several highlights. Of course, people would expect me to do Czech Christmas. I may be a Josef, but I'm not a Lada, so that Christmas will be international. Of course, the Czech Republic, Moravia, my memories will have a huge spotlight there, but it is a compilation of the most beautiful things that are baked around the world around Christmas time. From India to Spain to England, where I spent many years, adding my own flair to make it recognizable as something from me.
Everyone knows you baked for the royal family in England.
Yes, five days out of ten years. (Laughs)
What would the queen have for Christmas?
I don't know, it will probably be traditional for them, so some turkey, cranberry sauce, pudding, potatoes and vegetables. I don't think she will indulge in sweets much. She'll probably have a traditional mince pie, a crispy cake with powdered sugar, filled with a mixture of raisins, candied fruit and brandy. They usually eat them in the evening when they return from church, by the fireplace, with port wine.
The show The Great Czech Bake Off was a huge success, it made you known in the public's consciousness, not only among confectioners. There will be a second season and they're counting on you. Do you have any idea what you would do differently this time?
What shocked me the most was that I didn't get any, let's say, acting training. I was still expecting that a few weeks before filming I'd be instructed by the director who'd tell me how to talk so I wouldn't mumble and stuff. It's one thing to be holed up somewhere with bakers and bake cakes - and then stand in front of the camera. There are sixteen cameras suddenly pointed at you, eighty people running around on set and behind the set, filming five hundred hours of footage with you.
I naively thought we would get some training as non-actors. Of course, we are not there as actors, but as judges. After all, it's still a TV show. A TV show which was watched at the start by 1.3 million people and the finals by almost two and a half million, which had not been seen for fifteen prior years in the Czech Republic. It's funny how this competition worked out.
I can't say that it was made in an amateur way, on the contrary, there were incredible professionals, from director Honza Fronc or Uroš Trefal, to screenwriters and our amazing contestants. But when I remember that it had been in preparation for almost two years before we started filming, and only after almost another year did the viewers finally see it, I was quite surprised.
But you speak well, you don't need training.
We filmed it in May 2019 and it aired on TV from January to March 2020. Only then did I discover the magic of editing. How many times you misspeak and the director tells you "say ř into the microphone three times in a row". I only found out later how well they could edit it, when it was airing on TV.
It's the same with what happened on set when we weren't there because we weren't there nonstop. For example, the technical challenge took place without us. We were there for the introduction and for the tasting, but the whole baking time, from an hour and a half to three hours we were not there. And things happened there, like parodying us, walking between tables and tasting stuff, the situations were quite funny. I was on set all the time, and yet when I was watching it on TV I was shaking my head because I didn't even know half of it.
What would you do differently now from the first season?
In this regard I am the same as Lucka Bílá, who said years ago that she has a lot of thoughts, but they are looking for the brain in vain. I talk really fast. I'm aware of it, but when I try to slow down, I stop making sense. (laughs) I need to find a compromise. On the other hand, our parts are spontaneous, we don't have a script.
But that's good…
Which is great, then it's really based on improvisation and spontaneous reactions to what you're tasting and seeing. And yet you keep in mind that you can't keep saying "I like it and it's good." That would probably stop entertaining the viewer after the second round.
Was there a baker who really surprised you? Something you've never eaten or an unusual combination of flavors?
That didn't happen, but the bakers took me back to my childhood several times. These were all the disciplines of yeast dough cakes and rolls. These are the things I grew up eating. In two moments, I almost cried. I think there are memories in food, I'm convinced of that. We all know that when you come to your grandmother, open the china cabinet and smell it, you will remember it for the rest of your life. Then, when you smell it somewhere later in life, you want to either cry or laugh. I experienced that with two competitors. In one case it was a challenge of sweet filled dumplings, in another case it was rolls.
What else is there in store for you besides the publication of a new book and the second season of The Great Czech Bake Off?
I am publishing my third book. I've launched two books since we last saw each other. One was a biography I wrote for the Mladá Fronta. It was baptized by Veronika Arichteva with Vašek Kopta and Mr. Giuseppe Silvestri. This is my friend from London, an Italian who cooked Princess Diana's last supper. Among other things, he is Mr. Al-Fayed's personal chef, who owned Harrods at the time we worked there together.
The second book came out six months later. This year I returned from India in mid-February with my boyfriend, where we had stayed with friends for almost four weeks. A week later, we launched our first confectionery book, Modern Czech Confectionery, in Prague, and Mrs. Lucie Bílá baptized it. Her sister-in-law, Adélka, is a confectioner who once auditioned for us, and since then we have become friends. I was her sponsor so that she could obtain a trade license and do confectionery. I approached Lucia Bílá and she was happy to do the book launch. I can proudly say that the book was published in early February and was sold out in three days, so we were christening the first reprint.
A few days ago, I learned from Albatross that it was sold out again and a second reprint is in the works. For them, it was the surprise of the season, because they are not cookbook publishers, but they publish fiction and belles-lettres. Suddenly, Maršálek comes and forces them to publish a confectionery book. They didn't want to, they wanted a biography, but in the meantime I was writing that for Mladá Fronta, so I forced this upon them. Now I have written a new Christmas book for them, and for myself too.
I have to say that if the first one was nice, this one would be amazing. I swapped the photographer, Maruška Bartošová did the photos for me. We did it in the middle of corona, when my sister and her husband and then five-month-old nephew Vojtíšek came to stay with us in southern Bohemia. Maruška loaded a car full of stuff, which she needed to take beautiful photos. On April 17, we did a team-building exercise in the evening and in four days we had a beautiful and exclusive book. I'm incredibly proud of it. Beautiful elements come together in a wonderful atmosphere. The graphic designer will once again be Jakub Kašek, who made both of my previous books. There is nothing like it on the domestic market.
How to use quarantine well...
I think we deserved it. I'm not one of those who claim how insanely hard it is and say everything will be different now. I think we, as humanity, were asking for it. We have been plundering and we keep plundering resources, and we have been in some kind of unstoppable rush as we have forced the economy to function only on the basis of consumption. That's terribly wrong. Even if you are a five-year-old child, you know that you can't function on consumption alone, because one fine day there will be nothing to consume. Or pretend that everything can be recycled. It can't. One day there will be so many of us that we won't be able to grow enough food to eat.
I know this is bordering on philosophy, I don't want to get wrapped up in that, but I think it was all set up wrong. We had a chance in 2008 and 2009, when there was a global economic crisis, we did not understand it then. And in fact, nothing happened at all, on the contrary, consumerism took off even more. Now we've got another lesson here where people find out you can just switch off. No one has ever experienced that.
Some things were switched off, for example, in the 1920s, during the first major economic crisis. Now, all of a sudden in 2020, when people think they have everything under control, they are flying to Mars and want to bomb comets, suddenly something comes up that no one expected, at least according to the information we have. Suddenly, what we used to be sure of was very uncertain. I think a lot of people will see it as an opportunity for change.
How did it happen that such a globetrotter settled in southern Bohemia and got married? Plus, so fast, we last saw each other a year and a half ago, and you didn't have anyone…
I had a boyfriend.
Yes. The last year with the Spaniard was not good. At first I just hinted at it and then I even said that the way I lived those nine years, I can no longer live. It's different when you live in London and there's a plane to Barcelona every half hour. You can be home in Barcelona in two hours, be there for a few days, then come back. When I moved to India, I thought that relationship would not last. The relationship lasted.
Then I came to Prague, it's closer to Barcelona, but I said it couldn't go on like this anymore. It costs me a lot of money and time. In addition, I am a self-sacrificial person, so I'd work, for example, fourteen days at a time, so that I could be with him for five days. That last year, he had only flown here three times, while I had gone there about fifteen times that year. As the years go by, one's priorities change and you want to chill out more, you think you are entitled to it, and that's just not happening.
The relationship led nowhere, but I didn't push for it to end. I thought that if something was to change, it would change. I looked up to the Heavens and said, "If anyone is out there waiting for me, let them knock and come in." Suddenly, at the end of January last year, I received a friend request on Messenger from Petr Tejml. We chatted for a while, then we saw each other and after the first meeting I went to Spain to end my relationship.
We cried a lot, because we loved each other. We broke up because neither of us was willing to take a step back and change something so that we could be together. That was before The Great Czech Bake Off and the book deals. And I just felt like I should be here.
Your waiting has paid off here...
It's interesting, because when I was in India, I promised Manuel that if I happened to return from India and work somewhere else, I would definitely move to Barcelona, it made sense. But then the Prague offer came and it seemed more logical for me to stay here than to move to Barcelona, where there was 17% unemployment at the time. I didn't find out that it was a good decision until two years later.
How is it possible that you got married so early?
We're both too old to wait another twenty years. A few days ago, I was at the wedding of Josef Doležal, who is one of our contestants, and he'd known the bride for twenty years. We went at it from opposite ends. We liked being together, Petr is a year younger. He told me twenty minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve with friends in France that we should get married in 2020. I asked why, and Petr said that next year is 2020. And that the older we get, the worse our memory will be. And 2020 is easy to remember. We chose a date on the spot. It was set to be June 2020, it was going to be Saturday and Petr likes the summer months.
Before midnight, I wrote to my friend Robert Chejn from Chateau Kotěra in Ratiboř to ask him if they had June 20 free. We'd once told each other that if there was to be a wedding, it would be there. We booked the date on January 1.
What are you doing in South Bohemia? You probably don't lead classes there.
I lead classes at the Gourmet Academy in Prague at Potten & Pannen, and then I work in Budějovice with Honza Krob at the Fine Food Academy, which is the biggest food academy in the Czech Republic outside Prague.
But it is not my primary source of income. From doing physical work three hundred hours a month, it has moved to a position where you can pick and choose. Terezka Bebarová and I are filming a beautiful lifestyle show, where half of the time something is baked, and the other half is filled with beautiful reports with people who know a craft or reports from interesting places. We do this for Mňam TV and Prague TV. Writing books also takes a lot of time. I work with magazines, such as Gourmet, where my own special was recently published. I do consultations in Czechia and all around the world.
What about your guinea pigs? I can't imagine having a hundred guinea pigs…
But they are bred well and have a pedigree. It belongs to my partner, Péťa. He has been interested in them since childhood.
Where do you keep them?
They have their own room for the winter, during the summer they're outside.
Do you remember all their names?
They all have names, in alphabetical order. One of the most beautiful ones is Nana.
How big is she?
She weighs about a kilo. She looks a bit like a little bulldog, she's a beautiful animal.
You married into a whole new world…
It's a whole new universe for me, I didn't even know it existed. On the other hand, no one finds it weird when people breed dogs or cats. Petr has guinea pigs in Indonesia, Brazil, Thailand, all over the place.
How much does such a guinea pig cost?
All of them have a pedigree, one costs, for example, seventy to one hundred euros.
Are you happy?
Absolutely. I went back to what I didn't used to really like before - digging around in the dirt out in the countryside. I didn't like it when I was little, while the others kicked around a ball, I was in the field. Suddenly I had the urge to return, so I surrounded myself with trees, flowers and flower beds. And love.