Melbourne Royal Show a showcase for firefighter’s hot baking skills

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It’s great to have nice workmates, but a team of firefighters in Melbourne’s north have struck gold, at least when it comes to morning tea break.

Leading firefighter Mark Proctor is a former baker, and now regularly serves his mouth-watering home-made cakes at the Fire Rescue Victoria station at Preston in Melbourne’s north.

A chef in hot demand: Preston firefighter Mark Proctor, centre, serves cake to colleagues Matt Tucker, left, and Lachie Somers, right.Credit: Justin McManus

In between attending false fire alarms, burning houses and car accidents, Proctor plates up everything from Battenberg cakes to danishes to Swiss rolls.

On Friday, it was a sponge with jam, cream and fresh strawberries.

Fireys need feeding, but they also give Proctor valuable feedback.

He is competing in eight categories in this year’s Melbourne Royal Show cookery competition, ranging from sponge to profiterole, choux bun, and shortbread sections.

Mark Proctor baking at home.

The show starts on Thursday, but cooking entries were submitted on Saturday.

The results will be posted on the show’s website on Wednesday and selected entries will be displayed at the Makers Pavilion during the show.

A Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria spokesperson said this year there have been over 3800 entries in arts, craft and cookery competitions including 554 entries in cooking categories and 388 in preserves.

Proctor’s workmate Matt Tucker says many firefighters can cook, but Proctor is “one of the best”.

He even declares that Proctor’s jam doughnuts are better than those sold at nearby Preston Market.

Another Preston firefighter, Lachie Somers, is a fan of the cakes, but said “I guess I’ve got to be careful that I don’t over-eat.”

This is Proctor’s third year competing in the Melbourne Royal Show: in his first year, a social club he formed, the Preston Pudding Club, won the Swiss roll section.

But disaster hit Proctor just before baking in four categories for last year’s Show: his home oven blew up.

“I’d spent five or six weeks practising and $500 worth of ingredients,” Proctor said. ″⁣There was nothing I could do; that was the end of it.”

Proctor has been practising for months for the 2023 show, last week alone using seven dozen eggs.

Baking cakes is now a fun hobby for Proctor, who trained as a baker in his UK home town of Blackpool and worked as chef in Germany, Greece and the Falkland Islands. After migrating to Australia in 2001, he worked at Laurent bakery in the Melbourne suburb of Clayton and later cooked patient meals at Western Hospital.

He then switched to maintenance and cleaning work for the Department of Housing.

Eight years ago, when visiting the Melbourne Royal Show, Proctor got chatting to firefighters at a fire brigade (now Fire Rescue Victoria) stall. Helping people appealed to him, and he successfully applied to join, at age 52.

He says firefighting can be stressful, including attending fatal accidents, so cooking is a mental release. He likes that his mates enjoy his cooking.

One of Proctor’s favourite creations is a chocolate roulade — a flourless sponge filled with chocolate hazelnut spread and cream. He sometimes makes Eccles cakes, a famous Lancashire pastry.

Proctor also serves savoury food such as roasts and calamari salads. On Melbourne Cup Day he made his workmates seven types of pie and a chocolate trifle.

Proctor says firefighters from elsewhere have asked if he can transfer to their stations, for his cooking skills. His colleague Matt Tucker confirms this: “Guys that are good cooks at a fire station are pretty sought-after,” he says.

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