The Great British Bake Off Mexican Week Controversy, Explained

Fans of "The Great British Bake Off" tune in each week (or binge-watch entire seasons, courtesy of Netflix) to explore the world of baking, both savory and sweet, judged by restaurateur Prue Leith and baker Paul Hollywood. While early seasons and episodes of the show saw hosts traveling to explore the cultural context and history of eel pies and wedding cakes, the "Bake Off" has in more recent seasons found itself in water far too hot to activate the yeast.

While avid home bakers may watch the show for the goofy hosts as well as the instructive expertise of both the show's contestants and judges, to say there have been some missteps is an understatement. Just last week, in an interview with Insider, two former contestants said the show has a diversity problem, citing the all-white hosts and judges who don't always demonstrate an understanding of foods from other cultures. Though the cast of GBBO has been quite diverse over the years, awkward slips like featuring steamed buns shaped like pandas on a Japanese-themed episode aren't exactly educating the audience about Japanese culture, given that the only pandas that live in Japan are in zoos and on loan from China, per Best of Panda.

And then "Great British Bake Off" aired its Mexican week episode.

Mexican week on The Great British Bake Off was no fiesta

At the beginning of 2022's fourth episode of GBBO, judge Prue Leith waxed poetic about the richness of Mexican cuisine, according to SFGATE. She said, "Mexico is full of vibrancy, color, wonderful food, great flavors, and that's what we expect this week from the bakers." Prue's right, of course. Mexican cuisine is vibrant and diverse, with distinct regional variations.

The episode, itself, was more farce than food exploration, relying on Mexican stereotypes for tasteless jokes, and with little to no attempt to educate either contestants or viewers about Mexican cuisine. Eater London even notes that hosts Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas asked "if Mexico is a real place" and likened it to fictional locations Oz and Xanadu. 

From the opening moments of the episode, which Bon Appétit points out saw hosts Fielding and Lucas wearing serapes and sombreros, observing that Mexican jokes were a terrible idea, then proceeding to make one, the show displayed a decided lack of good taste. Given that, as Eater London notes, contestants were tasked with making pan dulce (which the hosts mispronounced) and tacos (which aren't even baked), what were viewers' and critics' responses to the show?

GBBO's Mexican Week was not a hit with viewers

Twitter was abuzz with appalled and sometimes hilarious responses to GBBO's Mexican week. Described by a variety of tweets as "so yikes," "a hot racist mess," "so cringey," and also as "MACRO aggression," viewers were appalled at the lack of cultural insensitivity the show displayed.

Silvio Martins, writing for Bon Appétit, just wasn't having it, explaining, "Not fully understanding Mexican food due to a lack of exposure is understandable. However, actively making insensitive jokes cannot be excused by cultural ignorance. We are not caricatures of poncho-wearing, maraca-shaking banditos. Instead, we are people who deserve common courtesy." Steph Rodriguez, food editor for SFGATE is proud of her Mexican American roots and agreed, writing, "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."

With a platform and a viewing audience as large as that of GBBO, episodes themed to explore different cultures and locations are a great opportunity to educate judges, hosts, contestants, and viewers alike. GBBO owes the world, and Mexico in particular, an apology.