GKBO contestant Danielle’s big confession: ‘I can’t eat my own food’

The coeliac baker can only hope for the best when she plates up for the TV judges
When she's not baking, another of Danielle's passions is Dungeons and Dragons.
Kellie Blizard

Very few coeliacs would decide to create gluten-filled cakes, biscuits and delicious baked goods for fun – and then do it all in the pressure cooker environment of a reality baking show. But that’s just how Danielle Windfuhr rolls.

“Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m the type of person who’ll put my hand up if anyone needs a volunteer,” says the 39-year-old senior executive assistant and practice manager. “I’ll give anything a go! I’ve always loved baking and The Great Kiwi Bake Off looked like fun, so I applied. I didn’t really expect to get in.”

Danielle is quick to emphasise that although she has been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, she can be around gluten more than many coeliacs, who can suffer bowel and intestinal damage if they ingest even a tiny bit.

“I loved eating pizza and pasta – I didn’t have any of the normal symptoms,” explains Danielle, who taught herself to bake through trial and error – and YouTube. “There was nothing to suggest I was coeliac.

Danielle also worried about how she looked on TV. “That one really took me by surprise. I’m very body positive.”

“I was diagnosed through a blood test suggested by my GP about five years ago as a just-in-case thing. We didn’t expect it to come back positive. It did explain some of the symptoms I’ve been having for years though, like body aches and extreme tiredness, which I just thought were normal.”

Unlike the majority of coeliacs, Danielle’s reaction to gluten is mild enough for her to still be able to bake.

“My symptoms are migraines and nausea, which can take me down for about 24 hours, and body aches,” she says. “However, I also have fibromyalgia, which can make me so tired, I just want to crawl under the table and take a nap.

“Sometimes it’s hard working out what reaction is for what! Once I’d talked to a coeliac specialist and discovered my boundaries, though, I realised that I was okay if I had the very occasional crumb, as long as I continued to eat gluten-free.”

Danielle loves creating her delicious delights – such as her signature doughnuts – for family and friends, including her daughter Ingke, 10, son Theodore, seven, her partner Keith, and the members of her Dungeons and Dragons group, which is her other great passion.

Partner Keith couldn’t be more proud.

So when she was accepted as a contestant on Bake Off, she wasn’t too worried about her cooking skills. What she didn’t expect, however, was how different – and difficult – it would be baking in a situation that’s as pressured and stressful as a reality TV show.

“It was a lot – it’s totally different to baking at home!” she laughs. “There’s no option to start again or to change anything. At home, I’d never serve a cake if it wasn’t right, but you don’t get any choice on the show. I used to watch cooking shows and think, ‘I could do that,’ or, ‘I’d have done that differently.’ Now I have a whole new appreciation for people who stand up in front of a camera and create. It’s really hard!”

Another unexpected aspect of appearing on TV for Danielle was how she’d look on camera.

“That one really took me by surprise,” she admits. “I’m very body positive and I’m careful about the language I use around my kids, but as soon as I realised I was going on TV, I worried about how I’d look. Logically, I know that’s not a healthy way to think, but it did make me understand why people in the public eye think about this stuff.”

And, of course, things were made even harder by Danielle not being able to taste any of her dishes before handing them to judges Peter Gordon and Jordan Rondel.

“I’m a perfectionist, so it can be frustrating not to be able to check everything tastes okay,” she tells. “I just had to trust my gut. If it looks right, it usually tastes right, in my experience.”

Bake Off judges Peter Gordon and Jordan Rondel.

Danielle admits that having a job and children meant she didn’t have much time to prepare.

“I talked to the other contestants who were in the same boat. Some of the challenges were crazy hard, too. Getting four hours to create a historical scene using biscuits isn’t something you’d just whip up at home! And you do the whole thing with cameras in your face, being asked questions while you’re working. The first time that happened, I completely lost track of what I was doing.”

Despite the challenges, Danielle was pleasantly surprised with her efforts on the show.

“Doing something like this pushes you beyond what you think you can do, and that can be really scary. I definitely underestimated the amount of emotional energy that I’d need. I’m not a helicopter mum at all, but I really struggled being away from my kids for so long – I got really emotional a couple of times. I loved doing Bake Off, but I was ready to get back to my life.”

The Great Kiwi Bake Off screens Thursdays at 7.30pm on TVNZ 1 and TVNZ+.

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