Great British Baking Show Winner Syabira Was Proud to 'Put Malaysia on the Map' with Her Bakes

Baker Syabira Brushing Tart, The Great British Bake Off S6
Baker Syabira Brushing Tart, The Great British Bake Off S6

Mark Bourdillon / Love Productions

Syabira Yusoff is proud to be the newest Great British Baking Show champion.

On Nov. 17, the Netflix-distributed series dropped the season finale and named Syabira Yusoff the winner — marking the first time a Malaysian-born contestant has ever won the show.

"It feels surreal and amazing at the same time. I came to the tent with a mindset to survive weekly," she tells PEOPLE. "Ending up in the final and winning is the best outcome I could ever imagine."

Judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood were confident in Yusoff's baking chops throughout the season. Known for her use of bold and innovative flavors, she won star baker an impressive three times and got a coveted handshake from Hollywood during Halloween week. Throughout the season, she worked to merge British classics with traditional Malaysian flavors.

"I am very proud to have put Malaysia on the map in terms of baking," she says. "I loved sharing my ideas and my passion for integrating traditional Malaysian flavors into my bakes. For each bake I put on the table, I was proud."

What makes Yusoff's win even more impressive? She's fairly new to baking, and only took up the hobby in 2017. A cardiovascular research associate who moved to London in 2013 to work on her PhD, Yusoff turned to the culinary craft as a creative outlet.

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"I started baking as a cure for the homesickness I felt when I first moved to England. I had fallen in love with a slice of red velvet cake I'd had with my friends before leaving Malaysia," she says. "Living alone and trying to write hundred pages of scientific research in English is not a walk in the park. So I tried to recreate that red velvet cake and discovered that I could bake. Since then, every time I struggle or feel sad I go into the kitchen and bake."

Watching GBBS — known in the U.K. as The Great British Bake-Off  — also inspired her to apply to the show. "I started watching Bake Off two or three years ago. I loved seeing what people created and started to wonder if I could do something similar. It is a very positive show, and it was love at first sight for me," she says.

Her partner gave her the extra push she needed by "by buying my first stand and hand mixer from his work bonus," she added.

For Yusoff, learning how to perfect her craft involved marrying her passion for science with her newfound love of baking. "I treated baking like an experiment. I tried to understand what each ingredient contributes and the importance of temperature in emulsifying cake batter, tempering custard or proofing bread," she says. Much like other home chefs, she also learned by watching YouTube videos during the Covid-19 lockdown.

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The Great British Bake Off
The Great British Bake Off

Netflix

As for her favorite final product in the show's tent, Yusoff says one in particular let her scientific mind shine.

"I love my custard week showstopper, which I called 'Piña Coladas, Anyone?' I took it back to a simple flavor, but really tried to nail the taste and texture. This is when my lab skills came in handy," she says. "Pineapple has an enzyme called bromelain that eats the protein in gelatine and ends up unsetting the custard. It took me a whole day in the kitchen to work out how much starch to use to make sure it wasn't too gloopy, and just enough gelatin to make it wobbly." 

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As the 2022 winner, Yusoff learned she loves baking and being in front of the camera. While she still continues to carry out her job as a cardiovascular researcher, she's "super keen" to share her "ideas and aspirations in a cookbook, and the basics skills of baking [via a] YouTube channel." Her future plans include growing her Instagram account and working on a book in her downtime.

Along with breathing confidence into her kitchen skills, Yusoff made lasting friendships during the competition. "Everyone is my favorite in the tent. Janusz is one of them, as well as Maxy and Kevin. We built relationships as the series went on," she says of fellow competitors. "We keep in touch with each other via our WhatsApp group, and I am excited to see them every time we get together."

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Reflecting on her Great British Baking Show journey, Yusoff says it still feels like a dream.

"I never thought winning Bake Off was possible, at least not at my level of baking, before I won the show," she says. "Every challenge has its own difficulty and requires new skills to master it. Overall, you just need to keep up and rise above the challenge to stay in the tent. And I think every baker managed to cope with the challenges every single time."

The 2022 season and previous seasons of The Great British Baking Show are now streaming on Netflix.