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Chetna Makan: Life since the Great British Bake Off

08:00 04 August 2015

What is it really like being a contestant on Britain’s biggest baking show? Chetna shares behind-the-scenes tips, exciting book news and her view on THAT baked Alaska incident

How has life changed for you since the Bake Off?

Life has changed a lot. I was a fashion designer in India and then worked in retail when I moved to this country, before leaving to have kids. I’m working with food full-time now and absolutely loving it. Since Bake Off, I’ve written a recipe book called the Cardamom Trail which will be out in April 2016, fusing the flavours of the East with English bakes. I’ve taken inspiration from a lot of Indian desserts and made them into cakes as well as Indian-inspired pies.

Have you been back to do the ‘Class of 2014’ for this year’s show?

Yes. I’ve been to the tent – it was amazing! The year has been so hectic that it was really nice to go back, like the end of a chapter. It was not our tent any more because the other contestants had come in.

This time last year filming had already finished for the Great British Bake Off – what was it like having to keep it all a secret?

It was really tough because I had to come up with lies all the time about where I was going! I’ve got some really close friends and it was difficult to hide it from everybody. My family knew and a couple of my close friends who were helping me with childcare.

What response did you get from the local Kent community?

It has been, and still is, amazing. Every person I met on the street stopped and said they were behind me and they wanted me to win, and still people stop me in the street and ask how it’s going.

Last year was a particularly big year for the show – the final had over 12 million viewers…

Yes, the show was really big last year and I think at some level viewers really connected with us. I think they could see we had a bond, and that connected with people.

The baked Alaska incident caused a social media storm for Iain and Diana last year. At the time, was it as bad as it seemed to viewers?

Some people think it was clever editing, but I think they just showed what happened. They had to show why the ice cream melted – which was because it was out of the freezer for forty seconds. At the time, in the tent, we didn’t think it would be this big episode. We thought the public would shout at their screens and say “Iain, no! What have you done!” And actually, the opposite thing happened, people were shouting at the screens saying “Diana – what have you done!” It did take a completely different turn to the one we expected. People were so mean to Diana – and she was just being a contestant. It was ridiculous.

Are you still in touch with the other bakers and judges?

Oh yes, absolutely. Not the judges – but when I see them at bake or cake shows we catch up. I’m in touch with all the bakers; we try and meet up every two or three months. We meet up with our families as they all know each other very well now. We’re kind of touring the country; we went up to Nancy’s and then they came to mine, last time we all met at Kate’s and next we’re going to Enwezor’s.

Last year there were a lot of complicated challenges. This year, Mary Berry has been reported as saying that they’re going back to basics – do you think this is a good idea?

I think it should be a good mix. Last year, a couple of things, like the pear covered in pastry, were just not needed! And the schichttorte [a grilled cake comprising twenty layers] was just unreal and didn’t even taste nice. I think it’s a good idea to go back to basics, but have some exciting new things as well, because as a viewer you want to learn and discover things you haven’t heard of before.

How much guidance were you given to come up with your bakes each week?

When we were chosen for the show, we had four weeks to come up with eighteen recipes (not for the final, though). It was absolutely, completely our choice what to make, there was no guidance – which I think is a good thing because [the producers] didn’t ask us to go in a certain direction. For example, Norman did a really simple vanilla ice cream which was his decision and they didn’t stop him from doing it. I like to add things and give my own twists – they just gave us the themes for each week.

Is it as stressful as it looks in the tent?

It was very stressful, oh god yes! They say ‘you have five hours, start now’ and then next time you look up there’s only two minutes left! It was quite hot in the tent last year – they kept leaving water and snacks on our desk to eat when we had time, but nobody touched them!

I’ve just discovered ‘Food with Chetna’, your Youtube channel – can we expect lots more videos in the near future?

Yes! I’m planning to do one video a week. Now I’ve finished focusing on the book, I’m concentrating on my Youtube channel.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Whatever I do I try and think what my strong point is in my knowledge of food. And it comes from Indian cooking, essentially. That’s what I started cooking first and the baking was my hobby. I want to come up with things that people won’t have tasted before that is the best of both worlds.

What are the items you just can’t live without in the kitchen?

I can’t really do without my electric whisk, otherwise I’d be here forever.

What is your favourite thing to bake?

I love Victoria sponge – eating it and making it.

What would your advice be for the bakers this year?

When the show goes on air be prepared for a roller coaster ride! The only people who told us this were the previous year’s contestants.

I guess the previous contestants had been in your position and were better placed to give advice…

Yes. We were thinking ‘what are they talking about?’ When the show goes out it is full-on, you can’t go out. But slowly it calms down and you get on with your life.

To see Chetna in action in the kitchen, head over to her fabulous new baking channel, Food with Chetna on Youtube.

Discover beautiful baking accessories and gifts at the Great British Life baking shop.

Words: Daisy McCorgray

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