Food: Great British Bake Off’s Chetna is Makan moves

Chetna Makan
Chetna Makan

She impressed judging duo Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry with her spice-infused recipes, but Great British Bake Off 2014 semi-finalist Chetna Makan maintains she faces her “best critics” at home.

“They love it when I make new things,” she says of her two young children, Sia and Yuv. “But they’ll say if they don’t like anything; they’re very honest.”

The youngsters like to help out too - “They chop stuff and make little cakes” - and the family, who live in Kent (her husband Gaurav is a GP), are well accustomed to Makan’s unique recipes, which introduce colourful spices, aromatic herbs and other Indian ingredients into traditional Western bakes.

For Brits with a taste for real Indian cuisine, and aspiring home cooks who’ve followed her journey, however, she’s hoping her debut book - The Cardamom Trail - will act as a springboard for culinary creativity.

“If people don’t generally cook with spices, how would they know how to use it in baking?” reasons Makan.

“Baking requires measurements, so you can’t just put things together, and that stops people trying.

“I’m hoping the book will leave people feeling confident enough to mix things up.”

Traditional Indian ingredients star - chillies and chickpeas, turmeric and tamarind, poppy seeds and paneer - but Makan was conscious they should all be easy to source in supermarkets and Asian grocery stores: “I am not very active at ordering stuff online, so I kept it exotic but easily available.”

The book features an explainer section on spices, too, but as its author points out: “I’m not a professional; I’m a home cook.

‘‘So when I look at spice books and they go into detail about where it’s grown and how it’s grown, as much as I want to know that, I can’t use that information when I’m cooking.

“I need to know what it goes with and how it tastes - and quickly, because I don’t have time read,” she adds, chuckling.

“I’ve kept things short and sweet.”

Growing up in Jabalpur, an ancient city in Central India, Makan - who worked in Mumbai as a fashion designer before moving to the UK in 2003 - has eaten good, home-cooked food for as long as she can remember, and counts her mother’s “magical” home cooking among her biggest inspirations.

“I’m a keen learner; observing her skilled use of spices and other ingredients gave me the confidence to mix flavours and try new ideas.”

Her recipes, grounded in the different cuisines of India and Europe, vary from a sponge cake with cardamom, pistachio and white chocolate, to a steamed strawberry pudding flavoured with cinnamon.

There are also coriander chicken parcels, and a swirly bread rolled with citrusy coriander.

Makan’s enjoyed a whirlwind two years since appearing on Bake Off (she’s included in the 2015 GG2 power 101 List, which celebrates Britain’s most influential Asians).

But she says she is not planning more TV work, stating while she’d love the chance, there’s a lot of competition.

She still keeps in touch with her fellow contestants though - “We’re really close friends, we try and meet every two to three months to have a weekend at one of our homes with our families” - and is thrilled that her YouTube channel, Food With Chetna, is “doing really, really well”.

“I get to do what I want, however I want, and it’s my platform,” Makan states, beaming. “I release one new recipe every week, either a bake or any sort of Indian cooking, and I’ve had great feedback. Hopefully it will only grow.”