Class of 2014 Bake Off Star, Chetna Makan is a prolific food writer, showcasing her love of Indian home cooking in no less than four cookery books in just four years.
We caught up with Chetna, who describes her Robyn apron as, 'absolutely brilliant, to talk all things baking, bringing people together over food, and how to start a supper club.
Carefully researching her recipes, Chetna regularly travels to India, to spend time with women in their kitchens as they cook. The end result is reliable, authentic and wholesome, Indian home cooking.
Describing how she writes, Chetna says, “It’s a natural process. My first book, The Cardamom Trail described the cakes I made on Bake Off, and was a chance to extend the story and share my recipes.
“I wrote my second book, Chai, Chaat and Chutney, because I’m a big fan of Indian street food. There were no cook books covering this at the time, so I went for it.
“My third book, Chetna’s Healthy Indian, came about because so many people would ask me about my diet. They would say, surely you don’t eat your own cake. But I do, I have a really sweet tooth and would happily skip lunch and eat cake instead. So, I wanted to show what real Indian home cooking is like. It’s not like the take-away style that people often think of, when they think about Indian food. It’s good, wholesome cooking.
“My latest book, Chetna's Healthy Indian Vegetarian, is a natural extension of that. The recipes are all vegetarian. As I don’t eat red meat, it felt right to do it. All the books revolve around my taste for food and I want to bring happiness through my recipes. The main thing is that they work and they are reliable.”
Indian baking traditions
Describing Indian baking traditions as, ‘zero,’ Chetna says, “When I was growing up, Indian people didn’t generally have ovens in their home. My mum had an oven, but she was the only person in the whole colony who had one. It’s different now, my cousins all have ovens, but traditionally, Indian homes didn’t bake.”
Chetna adds, “Even the term, ‘flat bread’ is a western term for things like roti, naan and chapatti. It was probably made to simplify things, rather than use the proper name.”
Applying for Bake-Off
As a Great British Bake-Off semi-finalist 2014, Chetna says, “I watched the first series, and loved the whole thing. My friends at the school gates said, why don’t you apply? So I thought, why not? Literally a week later, I got the call.” Chetna got through five elimination rounds and had just a month to prepare for the show. “I didn’t know how to write a recipe at that point,” says Chetna, “It was completely new to me, but I loved it. The whole thing was nerve wracking but so much fun.” Chetna keeps in touch with her fellow contestants to discuss the show every year, using WhatsApp.
Start-Up Supper Club
Every year, Chetna holds a Supper Club and cooks for over a hundred guests. “I serve home cooked, Indian Food, with lots of sharing pots, just how we eat at home,” says Chetna, “But dessert is always baked, not an Indian pudding.” Supper clubs are a great way to showcase your food, “A clear vision of your food is a must,” says Chetna, “That’s that’s your unique selling point, and your guests need to know what they’re getting themselves into.”
Chetna advises, “Make life simple for yourself. I made the mistake of serving flat breads that needed to be made fresh, at the last minute. That was tough. Plan your dishes wisely and keep it simple. Preparation is key.”
Marketing your supper club works, “I use all the social media platforms,” says Chetna, “But especially local social media groups, because that’s where your customers are.”
“I wanted to make the most of this time,” says Chetna, “So I’ve been cooking every day on You Tube, rather than just once a week.” Variation matters, “It bores me to cook the same thing every day. I like to try new dishes and share them with my viewers,” says Chetna, “It has kept me happy and sane.”
Sharing Food Cultures
“I live in a small town, and recently an Italian chef opened a restaurant,” says Chetna, “She doesn’t serve pizzas, or pasta as we know it. Instead, she serves her family food, dishes from her own village. The best way to introduce someone to your culture is through food and those precious moments you spend with your family.”
And your favourite bit of kitchen kit?
“I get asked this a lot,” laughs Chetna, “It’s a belan, an Indian rolling pin that comes with a small round, wooden board. I use it to make flat breads and every Indian household would have one. I make the flat breads on a griddle I bought in India; it’s made from cast iron, is completely flat and has a wooden handle.”