Welcome to our kitchen, Chetna!

10 March 2015

She survived eight weeks in the tent under the scrutiny of Mary and Paul, but how will our favourite contestant fare baking for our Life & Living magazine?

Who’d have guessed that competitive baking could become such compelling TV, each stage the subject of ‘post-match analysis’ over morning coffee up and down the country. But that’s exactly what’s happened with The Great British Bake Off, with the opening show of the fifth series, in 2014, being watched by 7.9 million people.

A straw poll around the Life & Living office revealed that our favourite was Chetna Makan, who won us over with her beaming smile and grace under pressure. So we thought we’d ask the fifth series semi-finalist to come and share her baking secrets with us.

‘Of course!’ was the answer. And a wonderful afternoon was spent at Corbett Court in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, together with the homeowners, watching Chetna cook – and enjoying the results!

‘My life has changed completely since Bake Off,’ says Chetna, as she prepares her cooking station. ‘I never thought I’d stand up and talk to a room full of people, but I have discovered that I love it. I’m still a mum at home with my two children. But I spend every day baking now, working on a book that will come out next year.’

Mum’s cooking

Chetna has always loved cooking. She used to watch her mother preparing meals at home in India. ‘My mother’s an amazing cook,’ she says. ‘She watches cooking programmes, writes down the recipes, then she’ll cook them for me when we go over to see her.’

Now Chetna’s seven-year-old daughter watches her as she cooks at home in Broadstairs, Kent – and so the skills are passed on. ‘I think part of the reason we have weight problems here is that we’re not passing cooking skills from one generation to the next,’ she says.

However, baking is not a big part of Indian cuisine. So it was not until Chetna moved to Britain that she discovered her love of it. ‘I discovered Victoria sponge!’ she laughs. ‘It’s my absolute favourite, so simple and so delicious.’ And favourite filling? ‘Lemon curd and cream, mmmm.’

In the video Chetna shows us how to make the perfect tray bake. ‘Tray bake is really quick if someone comes round for tea,' she says.

The tent experience

‘It is stressful,’ she admits. ‘But you know that everyone is feeling it. I wasn’t nervous about being on TV – you’re not thinking about all the people who’ll be watching, you’re just hoping the cake will turn out okay and that Mary and Paul will be happy.’

So what are the judges like? ‘Mary is so kind and caring,’ says Chetna. ‘Very maternal. In the morning, she would always ask how we were and if we were warm enough – the tent is quite chilly in the morning! And when she has some criticism, she always balances it with a bit of praise to soften the blow. Paul is lovely, too. He can taste some bread and know what flour you’ve used and how long you’ve proved the dough. You can’t lie to him,’ she laughs.

Nagging friends!

Chetna told us about how she got onto Bake Off. ‘I entered to stop my friends nagging me,’ she laughs. ‘I never thought I’d get on the series. Once you know you’re through, you’re not meant to tell anyone – just family. Then you have four weeks to come up with 20 original recipes. I think my friends wondered why I had gone mad with baking!’

Yet even after coming a very respectable fourth in the competition, there’s still that stress of how the cake will turn out.

Collect your recipe card pack at a development near you

Chetna has kindly given us three of her favourite recipes to share with you. Two of which can be downloaded here and the third one has been included in our recipe card packs that can be collected from over 50 developments nationwide. View the full list of participating developments here.

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