We chat to Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain

Nadiya Hussain
Nadiya Hussain

Life couldn’t be sweeter for Nadiya Hussain. The Great British Bake Off winner is the latest big name to join Foodies Festival Christmas in Harrogate on the 11th-13th December, where she’ll be sharing her favourite recipes to help create the perfect Christmas banquet.

What a great way to spend the morning, chatting to Nadiya over tea and biscuits. However, in reality when I catch up with her she’s sitting among a host of cardboard boxes, with a flask of tea and a pack of digestives. She’s busy. She’s on the move…

“We’re moving to Milton Keynes,” she says with a sense of excitement in her voice.

After moving from Luton to Leeds to marry husband Abdal ten years ago, Nadiya is ready to return back south.

“We decided that if I did well and I got any opportunities we would take those opportunities and make the most of them,” she says. “A couple of weeks into the show my husband said: ‘Win it. Go in there and win that bloody show, and I will sell the house and we’ll move down south closer to our parents.’

“My parents are really hands-on with the kids. I need their support. I’ve been away from home too long.

“It’s definitely a balancing act. I’m still being mum and staying at home but I also have to do all these other things on top. It’s tough and we’re moving house as well so I haven’t baked in seven days and that seems like a very long time to go without baking. I’m itching to bake something. I feel like I’m neglecting my oven at the moment I feel awful.

 

“Yorkshire is one of the nicest places to live. I’ll always be closely affiliated to Yorkshire. My children and husband were born here and I want to do more work up north, I want to keep coming back and am thankful for the town that supported me through all of this in such a big way. I also make a mean Yorkshire pudding!”

When Nadiya next comes up north, she’ll be presenting some of her famous bakes in Harrogate. “I’m baking a chocolate, raspberry and mint tart and my chocolate and black olive cookies, which the audience will be able to recreate at home and wow their friends and family with.

“It’s a little strange and I’m the type of person who likes to stay away from the camera, ‘says the woman that was on Bake Off’! I know that sounds ridiculous, but I hate being on camera. It’s one of those things at the start where I thought I’ve just got to get over the whole camera thing and get on with it and actually it wasn’t too bad. I’m not that nervous about doing festivals and demos. I just think: ‘Be yourself and I’ll be all right’.”

As my soggy digestive plops into my tea, I’m curious to know where to start when it comes to baking. I’m a complete novice and my results at baking ‘butterfly buns’ in my school years were hard enough to smash a window or two.

“I got my kids into baking. They’re the only people I have taught to bake and any other members of the family say: ‘Oh, you do such a good job, you do the baking, we’ll just stay clear!’ With the kids I started with biscuits, because you can get your hands in. Simple things like biscuits and cupcakes are always the way to start and then work your way up to different techniques, tarts and pies and bread.

“When I first started baking I didn’t have a lot of patience. But you have to be so patient and methodical when you’re baking. If I’m doing a recipe that I am familiar with I can usually get away with not getting the scales out, but if it’s something I’m doing for the first time, literally every bowl in the house will get used. Every little detail has to be perfect. When something goes wrong, you’ve just got to deal with it. That’s the philosophy that I have in my everyday life, not just the kitchen.”

Nadiya was renowned for her artistic culinary skills, re-creating her wedding cake and even creating a stunning chocolate peacock that would have made a great hat for Ascot.

“When it comes to my kids, they will eat it if it’s fallen on the floor and I’ve stepped in it, but when I was on the show you need to go that extra mile and I think sometimes it definitely pushes that creative flare out of you. It’s an art.”

Despite the fact that her children will gladly eat squashed cake, they are also her toughest critics…

“The judges are like fairies compared to my kids. I have a rule in my house that if they don’t like something they don’t have to eat it. I won’t force them to eat anything they don’t like. If they don’t like it they will literally say: ‘That’s horrible’ and that hurts. When I was on the show I experimented a lot and made something with lavender. I put it in my son’s mouth and he said: ‘That’s disgusting. Why would you do that to me?’ He kept coming back every half hour saying ‘I’ve still got that flavour in my mouth!’ They just don’t sugar coat anything!

“I bake every day that God sends. I always cook a fresh meal for my kids every day so for me baking is very similar. It comes to me naturally. I suppose a massive part of me thinks if I’m a stay-at-home mum and I’m looking after my children 24 hours a day, why can’t I bake for them? Why can’t they have fresh, sweet things to eat? Surely that’s a luxury that I’ve got that I can make the most of.”

Nadiya’s success on the Great British Bake Off was all down to one secret ingredient, the ingredient being love…

“Baking with love is essential,” say Nadiya, “all my bakes were so closely related to my family and there was a reason why I had baked them.”

Her baking prowess certainly evoked a lot of emotion for judge Mary Berry. When Nadiya was announced as the winner, Mary was overcome with emotion. “I think she was aware how close I am to my family. I bake from my heart and I’m sure she sensed that, which is probably why she was quite emotional.

“It’s really weird because you’d think she was super close to me, but they’re judges, they come in do their bit then leave. That’s how it works. They don’t really spend a great deal of time with us; you don’t have massive conversation with them. I think throughout the show, I’d worn my heart on my sleeve, and every time I took my bake up to the judges they could just see the fear in my eyes. I was genuinely terrified. I would wince every time they would put something in their mouths, worrying that I’d mixed the sugar up for salt! I just panicked all the time and I think Mary sensed that and every now and again she would come over and pat me on the shoulder and say: ‘Come on, little one, you can do it, come on smile.’”

The term ‘little one’ used by Mary would have seemed ridiculous if she had entered the competition three years ago when Nadiya was a size 16.

“I like getting dressed up but I gave all that up about three years ago. I threw my wardrobe away because nothing fitted me anymore. I got rid of everything. I thought I was never going to get into a size 10 again so everything went to charity and then when I got rid of everything I thought ‘what am I doing? Why can’t I just lose weight?’

“Every time I bake something I always have one mouthful of whatever it is I’ve baked and I literally stop I try my very best to have the same portion as the kids. I also got rid of the TV. I found that when I had the TV, I’d sit in front of it every evening mindlessly eating. It took me nine months before I managed to lose three stones. I just ate less, continued to bake and walked five miles every day.”

This lass has overcome every obstacle in her way, one of the obstacles being the bad press she received when she first entered the show.

“As soon as my name was in the press they were so many negative comments some saying ‘She’s probably the only one on benefits’, very negative comments. At this point I already knew I had won, so I thought: ‘Let it unfold’. I don’t care how people perceive me. I did what I could and I did my best and that’s what’s important.

“I think that’s the case wherever I go. If I’m stepping into something new I always feel a little bit nervous. I’m not going to hide the fact that Muslims probably haven’t represented themselves well in the media and I think I worry that being a Muslim can sometimes hinder me. It was very easy to be at home, hidden away, living life day to day. I was so aware that this was prime time TV, and worried about what people would say or think.

“I’m Bangladeshi, I’m a Muslim, I’m a stay-at-home mum. I’m all of those things and I think being a mixture of all those things there are so many boundaries that I didn’t necessarily put on myself but that society puts on me. You don’t need to put limitations on yourself, slowly but surely one wall was broken, then another, so I didn’t feel any of those boundaries any more and that’s how I feel now. Week after week I broke all those boundaries for myself.

“I think for the first time I spent all these years teaching my kids about being themselves and being happy and doing things that make them smile and partly I didn’t believe it myself but now I do.”

When I ask her if they’ll be any more ‘buns in the oven’, she practically chokes on her tea. “No, my family is now complete,” she giggles. “And anyway, I’m far too busy practising my chocolate soufflés!”

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