Nadiya Hussain - self-professed mama and maker, builder of Lego and baker of cake - reveals how her life has changed since winning The Great British Bake Off, ahead of her appearance at one of the country’s biggest foodie events. 

 

Interview by Evie Kissack

So, you’re appearing at the BBC Good Food Show here in Birmingham this winter. What do you love most about the Show?

What’s nice is that I get to see lots of different people and other chefs. I still can’t quite believe that I’m doing this! I’m always like, “Oh my god these are people that I watch on television.” I find that so exciting. I’m like, “How did this happen?” 

What recipes will you be taking to the Big Kitchen?

So I’m doing ‘Spinach and Paneer Kati Rolls’, which are lovely because they’re just so quick and so easy; it’s a lovely recipe that one. Also I’m making ‘Date and Orange Crescents’, which are perfect for winter and Christmas. During Christmas we like to give baked stuff away to our neighbours, we wrap them all up and give them out, so that’s going to be our theme this year! 

[Laughs] I know you also write a weekly column for The Times, as well as publishing your own fiction novels - and of course successful cookbooks. Have you always held a passion for writing?

I’ve been writing for a lot, lot longer than I’ve been cooking or baking. I started writing when I was seven and have carried on up until now, and of course since winning Bake Off I’ve had so many amazing opportunities. For me, writing and being in the kitchen are things that I’ve always done; to be able to combine the two and do a job that I absolutely love, and raise my family is amazing. I try to show my kids that it’s important to have a good work ethic, and have a balance I suppose. For me, sometimes it gets to Friday and I don’t even know where the day has gone! I just tell myself, “You have to stop.” So I’ll relax and play a board game or something…it’s all about balance and I’m still very glad that I get to do what I love and call it my job, because it doesn’t feel like one.  

Having judged the Junior Bake off and created children’s cookbooks, why do you feel it's important to involve little ones in the kitchen and encourage them to develop a love for cooking?

Because I think it’s really important as young adults to be self-sufficient, and by young adults I mean even eight year olds! I can proudly say my kids are able to clean the toilet, or maybe do the ironing…I always say to my kids, “I’m new at doing this mum thing and you’re new at being a kid, we can only do this job once! If we are going to do it badly can we do it together?” [Laughs] I think there’s so much honesty between us, and we are honest in the fact that some days we just aren’t very good at being parents, and some days they aren’t very good at being kids! But we do it together! [Laughs] I want to prepare them as much as I can for the world. I can’t stop bad things happening, and I have to prepare them for reality. They can’t just have this expectation that everything is going to get done for them, it’s just not real. 

Your story is very inspirational; you’ve previously spoken very honestly about fighting personal anxieties along the way. What advice would you give to those starting out that may struggle with confidence in their own creative abilities? 

I think when you have something like panic disorder it’s not something that is just going to go away. People often ask me what advice I’d give, and it’s really hard because each experience is individual. There is no one answer. But, the one thing that works for me is that I often scare myself. I have a safe box. I like routine and just to feel safe. For me, to be able to push myself outside of my comfort zone means that every time I do something that frightens me and I get through it…then I’m on the other side to see it…I feel like I’ve conquered something. So, for anyone who has anxiety or mental health issues - maybe just once just try and scare yourself and come out the other side. Once you know that feeling – that you know you can do it - it becomes addictive. 

And your passion for baking; is this something you grew up with? 

No, no. My parents are great cooks, so cooking was something I was always around – I wasn’t necessarily encouraged to cook. Only when I got a little bit older, maybe at nine or ten years old, did my dad tell me I had to learn. As I got into my teens I started to learn how to cook properly, but I never baked at home. My parents never baked…if we ate cake it was because it was out of a packet or from a shop. I never actually baked a cake until I was about 21! 


Can you remember the first thing you ever baked?

The first thing I ever baked was in school, and it was a scone, and it was terrible. I didn’t know what scones were supposed to taste like because I’d never had one before, so I ate it and thought, “Oh that tastes nice…” and the teacher told me, ”No that’s not what a scone is supposed to taste like.” [Laughs] But, when you’ve never tasted them before, you assume it tastes right! 

Do you have a favourite dish you like to bake? 

If it’s going to be cake, it’s always carrot cake - with cream cheese. 


Ooh, nice choice. 

If it’s going to be savoury it depends upon my kids – my kids go in waves of what they like to eat. At the moment it’s mushroom lasagne. 


I’ve never actually tried mushroom lasagne!

It’s literally just replacing the meat with mushrooms. Super easy. 


Do you cook many festive dishes at this time of year?

Like most families there’s lots of biscuit tins, lots of chocolates. We don’t celebrate Christmas, but it’s my birthday on Christmas Day, so in the lead up we are always cooking in the kitchen as a family. Usually everyone comes up to my house for dinner, and I have a big family…there’s 24 of us in total. So, it’s quite a lot of people for a small house – I can’t always fit everyone in. [Laughs] But, we manage. My sisters will bring a dish, and we kind of mix and match – it’s very continental. 


How lovely! Who are your food heroes? 

I used to always love watching Delia [Smith] – she lived this life that felt almost unachievable. You know, she had a beautiful kitchen island, and she used to cook for her family…she was so softly spoken. I always used to look at Delia and think, “I want to be just like her!” Yeah, I definitely aspired to be like her. Rick Stein too – I loved watching him because he cooked and travelled. The fact that he could go out into the big wide world whilst I couldn’t, meant he would see the world for me. So, I used to love watching him. Nigel Slater and the way he writes…I just adore it. I definitely like all of those elements of those chefs. 


Do you hope to travel and cook more in the future?

Oh yeah! Definitely. I’ve got a travel book that comes out in December, so that’s very exciting. I travelled to Thailand, Cambodia and Nepal, and this was by far one of the richest experiences I’ve had. I can’t believe I’ve gotten to go out to those parts of the world. 

 

Watch Nadiya cooking seasonal goodies in the Big Kitchen at the BBC Good Food Show Winter on 30 November at the NEC.

Tickets for the BBC Good Food Show Winter are available via the following link: www.bbcgoodfoodshow.com/birmingham-winter

www.nadiyahussain.com

@BegumNadiya

 

Recipes: Spinach & Paneer Kati Rolls – Nadiya’s Family Favourites by Nadiya Hussain (published by Michael Joseph), £15.00

Date and Orange Crescents - Nadiya’s Bake Me A Celebration Story (illustrated by Clair Rossiter) (published Hodder Children’s Books), £14.99

Photo credit: Chris Terry

 

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