“My friends were my encouragement”

Cookbook writer, mother and 2014 Great British Bake Off contestant, Chetna Makan had her food lightbulb moment after inviting friends around for dinner. Find out how running a takeaway curry night, from her house, encouraged her to take her cooking to a professional level.

“My friends were my encouragement”

I grew up in India and have always loved food, being in the kitchen watching my mum cook, helping and learning at the same time. I didn’t start cooking for myself until I moved away from home to go to college in Mumbai at the age of 17, and the more I experimented and learned, the more I enjoyed it. I had a different focus then, though.

I was studying fashion and was so in love with all the creative elements of it that I never thought of cooking as anything more than a hobby. But I’d started cooking for my friends and also my landlady and her family, and it would give me so much joy to see them all thoroughly enjoy the food.

 

''I was studying fashion and was so in love with all the creative elements of it that I never thought of cooking as anything more than a hobby''

And then came the move to the UK 10 years ago. I started working in retail and still didn’t think of cooking in a professional way. When I had my kids I met some other new mums who were lovely and are now my closest of friends. I started inviting them over and cooking for their families. They would be complimentary and say they had never tasted such Indian food. They would often say I should open a restaurant or do some kind of supperclub, so one day I decided to do a takeaway night from my kitchen.

 

''In fact, the response I got that evening was simply amazing''

I informed all my friends that one Friday evening I would cook a massive meal and they could all get a takeaway. I had such a fantastic time cooking through the day, and my friends were so pleased to take home little boxes of proper home-cooked Indian food… In fact, the response I got that evening was simply amazing. My phone didn’t stop beeping all night with lovely messages from my friends talking about the food. To this day they remember that takeaway evening fondly, and I loved every minute of it, too.

That was the first time I thought maybe I can cook and could somehow take up cooking professionally – it really was my lightbulb moment and it gave me the confidence to enter The Great British Bake Off, back in 2014. Now, with two books published and another coming out in 2019 I can hardly believe how much difference that one night has made to my life.

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September 2019