• Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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Baking classic desserts a piece of cake for Gill

(Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images).

By: Radhakrishna N S

By Amit Roy

RAVNEET GILL, a 29-year-old pas­try chef in London, says Asian wom­en – and even men – should not be afraid of trying their hand at baking cakes, tarts and chocolate biscuits.

“Actually in Britain, lots of pastry chefs are men and especially in France, it’s quite male dominated,” Gill pointed out in an exclusive inter­view with Eastern Eye.

Gill, who has 51,000 Instagram fol­lowers and is making quite a name for herself both in Britain and in the Unit­ed States, brought out her first book, The Pastry Chef’s Guide: The secret to successful baking every time, in April this year. It has been widely praised not only in Britain but also in Ameri­ca, where the New York Times praised her “perfect” chocolate chip cookie.

She has broken culinary and cul­tural barriers by being appointed the Daily Telegraph’s new baking column­ist. Her first column on November 7 was about how to make “crème frai­che breakfast loaf with jam and pista­chio cream”.

She said she wants readers to “learn a new skill every week and then start getting more comfortable with bak­ing. So to begin with, we’re going to go through all the classics like tarts and pies and mousses, and then we’ll move on to more complicated things.”

Gill, who is from a Sikh background, lives at home with her father, an ac­countant, originally from Punjab, her mother, and her maternal grandmother, who came to Britain from Kenya.

Her background, according to her publishers, Pavilion Books, is that she has “worked as a pastry chef for seven years. After completing a psychology degree, she studied at Le Cordon Bleu before working her way up the ranks in pastry sections all over London, most notably, St John, Llewelyn’s, Black Axe Mangal and Wild by Tart.

“In May 2018 she set up an organi­sation called Countertalk, a platform designed to help connect chefs, pro­vide education and promote healthy work environments in the hospitality industry. In 2020, she was confirmed as the new judge on Channel 4’s Jun­ior Bake Off.”

Gill acknowledges the fact that some Asians will not eat eggs, which does present a problem because many of her recipes are “quite egg based”.

She reveals she has always had a sweet tooth, “eating gulab jamuns and loving it and lots of jalebi and all that sort of stuff. I would go to school and then have things like sticky toffee pudding and cookies and cakes.”

On the difference between having a sweet tooth that hankers after Indian mithai and the western weakness for pastries, she set out the cultural pa­rameters: “A lot of my English friends wouldn’t be able to eat something like a gulab jamun because they would say it’s too sweet. It’s one of those things that you need to grow up eating in order to have the palate for it.

“A lot of English desserts toe the line between slightly salty and sweet at the same time. A lot of my recipes you’ll see have salt in them. It’s very important because it helps you to eat it and not feel sick at the end.”

She recommends us­ing flaky salt from Mal­den in her recipes – “it’s quite subtle, you put a few flakes on top and it changes everything”.

In her book, she is very specific about one in­gredient: “Always use the best choco­late you can afford.”

She explained: “When I was grow­ing up baking, I would use whatever I could get in the supermarket. And then, when I was working in kitchens and learning a lot about produce and creating something delicious, I found good-quality chocolate does make a difference in your cooking. I prefer cooking with dark chocolate.”

She said her mother is the best cook at home when it comes to mak­ing savoury dishes. “My mum doesn’t like weighing things. And she doesn’t like following recipes.”

In marked contrast, a pastry chef needs to follow certain rules. “And the new generation are very much into it. Whenever I train people in the kitch­en, I’ve had so many Indian men and women and people from different backgrounds wanting to learn to be pastry chefs.

“It’s amazing, having lots of young, Pakistani girls, there’s a lot more of a mix now. It’s all about follow­ing the rules to begin with. Then when you’re com­fortable, you can start exploring and changing them a bit. Making pastry is very much a science.”

She is in favour of people tossing in Indian spices such as cardamom. “But at the beginning, you definitely have to follow the rules to understand the underlying principles.”

It is possible to use ghee instead of butter, “but not necessarily for pas­tries. You can use ghee in cakes.”

She said her book “is designed for someone who wants to learn how to bake starting at the beginning. I teach things like meringue which is a very important principle to understand. Then we learn about custard and cream, then we go on to cakes, all the way to chocolate.”

When she was employed in a kitch­en, she was happy for people to con­tact her via Instagram and come and watch her work as a pastry chef. “I al­so do classes in London sometimes, when I do puff pastry and tarts and things like that.”

Her parents thought it would be a good idea if she went to university so she got a degree in psychology from Southampton. “It helped me deal with multiple personalities in the kitchen. I think if I hadn’t had that background knowledge on how to deal with peo­ple, I would have found it a lot harder.”

For an Indian dinner party, she said it is quite possible to follow a curry main course with one of her desserts:

“I would go for something light like a mango mousse, or ice cream, or a homemade sorbet or parfait, something that’s going to cleanse the palate rather than having something heavy.”

Eastern Eye

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