Nadiya Hussain has done a lot since winning ‘Great British Bake Off’ in 2015, but family is at the heart of her life — and her latest cookbook, writes Siobhan Howe.
I’m meeting Nadiya Hussain at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down, for the first Hillsborough Castle and Gardens Food Festival. We were due to meet in the press tent, in the grounds of the castle, where the food festival is in full swing.
But before I’m allowed to meet her there’s some unusual last-minute instructions, form-filling, and question-vetting to be done from Nadiya’s management. It makes me wonder about how open Nadiya will be to this interview.
Her team say we’re ready to go but not without a last-minute venue change to a room in the castle. I walk into a small sitting room, in what must have been the staff quarters. Nadiya apologises for having to move inside; the tent was a bit breezy and cold. Thankfully, she’s friendly and chatty, completely oblivious to the bureaucracy that had to happen before I got to meet her.
Four years on from her Great British Bake Off win, Nadiya seems to have changed so much from the woman we got to know through our TV screens. She even looks different — she’s wearing a butterfly patterned dress and a purple turban.
Nadiya exudes a calmness you often see in the busiest of people. She has three children, and has just released her latest book Time to Eat, which follows multiple cookbooks, a children’s book, and even a novel. She combines this with regular TV shows and appearances at events like this one in Hillsborough where she is doing demos and book signings.
But the centre of her world is her family and home. It is perhaps this that makes her stand out in the crowded space of celebrity chefs. Cookbooks for the busy family are everywhere but you get the sense that Nadiya’s is a collection of recipes from an actual household.
There’s an honesty in her approach to cooking for a family, an understanding that we don’t have hours to prepare Instagram-perfect meals for our children who sit quietly and wait while we cook. Nadiya has spoken publicly about her struggles with anxiety, yet Great British Bake Off shot her into the limelight and has led to a very successful career.
The Nadiya who deals with anxiety seems incongruous to the woman we’ve all come to know. Yet it is part of her and something she is very aware of and speaks openly about. She credits her husband as being the kick-starter of the big change, handing her the application form for series six of the Great British Bake Off and telling her, “I think you should do this.”
Great British Bake Off was certainly a catalyst for change in Nadiya’s life. She married at 20 (an arranged marriage), had three children in a relatively short space of time, and was working at home full time.
Now she she’s a public figure and an inspiration to her many followers and fans. After 14 years of marriage she remarried her husband, in what she described as “nothing fancy, just love”. Her life revolved around her family before her public career and it still very much does, but she has now added a new dimension to it with her new career. Her recipes, writing, and TV are inspired by her family life.
Time to Eat is a book for real people, because it is essentially a recipe book direct from the home of a busy mom. “Everything is tested in my little kitchen,” says Nadiya. “The recipes are mine and that’s really important to me. When I do a cookery show I know these recipes really well, because every recipe I’ve ever published has been tested by my kids.”
We’ve all picked up a cookery book for an imagined life that we’re going to live, where we will go to seven different shops to source ingredients, leave beans soak overnight — but if you’re anything like me, these books will sit on shelves like pieces of art, admired but never used.
We talk about how her approach appeals to so many, that her recipes are developed in her family home where normal family life happens. She smiles, saying that she can’t do it any other way because “my family are literally the centre point of my life, everything I do revolves around them... everything I can do or not do or attend or not attend is around them — they always come first”.
She’s unapologetic in her choice to put her family’s needs at the heart of everything she does. And why should she apologise, this is something that many women struggle with — the having it all, the balance between family and work life, the guilt, the other voices, but often in these discussions we forget about choice.
Based on our own personal circumstances there is choice within how we live our lives, how and who we prioritise. This is true whether you have children or not, there’s often a centre point to your life, a focus or a priority and in Nadiya’s case that is her children.
The inspiration for this new book is drawn from her own life, the desire to prioritise home cooking and how we all struggle to find the time. Time to Eat has lots of recipes that you can double batch or recipes where we you can make two meals from the same process — and this is where I was hooked.
There’s a recipe for delicious cheesecake breakfast croissants but you take half and make overnight oats for a second breakfast. She’s all about making good food but acknowledges that we’re time poor: “You could cook one week and use freezer meals the next week — utilising the things you have in your house — your freezer is your friend.”
What about microwaves? Did I really hear a chef talk about microwaves being an essential kitchen tool?
So that’s it, permission to use your microwave for dinners. There is so much snobbery around cooking, no one wants to admit that sometimes they reach for a tin of beans as the starting point for dinner. Nadiya is changing this. Acknowledging the realities of home cooking is so refreshing. Tomorrow my beans will be served over a microwaved jacket potato — my three-year-old will be delighted and there will be no guilt. Thanks Nadiya.
“Sometimes they love the craziness of chocolate cake for breakfast one day, and tempura prawns the next when I’m testing recipes,” she says, “but they also love it when they come home to a clean kitchen and a family dinner.”
Growing up in a community where the women didn’t go out to work, Nadiya says it is particularly important her kids see she can have a career and be a mom: “I really want my daughter to see that she can go out to work, but equally I want my sons to see it. It’s wonderful that all these lessons can be taught in one small room, the kitchen — the heart of our home.”
For more on Hillsborough Castle and Gardens and upcoming events go to hrp.org.uk/hillsborough-castle