Ravinder Bhogal – Cook in Boots



Before Ravinder Bhogal won a British Channel 4 cooking com­pe­tition, she could be found in her kitchen mainly at night, whenever she was able to steal time away from her work as a beauty and fashion editor. Friends and family were always delighted to receive the fruits of her nocturnal labors. Growing up in Kenya as one of five children of an orthodox Punjabi couple, she was introduced to foods and ingredients from all over the world at a very early age. Today, she lives and cooks mainly in London. The notorious program “F Word” with Gordon Ramsay, which Ravinder won in 2008, changed her life from one day to the next: she has since published her award-winning recipe book “Cook in Boots” and cooks her way through TV shows and hotel kitchens while dreaming of opening her first restaurant.

Despite the sudden media attention which turned her life completely upside-down, the 34-year-old has remained refreshingly unaffected by it all. “I think it was fate really,” Ravinder says laughingly. (If you hadn’t noticed Ravinder’s generous mouth before, this is the moment when you join the ranks of those who find it almost impossible to avert their gaze from it.) “I have this really good friend, who phoned me up and said, ‘you know Gordon Ramsey is planning this competition called ‘Find me a Fanny’ where he’s looking for a female cook. You have to enter, I just have this real feeling that if you do you are going to win.’” The intentionally suggestive title of the program allegedly refers to Fanny Cradock, a British writer, restaurant critic and TV cook who died in 1994, and sets the tone for this uniquely British production with plenty of innuendo. With her fresh butter-won’t-melt-in-my-mouth looks that make her saucy comments all the more piquant, Ravinder was an unqualified success. Never shy to call a flavor or a dish sexy, she constantly draws attention to the more sensual aspects of great cooking and delectable foods. And so it was Ravinder who was selected from thousands of competitors and awarded the coveted kitchen scepter. “Had somebody told me five years ago that I’d be cooking in restaurant kitchens everywhere today, I would have said they were crazy. But now here I am and I’m very happy about it.”

Practice makes perfect

Ravinder started cooking at the tender age of five, not out of inner passion, but simply to satisfy her appetite. “If you’re hungry, then cook something for yourself,” her mother would say and taught her insatiable daughter to cook – albeit with an ulterior motive. “To get a husband you must be able to cook, otherwise you won’t find anybody,” Ravinder quotes her mother brandishing an index finger topped with bright red nail polish and imitates an admonishing look. If her mother’s predictions had been correct, Ravinder’s cooking mastery would have won her an entire male harem by now. Her dishes are strongly influenced by Indian cuisine with a Mediterranean slant, and often include spices from the Middle East. The results are not only a firework of flavor, but also extremely colorful and enticing. Everything that emerges from Ravinder’s steaming pots and pans is mouthwateringly appetizing. She stirs, spices, tastes and energetically shakes the enormous frying pans that look much too heavy for her delicate wrists – all without the slightest mishap. Then, as she reaches over the table for a piece of chocolate, a chunk of butter falls to the ground. Uttering a little cry, she says: “I must seem like the clumsiest chef, mustn’t I? I actually am, I have no patience at all!”

The passion Ravinder puts in her cooking can be tasted in every single bite. “It’s the most satisfying feeling in the world when you cook for people,” she enthuses and chomps on a roasted almond coated in maple syrup. “I love the difference you can make to someone’s day if you give them a beautiful bowl of cooked pasta, a curry or a lovingly prepared stew. They feel so grateful to you and they give you so much love,” she says as she starts laughing again. “I’m addicted to receiving that. So when I think about it, I just do it for the compliments!”

I love the difference you can make to someone's day if you give them a beautiful bowl of cooked pasta, a curry or a lovingly prepared stew. They feel so grateful to you and they give you so much love.

No matter what subject Ravinder talks about, her optimism sweeps away any negative vibes within a radius of at least one hundred kilometers. During our lunch in a nearby diner she chats about the connection between her two vices, high heels and taxis, her recent cooperation with Guy&Max in which she trans­formed her famed roasted nuts into golden diamonds using edible gold spray (“Ever since, I’d really like to spray it on everything I eat!”) and a long list of cooks that inspire her. Appearing to be in her mid-twenties at most with her youthful and refreshingly lighthearted persona, she even finds something positive to say about the rubbery sandwich they dish up at the seedy café while polishing off the last crumb. Then, thanking the slightly stunned proprietor effusively, Ravinder skips out on her high heels, leaving only the tea untouched. There she makes a joking comment with a wink: “That was a bit too much.”

Ravinder is particularly enchanting when she talks about the people she loves, and her eyes begin to glow from behind her ebony-black bangs. For example, about her brother, who’s “not really a good cook,” and her three sisters, “all brilliant cooks,” one of whom lives in India. “It’s fantastic,” says Ravinder, who travels frequently in general, and at least once a year to India. “Now I have a home there, too.” No one, however, comes close to Ravinder’s mother in the kitchen. A mother who never went to school, yet ironically taught Ravinder nearly everything she needs to know to earn her livelihood. “My mother is a magical cook. Anything that passes through her hands tastes incredibly good. Even if she peels a piece of fruit for you, it tastes better because it has been in her hands. She is completely magical.” Ravinder’s father, whose photo can be found in her first cookbook, died recently. “He had this dream for me,” she says. “When I was a beauty journalist he didn’t really understand what I did and complained about that. My work took place in a world that was completely foreign to him. Then, when I started to do food, he was so proud and excited. He was very happy,” she recalls.
“I want to live this dream for him a bit as well.“

I would really love to stand for ethical luxury. Pleasure and responsibility do not have to be mutually exclusive.

A dream that is not just about owning a restaurant. “Of course, that would be wonderful and right now I’m really earning my stripes at the moment, going into these male-dominated kitchens and working very hard.” However, this gorgeous and talented cook also wants to channel the enormous media attention she’s receiving so that her brand will also benefit the greater good. “I want to stand up for people who are not being paid a fair wage for the food they produce. And, without interfering with other people’s lives or being judgmental, I want to show what a difference even only 10 pence more can make. Every decision to buy is also a decision that can make a difference.” Luckily for her, scaling back to eco-friendly footwear is not essential in her mission to improve the world.

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