Food with Chetna Makan – one of the greatest Indian cooks

February 12, 2023 (Last Updated: February 9, 2023)

Chetna Makan is a household name – and for good reason. Ever since appearing on the Great British Bake off in 2014, Chetna has been on a steady rise to becoming a go-to cookbook author for authentic and delicious Indian cuisine. We caught up with her to chat about her upcoming book, Chetna’s Easy Baking and learn more about her inspiration when it comes to cooking and baking.


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A post shared by Chetna Makan (@chetnamakan)

How did all of this start? How did you find yourself in food?

It definitely wasn’t a planned thing. I moved to a small town and because I worked in fashion, there wasn’t anything in fashion that I could do here. At that time, we never had a fast train and if I wanted to continue working in fashion then I would have needed to take a 5-hour train to London and back so I just worked in a retail clothing store but I never really enjoyed it as I really wanted to design. When my kids got older, there was a new cooking show on TV and my friends and I would discuss it. My friends told me to apply but I didn’t think I would get through. I could bake cakes but no pastry or bread. I applied and a few days later I got the call to join Great British Bake Off! That’s when my career and life just changed.

How has it changed your life?

Because I did something different in the show that was appreciated by so many people (which was combining Indian flavours with baking). I then did the book and once the first one came out (which still sells very well), it just showed me that there was a great market for something new and that’s been my life so far.


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A post shared by Chetna Makan (@chetnamakan)

What are your most memorable food moments?

Gosh, there are so many! But I would definitely have to go back to my childhood and eat with my family. Just before lockdown, my 2 sisters and I were together at my parent’s house with my parents and they have the same dining table that has been in the house since the house was built. The house has not changed one bit and for me, that was so special. We were only together for 4 days but just to have every meal on that dining table again like in the old days was the most amazing feeling – I felt like I was dreaming!

How do you stay inspired to create new recipes?

It is hard for me because I work from home and live in a small town. If I was in London then there would be inspiration everywhere I looked. There are new restaurants opening every day and the street food there is incredible. Being at home, I rely on my travels or my memories from India and the food I ate in India. Once I get the inspiration though, it’s easy. I also get inspiration from the food I eat. In Edinborough, I had an incredible fritter that inspired me so much. Honestly, I just have to keep my eyes and senses open for inspiration.


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In a lot of your videos, you often speak about your mom and how she influenced your cooking. What’s your favourite thing that she makes?

Hands down her chicken curry and aloo paratha! While she was a stay-at-home mom, she studied after marriage which was quite unheard of at that time. She would cook us 3 meals every day and I’ve always seen her cooking, but the biggest thing was that she never saw it as a job – she genuinely enjoyed cooking for people. She just inspires me so much and even today she makes everything from scratch. She makes her own ketchup and pickles and her own garam masala.

Tell me about your new book, Chetna’s Easy Baking?

I started writing last year when the lockdown was over and because lockdown played a big role in bringing baking back into fashion simply because everyone had the time and everyone was baking. However, I also knew that there were people who were just tired of making complicated dishes. People find it technical and they are a little scared of it so I knew I had to do an easy baking book in my own way, with my own flavour combination to make the traditional bakes into something more amazing.


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How do you work around the preconceptions that people have about Indian food is unhealthy?

I got so many emails and messages from people saying that my books, Chetna’s Healthy Indian and Healthy Indian Vegetarian helped them eat better. For so many people, curry and samosas were the only indian foods they knew and by writing those books, I felt like I was bringing something new to the market in a better way where it is not about your Friday night curry but rather about the everyday food that is amazing and healthy.

Do you have any favourite recipes that stand out to you?

There are some things I keep cooking generally just because they are in my routine. Every Monday I cook my tadka dhal. Dhal is something I start my Monday with because I feel like we over-indulge on weekends and it’s nice to start the week knowing what I am going to make. I absolutely love making naan too!


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A post shared by Chetna Makan (@chetnamakan)

What are your favourites from the new book?

The saffron fennel cake is definitely my favourite. It is simple and unusually spiced but the flavours are so delicate and gentle. I also love the banoffee chocolate pavlova as it keeps the classic banoffee but with the pavlova flavor. I really enjoy all the savoury recipes in the books like the masala focaccia and the lentil potato rolls which are vegan and super quick to make.

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Written by Fatima Saib

Feature image: mark saunders / Alamy Stock Photo

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