When The Great British Bake Off first aired, there were many rumours flying around that Rav Bansal was the first vegan baker in the tent. We caught up with him to find out what part plants have to play in his life- and his baking!
Please tell us about your vegan journey.
I never really saw myself permanently adopting a vegan lifestyle; I always knew it would be temporary. It's going to sound silly but I was having a craving for some brie cheese, silly reason I know, but that was the first non-vegan thing I chose to eat. Before turning vegan I was a full on carnivore, I would eat anything really, but now after the vegan thing I still don't eat meat and I avoid dairy as much as possible, but I am not so strict with myself about it and on very rare occasions I would eat fish. As contradictory as it may sound, I would describe myself as 'vegan-ish with pescatarian tendencies'
What made you go vegan in the first place?
I accepted a vegan challenge, which was set to me by my cousin back in 2014. It was supposed to be a 2 week thing, just to see if I had the strength to go without eating meat and dairy. I eventually went onto sticking to a strict vegan diet for just over 6 months. Not only did I have more energy and feel a lot healthier, I found that I was losing weight. Turning vegan, although brief, changed my attitude to food and forced me to be more careful about what I was eating. I have since lost 7 stone.
Was it difficult to work with some of the ingredients in the tent that were non-vegan/ non-veggie?
No, not at all. Although I don't eat meat myself, I don't have a problem cooking with it. I am someone who likes to cater to all types of diets, so if that includes cooking with ingredients that I don't eat myself then I am happy to do so.
You were crowned the Bake Off's first vegan so how did it make you feel when the process began?
It was interesting because technically it's not really true. I have been very open about the fact that I am someone who likes to do vegan baking but am not actually a vegan myself. I felt as though the vegan community were looking at me to be kind of like a representative for them on such a huge show. The pressure was defiantly on because I didn't want them to be disappointed and I'm sure some of them were.
How did the others in the tent react when they found out you leaned towards plant based eating?
It wasn't really much of a talking point to be honest. All of the bakers are passionate about food and cooking so I'm sure that they have catered to their own friends and family who have a plant based diet. Although, some of the bakers have since been asking me for vegan recipes, which I have been happy to provide.
What is your favourite vegan/ plant based dish to cook at home?
My favourite vegan bake has to be brownies, they are so versatile. You can add all sorts of ingredients to mix it up a bit. I have made vegan brownies with cardamom, pink peppercorns and even chilli. I think I have also perfected the perfect vegan cupcake, with a 'swiss meringue' buttercream made with chickpea water. Cooking wise, I can make a delicious quinoa and roasted vegetable tabbouleh, perfect as a side dish with my spiced falafel wraps.
What advice do you have for aspiring plant based bakers out there?
Experiment, experiment, experiment. You will find that you need to try different techniques to get it right. There have been many times when I have tried and failed when coming up with a vegan bake, but it's always exciting when the persistence pays off and you have something that others will never tell that its vegan.
Do you think the Bake Off should hold a plant-based themed week in the future?
I think it would be interesting. I believe they did an 'alternative ingredients' week last year which proved to be a challenge for most of the bakers. It would be compelling viewing if the bakers were told to make a cake with ingredients like aquafaba, flax seeds and silken tofu in front of them. I can only imagine the look on the bakers faces.
What are your top tips for making tofu more exciting?!
Flavour is the key, as we know Tofu doesn't have much taste on its own, so it's all about what you cook it with. I remember being in the tent making my 'Thai Tofu Yorkshires' and Paul was walking past me with a look of disgust on his face because he doesn't like tofu. So when he bit into it he actually liked the flavour and asked for another one, I was super happy with that response, probably one of my highlights in the tent.
What is next for you beyond Bake Off?
I will definitely continue to bake; being in the tent has not put me off baking at all. My dream is to have my own cookbook, I'm working on recipes now, delicious and flavoursome dishes, including many vegan and plant based recipes too. I plan to continue travel and expand my culinary repertoire; I'm always looking for weird and wonderful ingredients to use in my bakes. I have decided to take a sabbatical from my current job to focus on baking related opportunities.
tagged in Vegan