Spoilers ahead for The Great British Baking Show.
Despite Ruby Bhogal’s formidable smørrebrøds and madeleines having ignited some (tasty) fear in other bakers during her time on The Great British Baking Show, our gal from London finished as a runner-up to Rahul Mandal in one of the show’s tightest-ever finals. (A final that, in a real twist, ventured outside the tent.) But so what! Even if the coveted cake-stand trophy didn’t end up in her hands, Bhogal’s delightfully sunny, chill personality charmed us throughout her Baking Show tenure, and she was the obvious fan-favorite by the time her last treat was baked. Earlier this week, Vulture rang up Bhogal while she was in the back of an Uber in London to discuss her intense ten weeks in the tent, the perils of baking in 100-degree heat, and her go-to excuse when she disappeared for all those weekends of filming.
Let’s start from day one: What encouraged you to apply for the show?
I’ve only been baking for about two years, now. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it was a bit of divine fate. I was out of a job for a few months after moving back to London, and I came across one of the baking books that was in my house. I saw in the book that bread took about five hours to do, so I was like, I know how I can waste away the day! It was really by chance and it gave me something to do, and it quickly turned into something I loved. I’m a big foodie anyway, both sweet and savory. I love how food brings people together, and I want to make people happy through food. I saw the call for the application on television, and I honestly thought, “Why not? What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t get through?” Never in a million years did I ever think I would actually get my foot into that tent, and I managed to make my way into the finals.
I know the actual audition process is very long and very arduous.
Oh, God, yeah. I had no idea what to expect, but it was very long. There are dozens and dozens of questions online, which weed out the people who aren’t serious. It took me a few days to get that one done.
During your audition, what came the easiest or hardest for you?
They asked us to bring in iced biscuits, and I’d never done that before in my life. I suck at making biscuits. That’s the one thing I steer well clear of! When they told me that, and that they would have to be iced, I freaked. I was up until five in the morning and they still looked bad. The audition also gauges how well you can deal with pressure. You do a technical.
So there’s no way someone can scam their way into the show by having someone else bake for them …
Completely, [no]. It’s funny, every single month would go by and I’d go, “I’m going to be called out by these people and they’ll know I have no clue what I’m doing! She’s just here because she likes to eat a lot!” After watching the show for so many years, the very first thing I thought when walking into the tent was, “Was this the dumbest decision I’ve made in my life?”
It’s hard to know how many cameras are hovering around the tent at any given time. Is there an intensity about filming that we don’t see?
On TV, it looks calm and nice and chill. But at the front of the tent, there’s a good 30 or 35 people standing there. Crew, tech, food economic people. At one point during the first two weeks, there were eight massive cameras in the front of the tent [along with] your own camera that follows you everywhere. It’s daunting, but you kind of forget the cameras are in your face.
I loved how those chic glasses of yours never slipped when you were baking. That’s some camera magic.
Oh, girl, they did! [Laughs.] Those glasses would not stay on at all. One of the first weeks, I wore my glasses because I had an eye infection. I was so tired and feeling really, really run-down. Mid-week, I looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame, or even better, punched in the face. Just awful. I was thinking, “Oh, no, this is the week Terry is coming back, so I don’t want to be the one who misses the next week.” So I put on my glasses. It was the hottest week in the tent ever. I remember looking at the thermometer and it said 38 degrees Celsius [100 degrees Fahrenheit]. My glasses wouldn’t say on, they were slipping down my face every other minute. When I opened the oven, my glasses would fog up, too. I don’t know how people do it.
Jeez, I’m sorry it was so hot. The cynical side of me is like, Don’t request chocolate work if it’s that hot outside!
We felt the exact same way! [Laughs.] The second week it was so hot, and we had to do the chocolate collar. That was hell. But the week after, it was bread week. The one week we actually wanted a warm temperature in the tent, it was freezing. On social media, people were asking why there isn’t air conditioning, but it’s not possible because of the sound. We can’t even have a dishwasher in the back because of the noise. There’s a poor woman in the back washing every dish by hand. One woman!
In Britain, having a summer is usually a good thing, but I hated it. I couldn’t tell anyone at work what I was doing on the weekends. I would come back on Mondays and they would tell me about their glorious summer weekends with barbecues and swimming, and I was just like, Ugh.
What was your go-to excuse for colleagues and friends?
This is why I’m so glad I’m Indian. I have such a huge family, so I’d say someone was getting married every weekend. [Laughs.] Indian weddings last, like, a week, which is great, because if I needed to work on something baking-related during the week as well, I’d say it was wedding-related. Nobody questioned me at all! They did want to see photos, so I conjured up photos from weddings in the past.
A few months ago, I talked to the prior Baking Show winner, Sophie, and she mentioned her surprise at the cost of preparing for bakes. Did you find yourself spending a lot of money, too?
It was nice enough that the show gave us a little stipend. But yeah, I spent a lot of money. I never did the final math, but let’s just say I could’ve gone on a really nice holiday with that money. The thing is, I didn’t have a lot of equipment in my kitchen that other bakers usually have. Like, I didn’t have a proper stand mixer. I was using a wooden spoon or a hand-whisk. So I paid for some equipment, but I can’t complain. It was an amazing experience even if the price was massive in the end.
Hey, it’s an investment! Those KitchenAids have lifetime guarantees.
You’re so right. KitchenAids have changed my life. I’ve got no space in my flat anymore because of all of my baking stuff.
You also had the pleasure of competing outside of the tent during the final. Did you enjoy making your campfire pita, or did you wish your last technical was in the tent?
I absolutely loved it. I saw on social media that people weren’t thrilled, and I understand how some people didn’t think it was traditional baking. I thought it was great, because leading up to that last weekend, the entire experience had been bonkers. Of course they’ll have to do something ridiculous on the final weekend! Would I have fared better if I was back in the tent? Probably. But it was so much fun. That entire hour and a half someone was either yelling, “It’s so hot!” or “How am I doing!?”
I wonder what the next outdoor challenge will be.
They’ll do it again, for sure. You should’ve seen our faces when we walked into the tent. There was absolutely nothing on our counters. When Prue said we couldn’t even use our ovens, we were baffled. Some people are like, “How did you not see they were setting up three campfires outside?” I’m not ridiculously gullible! The next day, which was the family and friends picnic for the finale, we were told that they were setting up for the barbecue for everyone. That makes sense! Three barbecues — one for chicken, one for pork, one for beef. We believed them.
One of the weirder stories to emerge from your season was a controversy involving Rahul, and how there’s footage of him continuing his bake after the clock stopped. Was that a common thing bakers did and we just didn’t see it much?
It amazed me how captivated people were with that. If you have a few extra seconds or someone’s not looking, you’re going to do something. I know we like to say “fair and square,” but everyone’s guilty of it. If the time runs out and you have one little thing to put on your plate, you’re still going to put the one little thing on your plate. The poor guy got a lot of flack for that. I’m pretty sure we’re all guilty of doing something of equal measure during our time in the tent.
Hell, I’d do it.
Everyone would! Everyone acts all high and mighty, but we’d all do it.
Judging by social media, you and the other bakers have remained friends. What do your post-show hangs look like? Does Paul crash?
Unfortunately, Paul hasn’t crashed any of our hangs yet. [Laughs.] I’m sure he will at some point. I hang a lot with Manon and Antony, since they live pretty close to me. Brionny and Imelda have come over quite a few times to London since we finished filming, too. It’s fantastic. Believe it or not, a lot of our socials gravitate a lot around food and wine. They’re people you never would have come across in your life, but you’re bonded by your love of food and baking. I’m so thankful for that. I have constant drinking buddies and constant people to hang around London with.
What’s next for you? Do you want to pursue baking full-time?
I’ve got all of these really interesting offers coming through the door, and I feel like a kid on Christmas every day. There’s always something new or random that comes up. I think it’s quite a good time for me to experience and try different things. Baking will always be a top priority, but 2019 will be a big year for Ruby. I don’t want to say too much!