Like many of the bloggers I’ve invited to this little series of interviews, Urvashi Roe aka The Botanical Baker, has fast become a dear friend. We first met in person (along with her two gorgeous daughters) on a press trip down to Cornwall and bonded over a shared interest in food (of course!), Japan and much more.
Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.
I’m Urvashi and I’ve been blogging for about three years. I started after appearing on The Great British Bake Off Series 2 as people kept asking me to write my recipes down and share some of my obsessive knowledge of fruit and veg. I blog about food, my allotment, food from my allotment, my travels and events I get invited to as well as books I am sent for review. Writing about food is a nice form of stress relief from my busy day job.
Is there a story behind your blog’s name?
The ‘botanical’ comes from being mainly vegetarian. When I was weaning my girls, I got rather obsessive about what the nutritional value of certain foods was. Why did my mum tell me one thing and Annabel Karmell say the complete opposite. So I guess writing it down is a good way to help others see the research. The ‘baker’ element comes from Bake Off but I soon found it a little limiting as I don’t just bake. In fact more often than not I cook vs. bake! I’ve thought about changing the name to encompass the foodie travel that I do more of now my girls are older. But that’s another adventure of its own that needs thinking through.
What are your earliest memories of cooking?
My mother taught me to cook. There was no choice in the matter at all. She had to go to work early and came home late so she taught me the basics of Indian cooking so I could feed my sisters before she came home. When I had finished my O’ levels, all my friends went off to Greece as a reward. I was not allowed. I had to stay home and learn to cook. My mother taught me a dish a day and how to perfect my chapattis so I could impress my future husband! I was so angry at the time but am very grateful now to have the skills she instilled in me but also the mindset to cook and feed and not exist on fast food and takeaways.
Who or what inspired you to cook?
My husband inspired me to cook. He’s English and until I met him I’d had very few encounters with foods other than Indian. At university I had a few sparks of interest as I lived with international students and I loved trying their different cuisines. But it was my husband who inspired me to try different dishes and learn to cook different ingredients. He was a chef in his early career and I admired the way he could just rustle something up out of a cupboard of what seemed like nothing. Of course now it’s me who is the better cook 😉
What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?
I’m reading a book called Cook it Raw at the moment and I’m fascinated by the concept of these world class chefs creating magnificent meals of different textures and layers using just raw ingredients which are mostly foraged.
Which food or ingredients could you not live without?
Red chilli flakes. I’m not quite that Indian that I carry them in my bag at all times but it’s a habit I have to have a bowl of chilli flakes at the table. I cook mild food for my girls but I like a little more heat so the chilli flakes get liberally sprinkled on curries for example. But sometimes after a week away eating Western food or if I’m feeling tired I find a sprinkle on pasta or even salad just wakes me up!
Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?
One of my favourite books is Paula Wolfert’s Food of Morocco. It inspired a whole trip a couple of years ago. I love how she has taken the traditions and captured the variety of this cuisine. Another book I will cherish is Nigella Bites. It was a Christmas present years ago and kick started my love of baking. She makes it all look so glamourous and easy. The book has so many memories because we’ve used it for so many years. In fact her chocolate cake has been our go to birthday cake since the girls were born.
Another writer I admire is David Thompson. Again his book inspired a trip to Thailand last Easter but what I love is the way he has adapted the dishes to modernise them without losing the thirst for knowing where they’ve come from. I ate at his restaurant in Bangkok and was so inspired by how he has become a mainstream chef that holds the respect of a nation.
If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?
That’s easy. Japanese food. I know you are as obsessed as I am. I lived there for nearly four years but sadly at the time I didn’t eat fish so I am longing to go back and just eat!
What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?
Oh the KitchenAid. My friends clubbed together and bought it for my 40th. There’s a little plaque on the back and I use it everyday with fond memories of my 40th birthday year.
What’s been your favourite destination thus far and why did you love it so much? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?
Without a doubt my most favourite foodie travel highlight has been Morocco. I planned it meticulously for the food. I have so many memories from the trip but the best one was re-living the fish stalls in Essaouria with my daughters. My husband and I visited years ago when we were newly married. I had just started eating fish but had never been brave enough to eat sardines. At the fish stalls in Essaouria, they looked so fresh and I could smell their lusciousness from the charcoal grills. Soon enough I was tucking in with fish juices running down my chin. We’ve told our girls about this experience many a time so taking them there and seeing enraptured in the taste of freshly grilled sardines was just priceless.
Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list?
I want to go back to Japan but aside from that and linking back to the Cook It Raw book, I’d like to try Norway and Sweden. It’s such an alien cuisine to me – no spice, little cooking – it’s just intriguing. I also love the fact that these countries are so sustainable. I want to visit food producers over there to learn how they do it. I’m also inspired by their coffee and cake culture and want to learn a few new bakes.
What’s the very first trip you remember taking?
I went to France, Chambery, with school. It’s such a vivid memory because I ate nothing all week. It was all so bland and so boring I think I existed on salad leaves. At the time, as a 13 year old I had only really eaten Indian food so it was all a bit yuk to me. I’d kill to go back now and have that home cooked food!
Where are you going next?
I’ve recently been to Spain on a press trip and have been plotting a road trip with the family. The tapas just blew me away but I also loved the wines and cheeses.
What three things can you never travel without?
My iPhone just in case my camera breaks. My camera. My tea tree oil. A little dab under the nostrils prevents any germs being breathed in on flights and trains.
What’s the best travel experience you’ve ever had?
Travelling with my girls to far off places is just a blessing. I’m so lucky to be able to take them to some of the loveliest places in the world and see them through their little eyes. A trip to Paris comes to mind. I had been commissioned by Eurostar to write about ‘My Paris’. The girls had seen me sharing pictures on facebook all day and when I got home we instantly booked a trip back. We spent the weekend eating éclairs, macarons, gaping at patisserie windows. They gaped at all the things I had been dumbfounded by. They ate with gusto all the patisserie I had found so delectable. It was just the most brilliant set of memories.
If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?
We would go to Japan of course! I would take you to Kichi-joji Koen and the little Thai place I used to go to. We’d go to Akabane station and slurp Tempura Soba. We’d take a train up to Niigata for Maple Leaf Tempura with local honey. I’d have to take you to the little sushi place in Shiinamachi where I ate sushi for the very first time. It only took me 5 months of walking past every day before the owner took me under his wing and shared different sushi with me each evening. We’d have to go to the very dodgy bar in Ikebukuro where I used to teach Yakuza how to speak English and drink Ume Sours all night while dodging the drunken businessmen. And then maybe we’d take a trip down to Yokohama to have dim sum and buy pottery as you are as obsessed as me about both!
Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?
Very much so. I write about all sorts of foodie experiences now rather than just share baking recipes. My photography has got a lot better as I have learned to take better shots. My confidence in sharing things that are quite personal has also grown as I have developed a following.
What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?
Time. I have a full time job, two girls at school and growing evening commitments so it’s hard to always find the time to write about an idea that comes along. I drive to work now so it’s hard to write on the commute. That used to make me very efficient. I have so many things I want to share but just not enough time to get them all posted on the blog.
What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?
Reading other people’s posts and recipes. I love the way the blogging world shares so openly and I am learning all the time about what makes a good post, what people will want to read, what I could also write about. It’s all such an interesting environment so different to my day job that it brings a nice balance to life.
What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?
I am loving my allotment. I’ve recently started writing for Thompson and Morgan and this has really inspired me to do more on my allotment and just get outside. I was weeding in the rain this weekend and loving every minute of it. Seeing something shoot up from the tiniest of tiny seeds is simply magnificent. I also love the company of the little robin who seems to visit our plot regularly.
What’s the single most popular post on your blog?
I have no idea! The stats side of things is something I really should get better. I think this Strawberry Canapé recipe is a popular one though. It’s always in my top ten pages list which is the only stat I do look at!
Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?
That’s very kind. Seeing as it’s Christmas soon, how about this post about Baiserringe – Meringue based Christmas ornaments?
Spread the love
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Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of the series, here.