Telling all, Durban’s Simmi Ramnarian, shared behind the scenes secrets, what she thought of the Great South African Bake Off judges and the next step in her baking career.
This in the wake of her being confirmed as a finalist in the popular reality television show.
Ramnarian, 45, grew up in Phoenix where she attended Westham Secondary.
Thirty years ago, she took a home economics class where she learnt how to bake rock cakes. Since then, her passion has grown.
“I enjoyed the new experiences and experimenting with different flavours and ideas. I also had an awesome teacher who was a great inspiration to me,” she said.
Although she would have loved to attend culinary school, Ramnarian said, “As much as I wanted to study, I couldn’t due to unfortunate circumstances.”
As a “back seat contestant” to many a cooking show, Ramnarain took vicarious pleasure in offering up her expertise while watching. “I’d watch shows and comment, ‘Do this, do that’. Eventually, my daughter encouraged me to enter the Bake Off for the thrill of it. I sent in an online entry with pictures of my bakes and made it to the telephone auditions – I never expected to be shortlisted,” she said.
To ensure only the best make it through to the competition, Ramnarian says, “There were rigorous tests that we had to go through to actually be on the show where we had to prove that we had a good, sound knowledge of baking.”
Finally, Ramnarian found out that she had made it into the competition, “I was over the moon and very excited to be one of the chosen ones, but slightly skeptical about what I was getting myself into.”
Although this isn’t Ramnarian’s first cooking competition, she felt the pressure. “I’m very competitive and have entered countless cooking competitions before. They were a different type of pressure – there, we’d cook for an hour or so, this competition consisted of weeks of filming and was going to be aired all over the world.”
The Great South African Bake Off returns
Life on set was difficult at first, with days beginning at 5am and progressing late into the evening.
“I had a lot to get used to, especially being in front of the cameras and hooked up to a mic. When we started filming, I was worried about how I’d appear on camera and making mistakes, but eventually, I quickly got over that and focused on putting out my best bakes.”
What you see on television is only a fraction of what goes on behind the scenes, says Ramnarian.
“The time constraints were very stressful. Every week there was a new challenge with a different theme – from pastries, cakes and biscuits to pudding and bread. My family and friends started watching the shows, they laughed at all the silly mistakes I was making under pressure."
Bringing the flavours of Durban to Johannesburg, Ramnarian said she preferred to use her own spices during certain rounds.
“We were allowed to bring our own ingredients for all of our technical and show stoppers as they were our own recipes. I roast and grind my own spices so I made sure to bring my own cardamom, fennel, cumin and nutmeg.”
For Ramnarian, the highlights were meeting all of the wonderful people.
“Everyone from the cameramen to the sound technicians, to the contestants, presenters and judges were absolutely fantastic. The judges had especially difficult jobs to do, and although they may come off as harsh or nasty on the show, they were awesome judges and very supportive of us.
Three episodes in, Ramnarian learnt of her father’s sudden passing.
“The production team were very kind and flew me back to Durban for the funeral. I could only stay overnight as the next morning we had filming. My mind wasn’t there during that week, emotions got the better of me. It was difficult to be away from my family at that stage.”
Standing by a dream she and her father shared, Ramnarian powered through the competition. “My father wouldn’t have wanted me to quit. He was my number one fan. He was always cutting out cooking competitions from the newspaper for me to enter.”
“I have big plans that I’m hoping will materialise – the first is my own cooking and baking book. There will be every uncomplicated, flavourful food that anyone can learn to make, you don’t need to be an experienced cook.”
In an attempt to save students living away from home from dry toast and noodles, Ramnarian has plans to start her own cooking school. “I’m trying to get funding to open my own cooking school to empower students. How many of us have the time to spend years perfecting dishes at chef school? I want to provide a flexible service to teach people to make quick and easy meals with a few simple ingredients,”she said.