We recently teamed up with Chris Baber, winner of BBC Yes Chef 2016. Like Mindful Chef, he wants to inspire and motivate people to get into the kitchen, start cooking from scratch and show just how easy it can be to cook healthy meals that taste great too! His philosophy is simple: food is a joy.
When did your passion for food and cooking develop? I grew up helping my Mum and Grandad in the kitchen, so naturally my cooking skills developed from there. As a young teenager I was also a competitive 800m runner, so I became interested in the importance of good nutrition. I started questioning how I could create home-cooked food that was tasty and healthy enough to eat everyday whilst fuelling my needs as an athlete.
What meal do you like making the most? I created a chicken curry as a kid and it’s a classic in our household that we used to eat every week. It’s dead easy to make, using lots of fresh ginger, chilli and garlic, turmeric, chilli powder, and coriander - lots of coriander!
What was the catalyst for becoming a chef? I've always had a passion for cooking ever since I can remember, I'd cook everyday and just love being in the kitchen trying new things. I started using snapchat to share photos of my food with friends; after they kept asking for the recipes I setup my Instagram account @BaberFlavour in 2015.
The BBC then got in touch about Yes Chef and of course I was really keen. After winning the show I was encouraged to work on food full time, coming from one of my food Heroes, Michelin-starred Chef, Atul Kochhar. One of the greatest compliments I've had was when Atul said I'd nailed the curry I cooked for him on the show. I quickly took action and moved to London to begin training alongside Atul at his Restaurant Benares. I can't thank him enough for this experience.
What are your hidden treasures in London? Leon is a great place to eat on the go and I love a cheeky Nando's now and again but that’s not really a hidden treasure, is it? I love Bone Daddies, it's a Japanese ramen bar, the food is simply amazing and it's so cool inside! I’m also a regular visitor of Pho it's a Vietnamese restaurant and one of my favourite little spots. Again really cool atmosphere and amazing food, so much flavour and healthy too!
So you’re a big fan of Asian food? I do love Asian food! My eyes have been opened to a lot more different flavours since moving to London from Northumberland. At the moment I’m really into trying somewhere new every week to get inspiration, not just Asian but anything from BBQ smoke houses, fine dining restaurants, Japanese ramen bars... the list goes on. London has so much to offer and I want to keep exploring the food scene.
What have been your biggest struggles? Having never worked in a professional kitchen to training in Benares, one of London’s busiest kitchens, was quite an eye-opener. I was working very long hours, leaving the house around 6.30 in the morning to fit some exercise in before work and getting home at midnight after a hectic day. It was tough, but team morale got me through. I learnt so much from this experience and wouldn’t change it for the world.
And what’s your one piece of advice that you would give to an aspiring chef? The start is probably what stops most people, so my best piece of advice is just to do it. Starting Instagram and winning Yes Chef has changed my life and I love inspiring people to cook.
It’s also very important to find a mentor and offer to help people. If you’re willing to work hard, listen and learn you’ll be in the best position. I’m currently working Eric Lanlard, French patissier and celebrity chef, at Cake Boy. Eric is such a talented Chef and great guy, I'm learning so much and appreciate all of the time I'm getting with him. It's hard work but we have a great laugh too, cheers Eric your a legend!
What drives you? The fact that I can make a difference through food is so fulfilling. I’ve raised money for War Child in the past and I’m currently working with Magic Breakfast, which works to provide malnourished kids with healthy breakfasts, to end hunger being a barrier to education in UK schools.
I also have a lot of support from my Instagram followers and often get messages from people saying I have inspired them to cook from scratch. I'm blessed to be doing something I love and if I can make a difference that’s what counts.
What ingredients couldn’t you live without? Quaker Oats! I've been eating porridge since I was a kid and I now do a lot of work with Quaker oats and I honestly couldn’t live without them! I’m also passionate about using seasonal foods whether it’s cabbages in winter or peas in spring!
And finally, what’s your favourite Mindful Chef recipe? It probably has to be the Lamb Korma with broccoli rice. I also enjoyed the Balinese Pork and kaffir lime rice that I cooked up with Myles and Giles. Sourcing top quality meat is so important to me, you can really taste the difference and that’s what really stands out to me in Mindful Chef meals.