An Indian research scientist born in Kolkata has been crowned the winner of a popular baking show on British television after winning over the judges with his intricately-designed cakes and pastries. Rahul Mandal was announced as the winner of Channel 4's 'Great British Bake Off' on Tuesday night after impressing the judges with his “East meets West” style of baking.
"I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. I just feel I need to talk with my mum," he said as the winning name was revealed. The 30-year-old from Rotherham in northern England battled with disasters during the show's finale when his icing bag exploded during a doughnut challenge. Soon after, his mixing bowl smashed while he was creating his rock garden, inspired by Victorian explorers bringing back exciting plants from around the world, for the "Edible Landscape" show-stopper challenge.
Despite the accidents, the taste and complexity of Mandal's baking saw him win over the judges as he beat fellow British Indian contestant Ruby Bhogal and Kim-Joy Hewlett in the grand finale of the long-running TV show. "He is one of those characters that you will miss when you are not with him. I don't think he realises still how good he actually is and I think that's what's magic about Rahul," said celebrity chef Paul Hollywood, one of the judges.
Mandal, who grew up in Kolkata, started cooking and baking as a hobby only after he moved to the UK as a student. "I never baked when I was in India. My baking journey began in the UK about five years ago when I was feeling lonely, and needed to do something along with my studies," he said.
"At that time, it was limited to making bread and biscuits. The first cake I made was about two years ago, when my parents visited the UK for the first time," he added.
Each year, amateur baking enthusiasts compete to get a spot among 12 bake-off contestants and spend nine weeks in a large tent to compete in a series of elimination rounds. The winner is presented with a coveted cake stand trophy and the publicity from the show can result in a huge career boost for many of the contestants.
"Cooking programmes always interested me. Even as a child, rather than watching sports, I enjoyed watching cookery shows. I started cooking and experimenting with food from the age of 15, however, proper everyday cooking started since I moved to UK," Mandal said. "I like the simple classics, sometimes with a little twist in it. My colleagues love my Lemon drizzle cake and its cousins like Lemon and cardamom drizzle cake, or lemon and elderflower drizzle cake -- they like them a lot," he said.
While baking is hobby, he sees a connect with his day job as a scientist as he believes meticulous planning and attention to detail come in handy for both. "If it is something big, I develop and design it over the week and then execute it over the weekend," he said.
The final three contestants in the 2018 series were evenly matched for this year's finale, which attracted a lot of social media attention. Fans were divided over Mandal being given an additional 15 minutes after he smashed his mixing bowl while creating his showstopper but the majority were rooting for the shy and humble scientist-baker.
The latest series proved a ratings success for Channel 4, which took over the show last year following its move from its original home on the BBC.
(With PTI inputs)