A Bake Off finalist on keeping fit and enjoying food

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Ruby Bhogal won our hearts with her down-to-earth, passionate approach to baking in last season’s Great British Bake Off. We sent Rosie to find out what she’s like off-camera and sample some of her prize-winning food…

I’m like a nervous schoolgirl about to encounter her crush as I wait to meet Ruby Bhogal. The Bake Off runner-up is, after all, pretty remarkable. She’s only been baking for a few years, having taken it up as a way to pass the time while job searching when she first moved to London. After she landed a prestigious role in project management she continued to bake as a hobby, juggling long work hours with a punishing filming schedule during the television contest. Oh, and she’s utterly gorgeous and thoroughly down-to-earth too: the kind of person you’d love to hate, but can’t bring yourself to do so.

With a broad smile that reveals sparkling white teeth accentuated by bright pink lipstick, she greets herself – and I’m a giggling, blushing mess. Just as well that we’re meeting in the bar on the top floor of the Gherkin, where Ruby has designed a special Art of Being menu featuring ‘healthier’ cocktails such as the ‘Carrot Royal’ (a blend of Lillet Rose, carrot juice, pink grapefruit juice, and cayenne tinctures), which I’m hoping will help to pull myself together.

Photo: Searcys at the Gherkin

Fortunately, Ruby breaks the ice: “They’re fabulous, aren’t they?”, she nods to my glass. “The first time I tested the menu here, I think I tried pretty much all of them…” This is a woman after my own heart.

Did she have the same approach to the cakes on Bake Off? “Absolutely!” she laughs, her eyes lighting up as she relives the memory. “As soon as the judging was done, it was like feeding time at the zoo! I tried every single person’s bakes – which at the beginning was, frankly, a bit of a ridiculous amount, but it’s the only way to really know how well someone’s done.” The twinkle in her eye says it all: this woman loves her food, and is unapologetic about it. She’s a breath of fresh air – and that’s why I hold her in such awe.

But if she puts away so many indulgent confections, how does she still look so good? Her love of exercise certainly helps: boxing sessions are her favourite way to let off steam, and having already completed the London marathon, she’s committed to doing the London Landmarks half marathon later this year along with a group of fellow Bake Off contestants: “I’m not really sure how we ended up signing up for it, but it’ll be a good laugh.” That’s the right attitude to have towards fitness: “I could never do something to justify eating good food – it takes all the fun out of it.” Have your cake and eat it: that’s Ruby’s philosophy, and we’re fully on board with it.

Photo: Searcys at the Gherkin

Whilst on the topic of good food, we ask her to recommend some dishes from the menu that she has designed for Searcys at the Gherkin. “I couldn’t possibly choose – they’re all amazing!” she enthuses, then proceeds to give an animated, blow-by-blow account of every dish on the menu: there’s a gorgeously creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup with a Burford brown egg, a delicate Cornish cod loin in a mussel sauce, and pot roast guinea fowl with turnips and winter broth, created by Ruby as part of the restaurant’s Art of Being series, which also features a supper club with Rhiannon Lambert, watercolour masterclasses, and yoga with a view.

We pause to give extra attention to the desserts – the part of the menu that Ruby deliberated about the most. “It’s supposed to be a fairly healthy menu for the New Year, but that put me in a bit of a dilemma,” she admits. “I had to do something baking-related, and I wasn’t going to sacrifice on taste.” The result? A sublime coffee and chocolate fondant with almond and honey biscuit that validates her Bake Off accomplishments entirely.

If our sample size of Ruby’s cuisine is anything to go by, it would be a disgrace to keep her talents hidden away. When asked what the future holds, she wouldn’t give anything away, although the wry smile on her face gave us hope that we might get another chance to savour her cooking elsewhere. Until then, we’ll be keeping Searcy’s in business from sales of Ruby’s coffee and chocolate fondant alone – and in true Ruby style, we’re not at all sorry about it.

Photo: Searcys at the Gherkin

By Rosie

Ruby’s menu is available at Searcy’s at the Gherkin until 10 February and costs £45 for 3 courses including a drink.

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