Last year, almost at this time, a Kiwi-Indian mum, flight attendant and a proud Mumbaikar, Sonali Thakur was preparing to compete with several others amateur bakers in the TVNZ's show The Great Kiwi Bake Off and looking for a jumpstart for her home-trained baking skills.
The Great Kiwi Bake Off is a New Zealand television baking competition based on The Great British Bake Off in which 12 amateur bakers compete in a series of baking challenges, and the presence of home trained Kiwi-Indian mum came as a pleasant surprise to many in the community.
At the time of the show, Sonali had told the host of the popular show Madeleine Sami and Hayley Sproull that she was looking for a jumpstart for her to further her passion and turn it into a profession.
Sonali Amrit has since then started a home-based baking business, Sugar Salt & Love
"It would be wonderful to win the competition. I want to pursue my love for baking further and winning the show would give me a great jumpstart."
She surely could not win the competition as was evident later; however, she indeed got some rave views for being the face of the community on the national television, especially for a skill that is least associated with traditional Indian cooking style.
One year after the popular show the Indian Weekender checked upon Sonali to find out if she managed to get the jumpstart she was looking for when she first got into the show. She spoke with same excitement that she first reflected when selected for The Great Kiwi Bake Off show last year.
Here are some excerpts
How was the feeling of being able to show your baking skills to New Zealanders in national television?
The show has been a turning point in giving shape to my passion.
I cannot thank TVNZ and Warner Brothers enough for the opportunity. It's such an amazing feeling when people come up to me and ask me if I was the girl on that baking show. It's like all those years of hard work have paid off.
What do you do for a living? Are you a professionally trained baker?
I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. My dream was to become a Flight Attendant and travel the world, and I was lucky to be offered a job with Cathay Pacific Airways as soon as I finished my Bachelor's degree in Microbiology. I moved to Hongkong at the age of 21 and lived there for 20 years before making a move to New Zealand in January 2016. I now live here with my family and am a Flight Attendant with Jetstar Airways.
Tell us more about when you realised your interest in baking?
Baking has been a lifelong obsession. I started baking at the age of 8. My mother taught me how to bake my first cake using a cast iron pan, construction sand and inverted Aluminium can. It was how she got around us not owning an oven. I later moved on to baking cakes in modified pressure cookers, but they proved very unpredictable and inconsistent.
Domestic ovens in 80's India were pretty nonexistent. I used to make all my cookie dough or bread dough and take them to the local bakery where I would rent a couple of baking trays, roll out and line my cookies or bread dough and get the baker to bake them in his wood-fired oven.
However, efficient this method was, it did nothing to teach me to master aspects of baking, like time and temperature.
I taught myself how to bake in a time without Google, YouTube or the Internet. I started collecting recipes from newspapers and magazines and began keeping notes of my bakes. I used to buy Australian, British and American cake magazines from roadside secondhand bookstalls in Colaba, Mumbai. Most of those ingredients were exotic and unavailable in India. So I used to play with those recipes with substitutes. Not all experiments were successful, but they taught me precious lessons and built a solid foundation and knowledge database. My mistakes have been my most prominent teachers.
In the lead up to the show how confident were you for getting the call of selection?
I never ever thought I would ever be considered. I was in absolute disbelief when I was told that I was to be a contestant on the show. I have seen what people churn out of their home kitchens in this country and to be considered a baker worth their salt is in itself a huge achievement. To be able to represent the Asian diaspora on the First Season of 'The Great Kiwi Bake Off' is a thing of such pride and honour and I cannot thank New Zealanders for all the messages of love and encouragement.
Have you been able to finally get the jumpstart you were hoping to get after the show?
I have been able to set up a small bakery business called "Sugar, Salt & Love" that I run from my registered home kitchen.
I make bespoke Cakes and bakes for all occasions. I also sell my baked goodies at the Howick Village Market on Saturday mornings.
So surely I got the jumpstart. However, I still have to work hard and get people's love and support to get going.