Is there a world more stiflingly chocka than that of the television chef? It seems as if most of the bases are covered. We have hairy bikers, goddesses of various kinds, fish experts, green-wellied toffs, foul-mouthed Scotsmen, foul-mouthed Englishmen, charming Frenchmen, and the twin saints, Delia and Jamie.
If you are hoping to crash into the charmed circle of those whose name can flog van-loads of books, ovenware and aprons, you’d better have a very special Unique Selling Point. Otherwise, you might as well turn your gifts to cooking school dinners. That is, if Jamie hadn’t got there first.
At which point, enter Lorraine Pascale. In terms of a USP, there seems to be no problem. She’s a specialist baker with her own shop, Ella’s Bakehouse (named after her 15-year-old daughter), in central London. Her nifty manner with cupcakes, particularly the ones with Oreo cookies crumbled into vanilla sponge, led to a first TV series, Baking Made Easy, and accompanying book.
Aged 38, she’s also fabulously photogenic, with a rather glam hinterland. Indeed, before she started baking, she was a very successful model; the first British black woman to land the cover of American Elle, the star of campaigns for Donna Karan and Versace and favourite of photographer Bob Carlos Clarke, whose revealing 1992 picture of her caused a mini-storm when it was exhibited earlier this year in a Chelsea gallery.
There’s the intriguing family back story; born in Oxfordshire, Pascale was adopted at 18 months to a white family who brought her up until she was seven. At which point, her adoptive mother became ill, meaning that she was put back into care and handed around various families, until eventually returning to her adoptive mother.
Then there is the question of race in televisual cuisine. Apart from Ainsley Harriott, the total count of black chefs with their own shows before Pascale came along (unless you count Chef on South Park or Lenny Henry’s starring role in the eponymous sitcom), was zero. The domain of television cheffery is almost wholly white, what with your Sophies, Gordons, Nigellas, Jamies and Hughs.
The beautiful Pascale, however, will not discuss any of the above: not family, race, daughter, modelling, Naomi Campbell or adoption. I’d say she’ll never entertain an invitation to appear on the next series of Who Do You Think You Are? She may know very well who she is, but she clearly has no wish for anyone else to.
Here she is on life within the epicentre of the modelling circuit. “It was just about having fun.” No anxieties about food then? “Everyone was very healthy. It was all about shapely figures and we had great food on shoots.”
OK, how about Naomi Campbell. Was she something of a mentor? “Our paths crossed a bit, during Fashion Week. I wasn’t in her circle. She was great fun, though.” Yet like her, you were something of a mould-breaker, weren’t you? “I was just having fun.”
All right, can we talk about your family? “My whole family has been so supportive and some of them might appear in the show,” she confides. How lovely – who is appearing? “I have some really great friends whom I regard as my extended family.”
All right, let’s forget about all of that. Focus on the message of the new show, Home Cooking Made Easy.
“The message I want to get across,” says Pascale, “is that sometimes I’m all for getting something out of a packet, or going to the shop and buying something, pricking holes in it and putting it in the oven. But when I have time, I cook as well.”
I’m a bit thrown by this. The BBC’s new find for domestic cuisine advocates pre-cooked food in plastic trays? “I am a chef, yes,” smiles Pascale divinely. “But I am also human. Sometimes we don’t have time, do we, and we’ll get something ready-made from a shop. But if you do have time, [my series says] look at what you can cook, here are some ideas.”
Phew. For a moment there, I say, I thought you were going to go all Delia on me, and suggest packet mashed potato. “No, no,” says Pascale. “The show is all about freshly made food.”
Pascale, who is of course fabulously thin, admits to having “bad weeks” and “good weeks” with food but cheerily says she burns it all off with regular runs around the London parks. She still has the delighted thrill of the newly discovered, and confesses that on the first day of filming Baking Made Easy, the crew had to tell her to turn it down a bit. “It was as if I was doing a demonstration at school. The crew had to say, ‘You do have a microphone on, you don’t have to shout.’ It took me a while to get into the groove.”
Who are her television cooking idols? “I love Iron Chef America, and MasterChef Australia. And I love Mrs Beeton,” she adds, a reminder that she trained professionally at Leith’s Academy for a year and has various stints in restaurant kitchens under her belt. She tells me about a show in America where a family heads out west for a spell of home schooling and pioneer cooking. “It was very white, the area, in the middle of nowhere. I wouldn’t have been all that welcome!” That’s interesting. Does she see cooking as an all-white enclave, too?
Pascale, possibly realising we are threatening the borders of a challenging topic, retrenches immediately. “I don’t think cooking sees colour. I am a child of the 1970s. I’ve grown up in London and travelled around. I see beyond colour or even thinking like that.”
We go back to her favourite food (lamb shank, ricotta and chorizo). What about her favourite meal, I ask? “Well, I love breakfast. You can have a fry-up, or a big bowl of porridge, or fruit. But I love meat. And in the summer, I eat lots of fish.”
I’m starting to despair. How about speedy meals? All the television chefs these days are keen on showing us meals we can do in 30, 15 or even seven minutes. Does she have a view? “Well,” says the ever-fair Pascale, “sometimes you need something you can cook quickly, and sometimes you need more time.”
How about people who never cook? You know, the sort who love watching television cooking shows, but only ever use a tin opener in the kitchen? “I think the level of ability in the country is pretty impressive. I’m impressed by the level of knowledge out there.”
Is there nothing that gets her goat? At long last, what gets Pascale off the fence and chatting freely is the subject of online media. “Sometimes I’ll get a tweet from someone saying, ‘I’m halfway through your recipe and I’m missing an ingredient. Help – what shall I do?’ If I’m online, it’s great, I can help them. So I’ll tweet them back and say, ‘It’s fine, use pork instead’, or some- thing like that.”
Its a nice image, the panicking amateur in the kitchen trying to knock up supper and urgently tweeting the beautiful television chef about where to go with the recipe – and actually getting a reply. Lorraine Pascale is very approachable. As long as it all stays firmly in the kitchen.