When Ruby Tandoh applied for last year’s Great British Bake Off, she could never have predicted the level of attention she would receive.
The philosophy student’s bakes proved a hit in the tent, but she came under fire from viewers who accused her of flirting with judge Paul Hollywood and weeping her way to the final. Even French chef Raymond Blanc waded in, reportedly appearing to accuse her of being too thin to appreciate good food.
Instead of burying her head in her mixing bowl, Tandoh fought back, taking on the Twitter detractors (even calling one a “bitter old witch”), landing herself a high-profile newspaper column, and writing her first cookbook, Crumb.
“Obviously, the general motto should always be ‘just ignore it’, but every now and again, someone’s going to say something that’s particularly unfair, and I don’t think there’s any harm in answering back,” says the softly-spoken 22-year-old.
As for the suggestion that Hollywood fancied her, the former model – who has tucked herself away in the quietest corner of a restaurant for our interview – laughs.
“I think it was purely paternal. The accusation that I was flirting, and the counter-accusation that he was fancying me, were both ridiculous and unfounded. It was quite funny in a way, because I found it so absurd...”
The recipes for Crumb, which “focus on flavour, not frippery”, were tested in the north London flat she shares with three fellow students. She’s just started her second year of a philosophy and history of art degree, having taken a year out to write the baking book.
Her debut features a mix of new flavours and old favourites, but you won’t find any pictures of glittery pink cupcakes or sugary sweet cake pops (although there is a recipe for simply iced camomile and vanilla cupcake).
“I’m as big a fan of trashy, kitsch stuff as anyone, but when I’m baking, I don’t want to go to those lengths,” says Tandoh, who recently tweeted a snap of a hammer attacking a cupcake during National Cupcake Week.
“Obviously, there are things you can do to make [food] look nicer, and I’m all for that, within reason. But if you’re spending longer on decoration than on the actual baking, then I think you’re doing it wrong.”
She intends to keep juggling baking and studying, and has already filled another notepad with recipes. As for Bake Off, she’s still in touch with her fellow contestants, and has been tuning into the latest series.
“It’s a lot more pleasant to watch now I’m not in it,” she admits. “I feel a lot calmer.”