Practising her baked creations since she was 14, there's not much about baking Benjmina Ebuehi doesn't know. So it's no surprise that she reached the quarter finals of her series of Great British Bake Off. Since the show she's been busy purusing a career in food through blogging, styling and working with social enterprise Luminary Bakery. Whether because of our mutual love for food or her warm smile, we're a big fan of the talented baker over at Chuku's HQ and so it was our pleasure to sit and chat with her.
You were a quarter-finalist in Great British Bake Off in 2016 and a star in the show. You’re now a celeb! Woop woop! Has appearing on TV changed your life?
It’s all been such a whirlwind experience and being on the show was such a special time that I’ll always remember. In many ways my life has changed; being on GBBO allowed me to pursue a career within the food industry and discover niche areas like food styling – something I never even knew existed! I’d always dreamt about how I could turn my hobby of baking and love for food into a full time job and appearing on TV definitely provided me with a massive stepping stone. I’m now able to do the things I love day in and day out and express my creativity through food which is a real joy.
Would you ever do another TV show? The Apprentice, Dancing on Ice, X-Factor perhaps?
As much as I enjoy watching shows like The Apprentice, I can’t see myself ever taking part in any reality type programme. The focus tends to be more on creating drama or ‘good TV’ rather than your skills or talents.
You graduated from university with a First Class in Economics. Amen! With those grades didn’t your parents want you to pursue a more traditional career?
I think initially there was an expectation that I’d perhaps work in The City or within the corporate world. I definitely put some pressure on myself to consider going down that route as I knew it would be well respected and very well paid! Ultimately, Economics was an area in which I was very capable but always knew that it was never really something I had a strong passion for - it didn’t excite me at all! My mum is fairly relaxed and so she wouldn’t push me into anything that would make me unhappy. We’re quite a creative family and she’d rather I did what I enjoyed as long as I gave it 100%.
Okay. So going back, how did you get into baking?
I have always loved food and just being in the kitchen and watching my mum cook was so much fun. I remember back at school, I’d always look forward to what we were having for pudding, with my favourite being a huge wedge of fluffy sponge and hot custard. I wanted to be able to make these things for myself at home and so I started practicing really simple things like fairy cakes and biscuits. My mum bought a few children's cookbooks for me and I worked my way through them. It all grew from there and once I got to Uni, I began reading and following lots of food blogs for tips and inspiration before setting up my own and trying out more complicated bakes with plenty of trial and error along the way!
We've Facebook stalked you and discovered your sister is in fact your twin! How do you find being a twin and is it just you two?
People are always so surprised when they find that out! We’re non-identical so most people don’t realise we’re twins until we tell them. I do prefer it this way though as it means we get to be treated as individuals and we don’t get lumped together as one person. We’ve also got a younger brother!
Like the two of us, you and your sister have embarked on a new project together. What made you decide to team up with your sibling?
My sister and I are both really creative in our own ways – Bonita is a graphic designer and has her own stationery business. We complement each other quite well and play to each other’s strengths so it seemed quite natural to join forces and collaborate.
Could you tell us more about the project and is it just for women?
We came up with The Sister Table which is a series of brunch clubs and events for the millennial woman. My sister and I have always loved having the girls round to ours for good food and good conversation and wanted to replicate that on a slightly bigger scale. We both recognise and appreciate that sharing food with others around a table can be such a great way to build relationships and create meaningful dialogue. Most of my favourite memories with friends have happened around a table with us eating and so we wanted The Sister Table to create a space where we celebrate women and sisterhood through food.
Okay. What sort of things will guests learn whilst dining at your Table?
We ultimately want to create a real sense of community and an environment in which women can speak freely on whatever they want to, connect with others and share their stories and experiences. We hope that our guests leave with a whole bunch of new female friends!
As you’re the expert could you share your top 3 tips on food styling?
1) Natural light is your best friend! Next to a large window is usually a good place to start and can work wonders for a good food photo giving it a fresh and clean appearance.
2) Charity shops are amazing for finding unique and inexpensive props like cutlery, plates and cake stands which can help enhance your photos.
3) Know when to stop! It can be really easy to get carried away and want to add in too many props. The eye should be drawn to the food so if a frame becomes too busy, it’s important to be able to step back and not overthink the photo.
And what about to jazz up one’s Instagram - what 3 things should one do?
1) Editing is key when it comes to Instagram and it’s important to develop your own style. Do you prefer crisp and white or dark and moody? I use editing apps such as Snapseed and VSCO which are both great for playing around with things like exposure, saturation and temperature. These apps can help give your photos some consistency –individual pictures are important but you should also be mindful of how your feed looks overall.
2) Engage! Instagram can be a great way to find people with similar interests or styles that inspire you. Take the time to comment and reply to others and build a little community. I’ve made some lovely friends all through Instagram!
3) Post what you’re actually passionate about and not what you think will get tonnes of likes. Followers really appreciate honesty and authenticity and are more likely to engage if they feel you’re being yourself.
How would you describe your baking style and do you think it represents you?
I'd describe it as quite modern with an elegant simplicity. I’m a ‘’less is more’’ kind of baker and I think this is reflective of my personality. I’m not one for super elaborate or over the top decorations; I’d much rather the focus is on flavour, with some of my favourite ingredients being cardamom, tahini and pistachios.
What’s the last cake you ate?
One of my favourites – a classic lemon drizzle. I love anything with lemons.
Nigerian cuisine doesn’t really have desserts. Why do you think this is?
Our main meals can be incredibly filling and often quite heavy. Once you’re finished, there’s not usually much room for dessert and all you need is a good nap. But I’ve definitely seen a massive growth in the level of creativity being put into Nigerian inspired desserts. Like your yam brownies and chin chin cheesecake! Which I’m still yet to try.
Hint taken! What’s your favourite Nigerian dish to chop?
It’s hard to beat the classic jollof rice with chicken and plantain - that’s my go to! But a very close second would have to be my mum's ogbono soup. Heavenly!
Luminary Bakery is a social enterprise based in East London; providing training, community & employment opportunities for some of the UK's most disadvantaged women. Find out more about the organisation here.