Comedy: Hardeep Singh Kohli takes his love of food to Thornbury Arts Festival
He claims he never set out to be funny but even Hardeep Singh Kohli’s latest show, which contains a large dollop of cooking, is mixed with a pinch of comedy. He tells LIZ WEBSTER all about it
It would be fair to say that one of Hardeep's first loves is cooking. The Glaswegian sikh, who is as memorable for his colourful turbans as much as for his softly spoken accent, was runner-up on the first series of Celebrity Masterchef.
Most people will also recognise him from programmes like BBC's The One Show and Question Time but despite creating his show, The Nearly Naked Chef, for the Edinburgh Festival, he doesn't call himself a comedian.
He says: "It's quite a funny story really, as I've never been a stand-up comic but for some reason people seem to find me quite funny.
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"I spent about one a half years telling people I wasn't a stand-up and it seemed a bit rude.
"Without sounding up myself, this business is all about giving people what they want and I thought that if that's how people saw me, then I should respect that."
It wasn't too much of a stretch for Hardeep to combine his skill for telling stories and anecdotes into a live cooking programme and The Nearly Naked Chef, a nod to the work of Jamie Oliver, builds on the success of his first show, Chat Masala.
In the new show, which he will perform at Thornbury Arts Festival later this month, Hardeep cooks a dish while sharing funny anecdotes from his life and chatting with the audience.
"It's basically me chatting while I cook," he says.
"Someone asked if it was stand-up but this isn't what this show is about. We used to have a tradition in this country of raconteurs and of storytelling but in many ways stand-up comedy really pushed that aside. This harks back to that tradition.
"It is very laid back and hopefully will be an enjoyable evening."
The dishes Hardeep creates over the course of the show are all Indian recipes and some members of the audience even get to sample his cooking.
Hardeep says: "When I was growing up as a brown kid in Scotland, food was the only thing about our culture that was celebrated.
"I make a daal, a lentil dish and then a meat curry, depending on the ingredients that are available locally. We try to use local foods as much as possible – invariably in the West Country it's pork in cider, or something, although Thornbury has a great reputation for food.
"I really want to cook fish but I'm quite limited because of health and safety – there is quite a fine line with things like scallops and fish as they require precision that I can't always pull off."
I ask him if this style of sharing cooking and eating is a trend which is more common in India.
"It's a huge country so I don't want to make too many generalisations but traditionally, it used to be more common to sit at a table and eat and talk.
"Things are changing, though, and it's the pace of life. It would have been unthinkable at one time to have the television on during a meal but that is starting to happen more often now."
Although he has toured The Nearly Naked Chef for the last three years, he has yet to have any major mishaps on stage.
"I hate that question," he laughs. "Because nothing yet has gone badly wrong.
"Once my butternut squash wasn't cooked properly and I have burned things but luckily it's been early on and I've just started again.
"I blame the audience for being too interesting and distracting me.
"It's great because it is often all about the audience and no two shows ever feel the same.
"When I started, the show was entirely scripted, then it became 80 per cent scripted, then it went down to 50 per cent. I could spend 40 minutes just chatting away."
And the experience of the tour has not dampened his passion for cooking, either.
"I'd love to be a chef," he says.
"I was chatting to a friend about whether I could do it and she said it would take a few years to become a Michelin-starred chef – I was talking about just being a chef.
"It's all about passion, I think. Heston Blumenthal is self-taught and his work is amazing.
"Tom Green, who works at riverstation in Bristol is also brilliantly talented: it's that experimental passion."
Hardeep is also now working on his third show, Indian Takeaway, which is a look at the phenomenon of curry in the UK.
He says: "When you think of how often people order Indian, it's amazing – I don't know of any other countries that have taken to another country's food stuff so wholeheartedly.
"Until I started researching, I never realised just how much money was spent on curry."
Hardeep Singh Kohli plays Thornbury Arts Festival on Friday, April 20, at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £14-£16. Tel 01454 418573