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The Spicy Flexitarian

Drawing on her dual Indian-British heritage, Radha Rü cooked her way to the final of this year’s MasterChef. Now she’ll cook you a barbecue at home as part of her private fine dining business. AMY NEWSOME meets The Spicy Flexitarian

 Amy Newsome   Autumn 2022

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 #TheSpicyFlexitarian #RadhaRu

 
 

 

 

Confident, bubbly and in demand, Radha Rü, with a love of vegetarian and plant-based food, is wearing her Spicy Flexitarian chef’s jacket as we speak ahead of her cooking demonstration for NHS Digital as part of South Asian Heritage Month. 

It is a long way from Radha’s life as a Law student, having honed her cooking skills during lockdown, before progressing to the MasterChef final, where she finished runner-up behind Eddie Scott.

Growing up, Radha struggled to find her niche in school, as dyslexia made traditional academic subjects difficult and she yearned for ways to show her creative side. 

“We’d have people come in and do career talks, but I could never really relate to them because they hadn’t gone through the struggles that I had with my dyslexia. I did school, I did university and I still hadn’t found my ‘click.’ But then I started cooking and I thought I’m enjoying this and I think I’m good at it,” says Radha, born in Durham, before moving to Bradford in West Yorkshire. 

Only a year after picking up a saucepan Radha reached the final of MasterChef and has now swapped a law degree from the University of Huddersfield for a private dining business, under the moniker Chef Rü, either coming to your home to cook for a private dinner party or delivering her At Home takeaway menu. 


Now Radha herself gives career talks in local schools, inspiring children with dyslexia to achieve their goals, overcome adversity and find their passion.

Brilliant cooking is clearly in her bones. Radha’s paternal great-grandfather Orlando Bolland served in the second world war and was taken prisoner by the Germans. But, as a baker by trade, he managed to win over his captors by cooking for them, ensuring his own survival. 

“His baking ultimately saved his life after he was captured and held as a prisoner of war in Blachownia in Poland. He used his skills in the German staff kitchen cooking their meals. On his release and discharge from the British Army, he worked as a professional baker in North Yorkshire.”

Orlando’s cooking pedigree has been passed down the family through to Radha’s father Chris and beyond, while Radha’s mother Usha is from north India, where meat and dairy are a strong part of the cooking culture. But Radha herself flexes between vegetarian and vegan, bringing in plenty of south Indian influences to her cooking, which is traditionally vegetable and pulse based. 


 

 

Early on in her MasterChef journey Radha told the judges that she doesn’t like spice, which is perhaps confusing given her Indian dishes and Instagram handle @thespicyflexitarian. However, spice, she affirms, means two different things: heat and flavour. 

“I don’t like too much chilli in my curries because it numbs my tongue and then I can’t taste the food. What’s the point? When I say I don’t like spice, it’s me saying I don’t like too much heat.” 

From a young age, Radha, 24, watched television cookery shows with her family, including MasterChef, firing her creative imagination and passion for food. 

“When I am in the kitchen I feel at home, comfortable and in the zone. The joy I have for cooking is one I want to share with as many people as I can.”

Radha says the West Yorkshire food scene has a strong focus on classical vegetarian Indian fine dining, with Chef Rü throwing in modern twists in terms of both flavours and presentation.

What does she consider the key spice flavours essential to good Indian cooking? 

“I like to call it the Magic Five. Your cumin seeds (jeera), your ground cumin, your turmeric, your ground coriander and your garam masala. Those five are the basis of any curry. And then obviously, on top of that, you’ve got your salt and then your fresh coriander as garnish, a bit of freshness. But with those five sorts of spices, you can make any curry, really.”

So where does cooking over fire come in for Chef Rü? As it did for all of us during lockdown, the barbecue became the go-to social cooking experience as a brilliant way to spend quality time with family and friends safely outdoors. 

True to her dual heritage, Radha continues to blend flavours and influences to suit her mood when cooking outside, replicating smoke and char from the tandoor, or holding big pizza parties with the family. 

She particularly likes using her Ooni pizza oven, which becomes the heart of the party, with dad on dough duty and all the cousins choosing their own toppings. 


“Food should be fun and it should be enjoyable to share that cooking experience with everybody outside making a pizza. Barbecue doesn’t just have to be for burgers and sausages. It can be used simply to add extra flavour to ingredients you might be putting into any dish,” says Radha, suggesting charring aubergine to create a smoky pulp to add into a curry. 

“What we also like to do is have our chilli oil or garlic oil. Not just normal oil, but oil infused with spice, which gives an extra level to barbecue.”

BBQ proudly features on Chef Rü’s private dining experiences, as well as a range of multi-course menus, afternoon tea and even cocktails – try her Bollywood Bellini. A typical BBQ spread might include paneer tikka and roasted vegetable kebab, corn ribs topped with parsley, feta and fresh spices, crispy sweet potatoes with chickpeas and tahini yoghurt and roasted aubergine with roasted garlic yoghurt and harissa butter.

“At the beginning of MasterChef I was quite shy and timid. When I told my brother Rahul I’d been accepted to go on the show, he said ‘can you even cook?’ I burnt a microwave meal! Then I realised I’m actually quite good at this and I’m getting recognised for my skills,” says Radha.

“I like a challenge. I’ve got an eye for precision. I want to showcase vegetarian Indian food at its best. I’m in such a better place now, with my happiness and my own mental health. Everyone’s so proud, which has just been amazing. It’s quite a step going from a law degree, but it’s been incredible.”


 


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