After being selected to appear on the well loved cooking show Great British Bake-Off, Rav Bansal has experienced the good the bad and the ugly side of being on TV. Ditch the Label caught up with Rav to talk about bullying, discrimination, masculinity and all things culinary.
DTL: Firstly can you tell us a bit about yourself in your own words?
Rav: Well my name is Rav Bansal, I’m 28 and I was born and raised in London. I am most known for appearing on this obscure show, you probably have never heard of it, called ‘The Great British Bake Off’, it was only watched by something like 13 million people each week, so, nothing special… Haha 😉
DTL: Can you tell us a bit about the racism you experienced while you were on Bake-Off?
Rav: Before the show had even aired I knew the fact that being a turban wearing Sikh guy would be a talking point. I had seen some of the unfortunate comments that Nadiya had received the year before so I was prepared for some hate online. When the line-up was announced in the press, I made the mistake of reading the comments section of a well-known tabloid website and some of the stuff they were saying was horrendous, but again I expected it and they were anonymous people hiding behind their computer screens so I was able to brush it off. One thing I was not prepared for was someone saying something to my face.
“Don’t allow others to dim your light, shine bright and be your best self.”
I was coming home from work, got off the train at my stop and started walking home. Someone approached me and proceeded to make some offensive comments, referencing my appearance on the show. I was completely shocked, speechless, in fact and a little scared for my safety. I didn’t say anything and made a split-second decision to walk in a different direction just in case he followed me home. When I did get home, I was so enraged with what had just happened, annoyed with myself for not confronting his bigoted opinions. I took to Twitter to vent my frustrations.
DTL: How do you tend to respond to any negative comments on social media (if at all)?
Rav: To be completely honest most of my interactions on social media are positive, rarely do I receive negative comments but when it does happen, for most part I would just ignore them, I never take them personally, in fact at times I would just laugh at their level of stupidity and at the fact they took the time to send it. The way I look at it is, when someone has something negative to say, it’s a reflection of who they are, not on me. I can easily detach myself from it in a way that doesn’t allow it to affect me emotionally.
DTL: Did you ever experience bullying when you were younger? If so could you tell us a bit about it?
Rav: In primary school I was a care free kid, I loved school and I never missed a day. There was one distressing thing that happened to me when I was about 8 years old, a supply teacher thought I was a girl because I had long hair and as much as I tried to explain that I wasn’t, she didn’t believe me, to the point where she was laughing and mocking me in front of the entire class which triggered all my fellow classmates to laugh and joke at my expense too. Its only now when I look back at that incident do I realise how cruel it was for a teacher to humiliate a child like that.
“When you are a young teenager it seems that your priority in life is to fit in with everyone else and that’s what I wanted, but I never did. I powered through, I was a very good student, I loved learning but I was deeply unhappy.”
As I got older I became very aware of how different I was. I was the fat, shy, brown kid with long hair and very few friends. I was called all sorts of names, which only made me more introverted. When you are a young teenager it seems that your priority in life is to fit in with everyone else and that’s what I wanted, but I never did. I powered through, I was a very good student, I loved learning but I was deeply unhappy. To my own detriment, I found comfort in food which affected me way into my 20s but that’s a story for another day.
DTL: Do you have any advice for a person who might experience racial discrimination or bullying online?
Rav: Tell someone, don’t put up with it in silence. Report and block! It’s very important for people to be aware that the opinions of others do not define them, you are in the driver’s seat, embrace your differences and face life head on.
DTL: You have some pretty delicious looking dishes on your Instagram – what’s your favourite thing to cook?
Rav: Thank you very much, I’m really into Pan Asian cuisine, I’m talking Japanese, Thai, Malaysian and of course Indian. I’m all about to creating fusion dishes with flavours from that part of the world. My all-time favourite thing to bake and eat are macarons, I absolutely love them!
DTL: What advice would you give to any budding young chefs out there, or anyone interested in cooking?
Rav: Experiment, practice and have fun.
DTL: In some recent research carried out on ideas of masculinity which hold guys back, young men have been asking Google: ‘is it ok for guys to cook?’… what are your thoughts on this?
Rav: That’s astounding, some of the best chefs are men. I must admit, I was surprised at how some people thought it was a radical thing to see an Asian man baking on the TV. I did see some comments on Twitter from men saying things like ‘he should be at work, not in the kitchen’ or ‘why did his mum let him bake?’ For me it wasn’t strange at all because I grew up watching my dad in the kitchen and he was fundamental in encouraging me to cook. Everyone should learn how to cook, regardless of your gender.
DTL: Do you ever feel like you have to conform to certain stereotypes with regards to your gender?
Rav: I think the pressures to conform will always be there but I’m all about thinking freely and not being categorised into a box.
DTL: Anything else you’d like to add?
Rav: Don’t allow others to dim your light, shine bright and be your best self.
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