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Interview: Hardeep Singh Kohli

PUBLISHED: 18:01 28 May 2010 | UPDATED: 16:52 01 July 2010

Abigail Saltmarsh

Broadcaster, raconteur, writer and Celebrity Masterchef cook Hardeep Singh Kohli is returning to Norwich - and this time he will be combining comedy with cuisine. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

Broadcaster, raconteur, writer and cook Hardeep Singh Kohli is returning to Norwich - and this time he will be combining comedy with cuisine. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH reports.

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People don't talk enough about the food in Norfolk, according to Hardeep Singh Kohli, and it is about time they did.

The broadcaster and writer returns to Norwich next week to stage an evening of entertainment at the Maddermarket Theatre as The Nearly Naked Chef.

“I love Norfolk. I lived in Norwich for a year in the late 1990s, when I worked with Vanessa Feltz and it is going to be lovely to be back.

“I really enjoyed the food while I was there but it is not something people really talk about. Everyone knows it is a very beautiful city but not really that the food there can be very good,” he said.

With his new touring show, Glaswegian Hardeep, a memorable runner-up in the first series of Celebrity Masterchef, aims to change all that.

Audiences are encouraged to email in suggestions for ingredients on the day of the show then Hardeep hits the local shops and markets to search for them.

“So if someone wants white fish, for example, I'll go and look for it in the town. Sometimes I can't get the right ingredients but usually I can,” he said. “It will be fun to be out shopping in Norwich again.”

Hardeep then takes a Ready, Steady, Cook approach, cooking up whatever takes his fancy, changing it a bit as he goes along and telling a few anecdotes as he goes.

“It is a bit like a glorified dinner party, except that I do not have to do the washing up,” he said. “When it comes to what to cook, I do very often change my mind - and each show is very different. Sometimes it is quite challenging.”

The show is very much about interacting with the audience, he went on. But he does not suffer nerves. “I have been around cameras for 21 or 22 years so it does not worry me at all. I enjoy being in front of the audience,” he said.

“They seem to get really into it as well. We are living in tough times and a lot of British comedy is quite dark at the moment. I think people like a bit of variety.”

Hardeep, whose brother is the actor Sanjeev Kohli, trained with the BBC and went on to work in children's TV, on Janet Street Porter series Reportage and on BAFTA winning show It'll Never Work.

He wrote, directed and starred in Channel 4's Meet the Magoons and presented a documentary In Search of the Tartan Turban for Channel 4, which explored cultural identity as a Briton and a Scot belonging to an ethnic minority.

He also wrote and presented A Beginner's Guide to L Ron Hubbard, had a three-part series on Channel 4, £50 Says You'll Watch This, which explored gambling, and has appeared as a guest on a variety of panel and current affairs programmes. He also participated in a celebrity edition of The Apprentice, becoming the first celebrity apprentice to be fired.

But it was after his appearance on Celebrity Masterchef that his love for cooking came to the fore. He and fellow finalist Roger Black eventually lost out to rugby star Matt Dawson, but Hardeep's style of food which reflected his childhood growing up in Scotland with Sikh parents was what stuck in the mind.

He went on present a cooking series for UKTV and has also appeared on Gordon Ramsay: Cook Along Live. “People seem to think I'm a stand-up comedian but I'm not and I got tired of telling people that I am not,” he said.

“But then I began to think that maybe I could do a show where I combined some story-telling with my love of food - and it was a surprise hit. In fact, it's been the most fun I have had in a long time!”

Hardeep will carry on touring with the show until into the autumn. He then plans to continue with his radio and writing work.

“I am also thinking of opening a restaurant in London, selling Punjabi Indian food,” he reveals. “There is a lot of good Indian food there already but I do think there is space in the market for another restaurant offering a different product. Everyone who has more than eight people to a dinner party fantasises about owning a restaurant. I love cooking and I am truly passionate about food.”

He is particularly passionate about Britain's growing number of ethnic cuisines, and has recently presented a series for satellite channel Goof Food called New British Kitchen.

“I think people were surprised about the range of food that is out there, and often in the most unlikely places,” he says. “It was great to introduce people to something they haven't tried before, say Filipino or Portuguese food. The hit cuisine for me on the series was Korean. Japanese food has the texture, Indian food has the spice, Chinese has the intricacies of ingredients - but Korean has all three. It really blew me away.”

Hardeep admits he enjoys the variety of his life and the constant challenge.

“So who knows what I will do after that,” he said. “You never know in this business what might come along, but what ever it is, I will embrace it with both arms.”

t The Nearly Naked Chef is at the Maddermarket Theatre on June 2, £14 (£12 cons), 01603 620917, www.maddermarket.co.uk

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