Lorraine Pascale began her professional life as a model where she became the first black woman to grace the cover of American Elle. As a baker, she presented Baking Made Easy on BBC Two, opened her own cake shop and has written eight cookbooks. Now on a new mission, she created a plant-based recipe for me to cook. We talked and went deep…
Emma: I’ve read so many things you’ve written or broadcast, and what unites them is the way you relentlessly try to make people feel better. Are you on a mission to heal?
Lorraine: I had a challenging start in life, like so many people. And if you’ve got this amazing platform, you have to use it for good. It’s almost rude not to,
E: Well, that’s clearly how you see it, but it isn’t what everyone does. Why have you made that choice?
L: I just feel really privileged to be in this position. Lots of people contact me who are struggling. I struggled so much but I’ve always been quite open about it. I’m still learning, I’m still flawed, but I feel I’ve got so much knowledge to give to people and it’s free. I’ve done a lot of talks in schools and prisons about confidence and the kinds of tools that can increase it.
E: Your childhood was clearly difficult. You never lived with your birth mother, you were fostered, adopted and then fostered again – have you made peace with that period of your life?
L: I did a fostering documentary for the BBC and they got hold of my social workers’ records. It documented everything that happened in my childhood, most of which I hadn’t known. There was a fair amount of violence when I was a baby, and on the first page, from when I was two, it said, ‘Lorraine’s adopted mother thought that if she threw Lorraine under a truck, all her struggles would disappear.’ My adopted mother was an incredible woman but she had challenges and was crying out for help all of the time.
E: You eventually met your birth parents, didn’t you?
L: I met my biological mother once. It was like meeting a stranger. I’d never felt I had a ‘biological parents sized hole’ in me that needed to be filled and I had no expectations. And you know, she was nice enough.
E: So do you think it was it your unsettled childhood that created your drive to make things better for others?
L: I don’t know what it is, it’s just that I have to help people. That’s what it is.
E: Your first profession was as a model – how did you handle that industry? It’s notoriously tough.
L: When I was in my teens I was still quite angry. I hadn’t done much therapy at that point, I was very shut down, and I think modelling fitted my life – you get rejected a lot, you get moved around a lot, so it was continuing the way I’d lived.
E: Did you enjoy it?
L: It was very different back then. I loved doing the shows and you could go on a trip for a week just to do eight pictures. There was much more room to be creative. But it was soul destroying at times – you get told you’re too tall, too fat, too black or whatever.
E: Was there a moment where you felt you wanted to do something which had more soul?
L: After I had my daughter Ella (the 22-year-old actress Ella Balinska), I wanted to be at home, but I wanted to find something that I was passionate about. I explored being a hypnotist, and a car mechanic, but I’d always loved baking and cooking. So I did five years training which was really tough, but it worked for me.
E: If you fast forward 10 years, do you think you’ll still be baking?
L: I won’t be cooking, no. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had doing the shows, but when it got to the stage that I was doing it all the time, I kind of fell out of love with cooking for a bit.
E: So you’re done with cooking?
L: I know I’m not here on earth to just make cakes. ‘She made a great sponge… the end’ – that’s not my mission. I find cooking really peaceful but it will definitely be taking a backseat. Food brings people together, it can lead to so much joy and healing, I know how powerful food is. But my therapist recently said ‘I’d hate to see all that pain you went through in your childhood go to waste.’ He means I need to be using what I’ve learned.
E: So, what’s next?
L: I’m excited about the next chapter. I’m writing a book now about life, health and wellbeing. It’s on my bucket list but it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve only written 6,000 words and I’ve been at it for weeks.
E: You’re very honest – especially on social media where you’re so open about your mental health and the times that you’ve struggled.
L: I don’t want to hide my failures – if you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying new things. Right now, trying to do something different from baking, it feels like everyone’s going to judge. But really no one else cares, they’ll think about you for half a second and move on. I think the younger generation are better at saying ‘I don’t care, I’m going to do this anyway’.
E: What a life. If the book works out, you’ll have gone from the top of the modelling industry, to the top of the food industry, to becoming a sort of mentor for all.
L: Yeah, that would be amazing.
We move to the kitchen to assemble the recipe she invented for this feature.
E: So we’re making your kung pao cauliflower.
L: The main thing is you have to have everything cut and ready before you start. Then it’s quick and easy.
E: It’s a vegan recipe – are you vegan?
L: I don’t eat 100% plant based, but I like cooking and eating more plants because I sleep better, it’s cheaper, it’s easier to digest and it’s better for the environment.
E: I know I’m shallow, but I’d miss the cheese. I’ve never had a nice vegan cheese.
L: You’re so wrong. Lots of shops do great alternatives. And nutritional yeast adds a great, cheesy, nutty flavour to food. You can get it easily now.
E: I made this dish for my teenage son yesterday. He has waged war on all vegetables but he genuinely loved it. It was unprecedented.
L: Well that’s one mission accomplished already.
Try Lorraine’s recipe for kung pao cauliflower.
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Lorraine’s latest book is Bake (£20, Bluebird Books for Life), out now. @lorrainepascale
Good Food contributing editor Emma Freud is a journalist and broadcaster, director of Red Nose Day and a co-presenter of Radio Four’s Loose Ends.
Photographs: David Cotsworth