Thursday, 6 September 2012

Khakan Can!

Can he cook it?.........Yes he can!

Khakan Qureshi’s such a dab hand in the kitchen that he’s been on TV showing his culinary skills to the nation.  Welovebearwood were so happy when Khakan told us how he does it.

Your cakes look so good on your QT cakes Facebook page. What inspired you to start making cakes and where do you get your ideas from?

I used to bake as a teenager, but stopped when I went to a drama college in London. Over the years though, I used to eat cakes and desserts after every evening meal and when I used to ring my mum, she commented on this and suggested that rather than buy in cakes with artificial ingredients, why not bake your own?

My mother was diabetic and was very ill. In the Summer of 2009, Mum asked if I would bake her a cake just like in the old days and I said I didn’t have the time as I was busy with work etc and would bake it for her one day soon. But I went out and bought a set of cake tins in the hope I would get round to baking that cake.

Sadly, that day didn’t come as in February 2010, mum passed away and a week later as a form of therapy I suppose, I started baking. On a positive note, my ideas for the cakes generally come from what I think the cake ought to look like.

I’m a very creative individual and tend to visualise the end product before I start baking. For instance, I don’t draw the cake before I start like lots of other cake makers might do.  All I do is ask the customer a few questions like what is the recipients’ favourite colour or what are their hobbies or interests and just work from that. I try to personalise the cake as much as possible to reflect their individuality.  

What do you see as the future of QT cakes?

I would like to receive more orders obviously as I’m a fledgling home business in Bearwood. If I can gain more customers, support and financial investment, I’d like to set up a coffee shop in Bearwood similar to the Fallen Angel in Harborne except I would rather my shop work as a Social Enterprise.

I would like to use volunteers, individuals who would like to enter this field and use it as a stepping stone. I would even consider using second hand tables and chairs that I could perhaps refurbish and sell to interested customers so that the environment or the look of the shop would be constantly changing.

I also have a strong interest or passion in Interior design, photography and art so would use the walls to display work by local photographers and artists, including my own work. It sounds all very exciting but I can dream, can’t I?

You’re definitely a local TV star! You’ve been on BBC’s Weakest Link, Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me and ITV’s May The Best House Win. What’s it like being on TV and what was it like when Anne Robinson said you are the weakest link....goodbye?

What’s it like being on TV? Well, it’s hard to explain that as I only applied to be on those shows out of interest and to win the prizes of course! I’ve gained some valuable experience and insight into how the shows work. CDWM and May The Best House Win are very similar formats in that it brings together four strangers to take a peek into how one behaves in given circumstances within their own home.

With CDWM, I feel, it’s about the food, hosting, entertainment and mostly personality clashes whilst with “Best House” it’s a more genteel lifestyle show about the home décor, hosting and comfort, with minor personality clashes. But people have to remember; they are only TV shows made for entertainment with a cash prize thrown in and are edited so that you don’t get the whole picture.

I was on The Weakest Link in August 2002, and only took part after my neighbour suggested I apply. I wasn’t the weakest link though, I just happened to get kicked off because I hesitated in the second quick fire round. She asked me a question related to painting wood: do you go with the grain or against and I asked her to repeat it and replied “Against”.  It was a bit embarrassing though as I had just finished decorating a room at home a week before I appeared on the show! But I stepped off the platform with my head held high as I certainly wasn’t The Weakest Link!
Your Indian cooking looked yummy on Come Dine With Me. Who taught you how to cook so well and what’s your favourite dish to cook?

My mother taught me how to cook or rather I used to help her out in the kitchen, observe and learn by asking questions. She didn’t exactly say right, here are the ingredients and I want you to cook this curry or that curry and you’ve got to cook it now. It was more about being with mum in the kitchen, you know? Quality time, comfort, chatting…

We used to go shopping together and she showed me how to pick ripe tomatoes or check the firmness of aubergine, that type of things. My dad was also an exceptionally talented man and back in 1968, had apparently introduced various curry dishes to Birmingham. There was also an article in the local press at the time saying he was a man of 1,000 dishes!

My two sisters also had some influence on me to cook, but that was more out of necessity than luxury as they wanted me to be more independent at the age of 13 rather than rely on them to cook me meals when mum wasn’t around!

My favourite dish has to be either Balti Ginger chicken or kebab curry. They are not like the kebabs you find in the local curry house, but rather like spicy minced beef or lamb sausages in a thick masala sauce. Just the thought of them makes my mouth water!

What was it like going round to the other contestant’s houses for dinner? Are you still in touch with any of your fellow Come Diners now?

I was nervous and apprehensive about meeting the other diners at first because you don’t know who they are, have never met them before and don’t even know what they look like before you get there, so your immediate reaction is filmed right in front of the camera for the first time on the first night. And if you don’t hit it off immediately or rapport is forced, the camera picks it up and you’re a goner!

When I met my fellow diners I think I knew straightaway what I let myself in for so going to their houses was not a big deal. I think you have to take it all in your stride and be open to what is on offer and if you do find you complain about one thing, it looks like you’re moaning all the time! People act and react differently in front of the camera so it doesn’t always reflect the true personality of the people involved…

I have kept in touch with most of the contestants from CDWM and “Best House” via facebook or phonecalls. From CDWM we even had a reunion a year after we met and featured in an article in the Express and Star! CDWM in particular has certainly garnered me a reputation as being controversial and easily recognisable.

I’ve been recognised not only in Bearwood, but in the Black Country, the City Centre, Kidderminster, London and more recently, in Manchester. People come up to me in the streets and ask don’t I know you or recognise me immediately from CDWM. I try not to let it phase me but I’m certainly not a celebrity in the true sense of the word – no red carpet events, champagne dinners or lucrative contracts have been signed.

It’s nice to be recognised but it also depends on what mood I’m in. Lol! I’m just happy to be me, to live and shop around Bearwood. Of course, I wouldn’t say no to a contract as it might help set up my QT Cakes coffee shop. Haha!

Do you have any other TV projects in the pipeline?

I have recently returned from filming a ground-breaking new documentary in Manchester and Carlisle. It’s called “The Audience” and was commissioned by Channel 4. The series starts on Thursday 13th September at 9pm and involves 50 people from a cross section of the community helping an individual or family with a dilemma.
For example, the individual might ask should they leave work, split up, sell their business or whatever. The 50 people would make observations, ask questions and probe into the lives of the individual concerned by visiting family, friends work or home life and at the end of the week deliver a solution to their problem, in the hope that it would turn their life around using the “wisdom of plenty” theory. I’ve got another program coming up soon but I can’t say which one!

You work in the Debra Charity Shop. What’s that like and do you have any funny anecdotes you could share. Have you found any bargains?

I’ve been working as a volunteer for over a year now. Although the charity has been established for over 25 years, people are not as familiar with it as say, the British Heart Foundation or Oxfam.

The letters EB in the word Debra stands for Epidermolysis Bullosa, which is a life threatening genetic blistering skin condition in which the skin and internal body linings blister at the slightest knock or rub, causing painful, open wounds.

It affects babies and children, many of whom do not reach adulthood.

This is why donations or contributions are needed and the support offered is very much appreciated by the Bearwood store.

I enjoy the banter, camaraderie and the variety of customers who just pop in for a chat and a browse. I like to arrange the merchandise and sometimes my other half would come in and try to take over the visual displays even though he doesn’t work there, much to the amusement of the management and customers! Or we might try on the various wigs, hats and other garments and do a bit of posing or role play just to try to sell the items.

I’ve found a selection of good, reasonably priced items like books, objet d’art such as a pair of praying hands on a small block, an old black enamelled victorian teapot dotted with gold gilt and a small silver plated, cut glass floral vase circa 1950’s. Items of real value, such as antiquities and collectibles we let the general public buy as it adds more funds to the charity.

What’s your connection with Bearwood?

My partner lived in the Bearwood area all his life, so when I met him 20 years ago it was only natural I suppose that he introduce me to his local shopping centre. I’ve always found the shopping centre attractive, the traders friendly and helpful and the appeal that it attracts a wide multicultural community adds to its feeling that this is home.

What do you think of Bearwood’s restaurants, takeaways or delis? Do you think Bearwood is on the foodie heaven map?

I appreciate the delis like the Baguette shop, Mud, Anatolios on the High St and Antonios Emporio on St Marys Rd. Overall, the well established restaurants are to be recommended and with the introduction of new eateries such as Red Oven and Purnima helps to move the Bearwood eating options in the right direction.

However, I feel and it is only my opinion, that there are far too many takeways or burger bars along the High St and the burning smell of grease and fats does not help the healthy eating options or the obesity crisis and the environment at large.

We need more artisan bakeries, independent coffee houses and good, quality food outlets to cater for all like a vegetarian café, salad bars or more cosmopolitan eateries. I think Bearwood has a long way to go before it can establish itself on the foodie heaven map, but with the aforementioned indies we could set the trend and introduce or establish more choices for the consumers.

You’re also involved in Better Bearwood.  What would you like to see change in Bearwood and what do you see as Bearwood’s future?

As I said before, we could reduce the amount of burger bars that are coming onto the High St and make more use of the empty retail outlets with pop up business perhaps to show off wares by QT Cakes, the Crafty Muthas and other small businesses that are trying to make a go of it in this recession.

There are many talented, creative folk in Bearwood and I would like to see them given an opportunity to show off what they can do with exhibitions, Performing Arts productions at St Marys perhaps or other larger venues within the area.

I applaud Richard Marshall and the Traders Association for attempting to make the High St more attractive with the introduction of colour e.g. floral boxes and hanging baskets and making the businesses more cohesive in what they have to offer, the work with Lightwoods Park and Warley Woods to make better use of the green environment for pleasure and leisure pursuits.

Although I wasn’t involved in the Mary Portas bid, but am aware of the processes involved, I still think we could make changes ourselves just by asking or suggesting that more effort is made with the window displays, a lick of paint given to some stores and encourage people to be more motivated to a make a difference.

I know it’s difficult to see what the future may bring in a recession but we could try to encourage more businesses to invest in Bearwood. We’ll be having a new Poundland soon which would create more job opportunities, the old Woolworths premises could be used to benefit the community even if it was changed to smaller retail units.

More than anything, we need more financial investment, government initiatives with grants, loans and try to attract more independent businesses like fashion or wedding boutiques, art and design stores, homeware and gift shops instead of takeaways. The Bearwood Chapel taking over the old lettings office and converting it into some sort of community hub is a great start…

What/who/where makes you smile in Bearwood. What’s your Bearwood All-Star?

I would have said Odds & Sods but they have moved on now… I could be biased and say the Debra charity shop for the work that they do in trying to raise funds and awareness for worthwhile cause or I could say QT Cakes of Bearwood. ..It’s a tough decision so I’m going to say I’ll leave it to you!

P.S. You can contact Khakan regarding his cakes via his facebook page. 
Here's the link: QT Cakes of Bearwood

P.P.S. Mrs B says don’t forget to enter welovebearwood’s competition to win tickets to BBC’s Winter Good Food Show!  Click here for more details.

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