Chirag "Chigs" Parmar is an open book — well, at least until it comes to his relationship status.
The 40-year-old sales manager became a breakout star this season on The Great British Baking Show, thanks to his skillful bakes and swoon-worthy smile. And while he's happy to talk about all during a lengthy Zoom call with PEOPLE, he won't confirm or deny anything about his romantic life (despite our best, best efforts).
Perhaps that's what makes Parmar even more crush-worthy. He's smart enough to know that by not say anything, he leaves open the possibility for everyone to have a chance.
"I'm just enjoying this Baking Show high," Parmar says, of the the beloved Netflix-distributed series. "Life is very good right now."
PEOPLE: Congratulations on all your success!
Parmar: Thank you! I'm pretty proud of myself, to tell you the truth. The fact that I picked up baking such a short time ago and had the courage to put myself out there in front of the British public and you kind souls across the pond to watch my journey? It's been great.
So many of us rooted for you because you were such a novice, having just started baking during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. You said on the show you learned how to bake from watching YouTube videos?
Correct. The way it actually started was my brother-in-law came over to my house to stay because their house over in London was getting renovated. And he brought some sourdough starter with him, so I gave it a go and said, 'I want to start baking sourdough.'
Ahh, just like the rest of the world during that time.
Right! I kept doing that for a few weeks and kind of got addicted to it. Eventually I said, 'Let me try to do something else' and I started doing cookies. Then I heard about this cookie from Levain Bakery in New York, which is massive and really chewy, so I started making them. And then after that, cupcakes. And then, another baker from New York, Dominique Ansel — he opened a bakery in London and my friend said, 'We need to go,' so we went there and tried his DKAs and cronuts and all his other Choux pastries and stuff like that. I brought a bunch back to Leicester, were I'm from, and started picking them apart and thinking about how to make them. I'd watch YouTube videos trying to figure it out. I just got addicted to it, making one thing after the other after the other.
Chigs Parmar/Instagram; Netflix
Which YouTube videos in particular did you watch? Any you would recommend?
Joshua Weissman was one of them and then another called Cupcake Jemma, who I actually had the privilege of meeting a couple of weeks ago at her cupcake shop in London. I was starstruck when I met her. I actually said to her, 'Thanks to you, I am where I am, because of watching all your videos.' So I gave a massive hug and a thank you to her when I met her.
Man, it must have been fun to be your friend while you were doing all that pandemic baking...
Everybody said to me, 'How have you not put loads of weight on when you're making this food during lockdown?' I'm a very active person, so I'm a massively outdoorsy. But I hardly ever eat anything that I bake. I bake it, taste it, and then I give it away to my family, my friends, and charities.
Bakers are generous people!
I come from a very foodie family. It all stems from my mother, my mum's happiest when she's feeding people, and I think that's where I've learned that from. Growing up, if you come to my house, my mom wouldn't let you go without feeding you. She's still that way, as is my ; when I go and visit her, you get fed well.
How long into your baking journey was it until you applied to Baking Show?
I started in March and in November was when the application process opened up. My sister and my friends were like, 'Why don't you apply?' and I was like, 'Well, I got nothing else to lose, might as well.' One thing led to another and there I was in the tent.
You certainly did well. In fact, you, Giuseppe, and Crystelle all went into the finals evenly matched, having been awarded Star Baker twice before and given two coveted "Paul Hollywood handshakes" a piece — a first in Baking Show history. Was there a successful bake you had along the competition that you went in thinking, 'This is going to be a mess?'
That would be my layered slices — the cherry, chocolate, and vanilla ones that I did [during Pâtisserie Week]. If I showed you some of the pictures from my practices, they were an absolute mess. Even in the practice tent, they didn't work out that well. I had to change loads of elements because flavor balance wasn't right, the textures weren't right. When I went into the actual tent to deliver them on the actual day, they were the best they'd ever looked. For me, that was my best bake out of the whole 10 weeks. I was over the moon when I pulled that one out.
Any challenges you were particularly intimidated by?
Every single Technical challenge. That was the area I fell down on because of my lack of experience. Going in, I watched so many videos on how to make the basics: how to make a basic cake, basic bread, basic biscuits, basic pastry dough. But the one that shocked me the most was the phyllo dough on Pastry Week. We were all talking, the bakers, saying, 'No way they'll make us make phyllo pastry. What's the point?' And then what to do they make us do? Make baklava with our own phyllo. I was like, 'How am I going to do this?'
You did well, you came in third!
I could remember watching some old Jamie Oliver videos when he went to Greece and he had this old Greek woman there making phyllo pastry. Everyone was rolling it out, but I stretched it and pulled it like she did. It turned out alright!
That's impressive, that you remembered that.
I'm such a quick learner. I just need to see something once or do something once and I'll remember it. I always learn from my mistakes.
And it's really a surprise, the Technicals?
You don't have a clue what it is. They're so secretive about it all, they won't even let you walk around the tent while they're setting it up. The first time you see the recipe is when you lift up that gingham cloth. And the more weeks you're there, the challenges get more difficult and the less instructions show up.
The hardest challenge this season, it appeared, was that glass dome from Caramel Week
That was a nightmare. At home I went through 2 kgs. of sugar [roughly 4½ lbs.], and I couldn't make one dome. I spoke to the food producer and said, 'Look, I haven't been able to do it.' But when I went into the practice tent, everybody was talking about this Isomalt stuff. I was like, 'What the hell is Isomalt? Let me give it a go.' The mistake I made was a doubled up the balloon, I should have just used one balloon, it would have been thinner. You live and learn!
It was also very hot in there. How you don't sweat through your clothes every day...
I don't sweat that much anyway, so I was alright. But you have to wear the same outfit every day so after each episode, I'd run to the laundry room, take my clothes off and throw them in the washing machine.
Was it hard to decide what to wear every day?
I took so many clothes with me. I love my clothes, I love fashion, I always have loved fashion. I've been brought up among women, and my sister is a clothes freak as well. So I had so many clothes out there because, even though I didn't know how far I was going to get, I wanted to have options. Last year people were saying they ran out of clothes. I didn't want to take that risk! I took 13 pairs of [sneakers] with me as well, because I'm a massive sneaker head.
Were you as surprised as the fans were by Jürgen's elimination?
Massively. The week that Jürgen got eliminated, my technical challenge was the weakest, I came last. So that was on day 1. That evening, I packed my bags, I was ready to go home. And then I said, 'I'm going to go out swinging' because I wanted to go out on a good bake. I thought I was going to go home that week so when I heard Jürgen's name get called out? You can see it on the show, my face.
You got emotional!
Jürgen for me was like my Yoda. He taught me so much stuff and for that, I take my hat off to him. He's an absolute genuinely, genuinely amazing guy; got a heart of gold. His baking knowledge is mind-blowing. He knows everything down to a science. I would sit there and listen to him, with my lack of experience when it comes to baking, and soak up everything he was saying like a sponge. I think I got very emotional when he left because he was such a big help for me. Hence why in the final episode, I had to give him a shot-out because he taught me how to do the bread folding when I made my mushrooms.
What about Giuseppe? Were you surprised to see him take the prize?
Not at all, he was a worthy, worthy winner. He was the most consistent baker on the show, and everything he did was so precise, which comes from his engineering background. Giuseppe's also the kindest human being I've ever met. He bakes with passion, everything he bakes comes from the heart. I love the story of him baking to honor his father, because his father was a professional baker. That resonated with me because I lost my father when I was really young. I liked what he was doing. He's very family focused, which I am too. I started cooking at the age of 10, thanks to my mom, my grandma, and my aunties.
I still can't believe his kids didn't know he was on the show!
They didn't even know he won, either! We watched the finale together and just to see his kids' faces was absolutely amazing. You know, every night after we finished baking, I would listen to Giuseppe talk on the phone, speaking to his three little kids in Italian. It was one of the cutest things ever and speaks to the person Giuseppe is. I'm so glad I got to meet him. We'll be friends for life.
All the bakers seem to be so close.
We are! Because of COVID, we actually lived together in a bubble. And last year they were in a bubble too, but because COVID was new, it was a lot stricter at that point. We woke up, had breakfast together, baked together, ate lunch together, dinner together... in the evenings, we actually hung out and chilled. It was like that for, well, I lived there 7 weeks, so we built a bond. I genuinely made 11 new friends, which I didn't think I'd ever say at my age. We speak to each other every week; some of them I speak to them every day on What's App. We meet up on a regular basis, which has been wicked, and we've all met each other's families as well, which has been brilliant. Hopefully that will continue going forward.
Well Baking Show contestants say all the time, 'Once you're on the show, you're a part of the family.'
I didn't quite understand that when they said that to me initially but now I totally get it.
Speaking of family, anyone who follows you on social media can see how close you are with your them. How are they reacting?
My mom is probably the proudest I've ever seen her. Just seeing her face makes everything worthwhile. My grandparents are ecstatic. My granddad is 95 now, nearly, and he's always been a father figure to me. Every time someone goes to see him he pulls out the newspaper article of me and shows them, 'That's my grandson.'
It's especially adorable to see you with nephew. Do you love being an uncle?
Absolutely. Emile is like my partner in crime. He just turned 3 a couple of weeks ago, we had a nice little birthday party for him. For me, he makes everything wicked. If you've got problems, you go and see him and everything's fine. But when he [acts] up, I give him back to my sister like, 'That's your child, not mine' [laughs]. He's a Godsend, he's absolutely amazing. And I've got two other nephews as well, Mylan and Lucan — they're slightly older, 5 and 6, so I love spending time with my nephews. Best thing ever.
Part of the reason I do a lot of the more adventurous things I do, like backpacking around Europe and skydiving in Dubai, is because I want my nephews to look at pictures of me and say, 'I want to be like Uncle Chigs.' When my grandad came from Kenya to the UK, he went traveling all around Europe on his own. In those days, especially as an immigrant, traveling around must have been daunting. But when I was a kid, I remember seeing all those photos around and thinking, 'I want to do that.' So I want to do that for my nephews. I want them to look at me and think beyond their world.
Wow, how inspiring!
Plus I get fidgety [laughs]. I can't sit still. I get bored very easily as well. If I'm not actively doing something, that's when I get up to mischief. I'd prefer to do things that make me a better human being and an individual.
The fans would kill me if I didn't ask this obvious follow up: are you single? Are you in a relationship? 'Cause you'd make a great dad!
[Laughs] I want to keep my private life private, while I've got one. But you'll find out sooner or later...
Okay but surely you must realize that you're everyone's Baking Show crush, man and woman alike? Are your DMs blowing up?
[Laughs] Yeah, and I'm flattered; it's always flattering getting those kind of messages. I'm a very humble person. I've got a great group of friends around me and an amazing family who ground me very much, so I don't get a big head when I get those kind of comments. But it's been overwhelming, how everybody has supported me around this whole thing. I've had people from Hawaii, Costa Rica, India, France, Italy — I can't believe my name is being called out from all these countries. It's very nice.
That must take some getting used to.
It does, and I'm not there yet. When the show was first announced, my phone started blowing up, getting messages. That was one thing but for me, now, a trip to the supermarket is totally different. I asked [Baking Show hosts Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding] what to expect coming off of the show and they both sat me down and said, 'The weirdest thing is when people recognize you on the street.' When it first started to happen, I went to Sainsbury's — a local supermarket and one of the biggest in the UK — to just to go get some baking stuff, and people came up to me like, 'You're Chigs, aren't you?' And I got really embarrassed and really shy! Even with my mask on, people recognized me. I'm like, 'How are you doing this?' I had a baseball cap on as well! [Laughs] It must be my frown.
How long after the Baking Show was it until you wanted to start baking again?
After the last episode, during the walk back to the hotel, I said to Crystelle and Giuseppe, 'I don't ever want to eat a cake again. If anybody asks me to bake a cake, I'm going to scream in their face.' But three days later, I was at my sister's house in London and baked some cookies.
Oh you wasted no time!
I wanted to continue baking because I didn't want to get rusty. All the stuff I learned in the tent I wanted to keep learning. Even now I wish I could continue to bake every single day.
You're still working your regular job?
Yes! What happened was, I left a job I was at for 16 years last October, got head-hunted for the job I'm in now, and started there that December. But a week before I started my new job, I had applied for Baking Show. And 3 weeks into my new job, I got the phone call. So I had to to tell my boss, 'I've made it on to Baking Show. I know I've only been working here a short time but I need 7 weeks off, potentially.' My workplace has been super supportive, they've been absolutely amazing. Totally appreciate everything they've done for me.
Do you think you'll ever make your own YouTube videos to help amateur bakers?
It's something I'm thinking about. My background has been in sales and I've been in that mundane job where you go 9-5 every day. You get in the rat race. Baking helped me get out of that and now, after Baking Show, I get so many messages on my social media about how I've inspired people to do something different themselves. It's overwhelming. I've never thought that little old me, from Leicester, could have the impact. So I've not planned out yet what I want to do, but it is something I do want to pursue. I'd love to teach people about what I've learned and just encourage people if I can. Even if I can help one person, my job is done.
What's your biggest piece of advice for an amateur baker?
Bake things that you like to eat. When I started baking, I went with items and flavors that I used to eat as a kid. Proper nostalgic things, like cookies — since I was a kid, I loved cookies. The first cupcakes I made were cereal milk flavor, where I warmed up cereal in milk and then used that milk to make the cupcakes. I also used a lot of strawberries and chocolate, which comes in a lot of my baking because I'm a massive chocoholic. So bake things that you enjoy eating.
That's great advice!
Don't be afraid to make mistakes, either. Come out of your comfort zone. Bake things you think you cannot bake, because that's the only way you're going to be able to learn.
All episodes of The Great British Baking Show are now streaming on Netflix.