Kim-Joy: ‘Baking and cats are both really good for your mental health’

Kim-Joy’s new book sees her combining two of her great loves (Handout)
Kim-Joy’s new book sees her combining two of her great loves (Handout)

It’s been an eventful few months for former Bake Off contestant Kim-Joy, who got engaged last summer and married shortly after in a spontaneous ceremony in Las Vegas.

“I didn’t really want to do the whole engagement thing, because we’d already talked about it, so I thought we were just going to get married,” says Kim-Joy, whose partner of nine years, Nabil Homsi, popped the question in their kitchen.

“He kept asking where my favourite place is, and I kept saying the kitchen… now he feels like it’s some sort of weird sexist thing, but I’m like, ‘No! That’s what I want!'”

Leaving everything to the last minute, while on holiday in America the couple headed to a wedding chapel on the Vegas Strip and tied the knot in front of an Elvis impersonator, the beaming bride donning a bright orange mini dress for the occasion.

Returning home to Leeds, the newlyweds continued to renovate the house they’d bought together, while Kim-Joy put the finishing touches to her debut graphic novel (more on that later) and her latest recipe book.

“I definitely went a bit bonkers and I couldn’t really sleep for a while – but it was all worth it in the end,” she says of the home transformation, which features decor as colourful as her culinary creations.

Bake Me A Cat sees Kim-Joy combining two of her great loves. “Baking and cats make sense together because they’re both so relaxing, and both are really good for your mental health.”

The pun-filled book features adorable feline fancies, such as marshmeowlow cats, miaowringues and pudgy 3D cookie cats.

Each recipe is stamped with a paw print rating, showing the difficulty from one (paw-fect pancakes, for example) to five (such as purrfect doughnuts that need deep-frying and decorating).

Not that you need to recreate each recipe to exacting standards, insists Kim-Joy, who is proud mama to fur babies Inki (so called because of his black coat) and Mochi (named after the Japanese dessert).

“I don’t like things that are all the same or really uniform – it takes a bit of life out of them,” she says.

“I wanted this book to be full of life, full of the quirkiness and weirdness of cats, to capture that within the bakes.”

The Belgium-born baker – who was runner-up in the 2018 series of Bake Off – worked as a psychological wellbeing practitioner before taking part in the show, and has been open about her own mental health struggles.

“I grew up with mental health issues, and still have social anxiety,” she says, explaining why baking can be such a soothing antidote during difficult times.

“Baking can be a mindful activity, where you can totally lose yourself. There’s structure within it, too, which makes me feel a bit safe.

Plus, offering a batch of brownies or a homemade cake to a loved one can be its own reward: “It makes you confident as you’re learning new skills and also being able to bring happiness to other people.”

Volunteering with Leeds social enterprise The Wren Bakery, which provides disadvantaged women with baking and barista training, she’s seen firsthand how developing new skills can be so beneficial.

“I see a lot of women at the start and then at the end, and the transformation is amazing.

“One woman was in the first cohort, now she mentors new trainees. I think it’s because it’s something that makes you feel useful.”

On a similar theme, forthcoming fictional graphic novel, Turtle Bread, tells the tale of a bunch of friends who meet at a baking club.

“The main character is kind of based on my experiences,” Kim-Joy explains.

“The characters all experience loneliness in different ways, but they join together and bond through baking.”

Named after the reptilian bread she made on Bake Off, the title is “a metaphor about stepping out of your shell – having that armour up, which prevents you from being vulnerable and connecting with others.”

The beautifully illustrated tale isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however.

“I love cute and happy things, but I like sad stories, too,” Kim-Joy says.

“It’s more like real life, in that you bake and things are a little bit better, but it’s not always good. It’s about how we keep going.”

‘Bake Me A Cat’ by Kim-Joy (published by Quadrille, £16.99; photography by Ellis Parrinder).