Why Prue Leith Says Rahul Mandal Is the 'Great British Baking Show' Contestant She'll 'Never Forget'

"I think as long as I live, I'll never forget Rahul," Leith tells PEOPLE about the 2018 champion

EXCLUSIVE - Premium Rates Apply Please call your account manager for pricing. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tom Dymond/Shutterstock (10069671fg) Exclusive - Rahul Mandal and Prue Leith 23rd National Television Awards, Reception Portraits, O2, London, UK - 22 Jan 2019
Photo: Tom Dymond/Shutterstock

For Prue Leith, there is one baker from The Great British Baking Show who really takes the cake.

The judge of The Great British Baking Show — known in the U.K. as The Great British Bake-Off — recently spoke to PEOPLE about the beloved show, a controversial story shared in her new memoir, I'll Try Anything Once, and the most unforgettable contestant from the British baking competition series.

"I think as long as I live, I'll never forget Rahul," says Leith, author of the new cookbook, Bliss on Toast.

Dr. Rahul Mandal won the hearts (and palates!) of the judges and viewers because of his coy personality and impressive bakes. After winning the ninth series of The Great British Bake-Off in 2018, Mandal was also champion during the fourth season of Netflix's The Great British Baking Show: Holidays, both of which are judged by Leith and Paul Hollywood. When he is not in the tent competing or at home baking, he works as an engineering researcher at the University of Sheffield's Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

According to Leith, 82, there are many facets to Mandal that make him so memorable and his intellect is one of them. "He is really, really clever and yet, he's like a shy little boy most of the time. He gabbles away and can't stop talking because he's nervous," she says.

Rahul Mandal
Mark Bourdillon/Love Productions/C4

Leith calls him "the sweetest man and an absolutely amazing baker. He continued to astonish us the whole way through with more and more exotic and crazy ideas and very good showstoppers."

When talking about working on The Great British Baking Show, the Netflix-distributed version that is currently in its 10th season, Leith admitts that she is not much of a baker herself. "I'm more of a savory cook, really. Of course, I have made thousands of desserts and lots of wedding cakes and I'm so interested in the skills, but that's not what I would naturally do. I think they hired me because I have a great set of taste buds, not for my piping skills," she says.

But, in sticking true to the title of her memoir, the chef says she would have gone on GBBS as an amateur chef had it been around. But she doesn't think she would be triumphant. "I'd hate to be faced with one of the showstoppers, frankly," she says.

Rahul Mandal
Love Productions/C4

The chef made headlines last month because she recalled a time when her mother made her drown a litter of newborn kittens while growing up on their farm in South Africa.

"I became public enemy No. 1," Leith told PEOPLE, looking back on the uproar. "They don't read the story and they feed off each other. Somebody says, 'My God! That woman drowns kittens!' And it just spiraled from there."

Leith explained that, at that time in the early 1940s, the horrific act was a normal occurrence to maintain the cat population in South Africa — though she had "never known" her mother to drown kittens before and "presumed they were drowned by somebody else."

The traumatic story is part of Leith's new autobiography, which also details her career opening several restaurants, founding culinary schools and writing food columns and cookbooks.

Her most recent project, Bliss on Toast, features 75 recipes and is something Leith started during the COVID-19 lockdown when she "realized very quickly that anything that tastes good the first time around tastes even better on toast the second time around."

When asked about her vast career, Leith says the key to success is quite simple: "My whole career has been a matter of just being unable to say no. If somebody has an idea and I think it's a good one, I want to do it."

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