MasterChef Champion Jane announces gluten-free cookbook and talks life after the show

Samantha Ewen speaks to Jane about new adventures, expanding her horizons and life after the demanding competition…

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Jane with her MasterChef trophy. Credit: BBC

To the naked eye, Jane Devonshire seems like an average, lovely woman. Her warm smile and demure first impression are enough to make others feel content, and she has a motherly air about her.

Jane describes herself as ‘a home cook – an ordinary mum’, but she is no wallflower – she is the fierce, formidable MasterChef 2016 Champion.

Now the queen of cuisine is writing her first cookbook, which is due to be packed with simple but tasty gluten-free meals.

MasterChef

The 50-year-old mum-of-four entered the prestigious TV contest on a whim when her youngest son Ben, 14, approached her with the application form.

We watched Jane flourish, fall, grow, cry and almost break at times, but ultimately, she succeeded in the most impressive fashion. She was never quite the underdog and more times than not, she was impressing the judges and viewers at home.

She was consistently strong, even in her times of personal doubt. Quietly she climbed the ranks until it was her time to be crowned the winner of the long-running, much-adored competition.

Jane says: “I didn’t set out to win MasterChef; I was just doing it for the experience. It’s very surreal and I still can’t quite believe it. It’s utterly overwhelming!

“Each week I thought I was just scraping through, but when I watched it back, I realised I was actually doing quite well.”

Her dishes welcomed compliments from judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace that had never been uttered on MasterChef before.

Celebrity chef and restaurateur Torode is the well-respected tough cookie of the show, and even he said: “Jane has more determination, more drive, and more heart than I’ve ever seen in a MasterChef contestant in my whole career.”

Despite the remarkable comments, Jane remains modest and self-deprecating in the purest way. She has not lost herself with the notoriety and responsibility that being the winner of the most watched televised cooking show in the world brings.

MasterChef has its own brand across 52 countries, where champions are moulded into not only professional chefs, but hardworking businesspeople too.

“Every now and again, you hit the jackpot and that’s truly amazing.”

Hailing from Hammersmith, west London, Jane left school aged 18 and began a career in marketing and IT, where she met her husband Mark. She says: “Before MasterChef, I never considered a career in food. It was just a hobby – a passion.”

Gluten-Free

So, why a gluten-free cookbook specifically? A gap in the market, perhaps? Not quite.

It became apparent to beady-eyed viewers that mostly all of Jane’s dishes on MasterChef were gluten-free, and turns out it is because of her youngest son’s autoimmune disease.

Ben Devonshire was diagnosed with coeliac disease when he was two years old, so Jane has been cooking gluten-free in the family home for 12 years now.

She says: “I don’t like to preach about it, but it’s very important that people know how to cater to coeliacs.

“I’m a huge believer in people picking the diets they want, but it‘s not a lifestyle choice or fad for my family.

“I just thought that people would want to know how to make great, gluten-free food day-to-day, with little hacks and tricks they may not already know.”

Jane revealed that her signature lobster and popcorn dish that triumphed on the show came from automatically thinking up gluten-free meals. She continues: “It’s really important to me that gluten-free does not have to be about expensive processed foods, but can easily be just part of everyday life.

“My brain just thought of popcorn, because at home I wouldn’t make a biscuit or cracker. Over the next few months, I plan to really focus on the cookbook.”

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Jane’s iconic lobster and popcorn. Credit: BBC

Despite being described as “one of the best MasterChef champions I’ve ever seen” by judge Gregg Wallace, Jane did not sail through the competition unscathed.

Notably, disaster struck when her egg white did not set inside a smoked trout scotch egg.

Hilarity ensued when she came face to face with, and later dropped, a huge octopus while cooking for 110 hungry Royal Navy officers aboard the HMS Northumberland.

Of course, Jane came up on top, battling her way past 40 contestants over seven gruelling weeks.

  • Jane’s final MasterChef menu, which was inspired by her childhood, included winkles and parsley on toast to start, served with pan-fried cockles and mussels, langoustine tempura, deep-fried caper berry and a saffron mayonnaise.
  • The main course consisted of Indian-inspired Sunday roast, including braised shoulder of lamb marinated in yoghurt, cumin and garam masala, with cannon of lamb cooked in a red chilli, garlic and kaffir lime leaf puree, shallot bhajis, roasted cauliflower, pan-fried shallot, onion puree, deep-fried kaffir lime leaves and a lamb and masala gravy.
  • The dessert was based on rhubarb and custard – a vanilla panna cotta flavoured with rosemary, served with honeycomb, roasted rhubarb, a rhubarb and ginger granite and a burnt orange and lemon caramel.

Her rival finalists Billy Wright (32) and Jack Layer (27) have since teamed up to host popular supper clubs at the London Cooking Project. Dishes have included their take on bubble and squeak and Jack’s controversial coriander cheesecake from the show.

Life After the Show

In the year following her win, Jane has also spent time honing her skills with Marcus Wareing and most recently, with Michel Roux Jr in his two Michelin star restaurant, Le Gavroche in London.

Jane says: “It’s not easy to balance being a mum and having a very busy life all of a sudden, so hats off to the women who manage.

“I turned 50 last year in April, so I had to silently celebrate my success without telling anyone!

“For me as a personal achievement, it’s definitely up there as the most amazing thing I’ve ever done,” she continues.

Jane revealed at the end of the show that she had been battling cancer for ten years, and had been in remission for three years prior to the show.

She had chosen not to tell the judges during the competition, saying: “Some challenges seem insurmountable, but you’ll learn so much from that experience and be better equipped to face the next challenge.

“Every now and again, you hit the jackpot and that’s truly amazing.”

During the last few weeks of the competition, Jane faced a variety of challenging tasks.

Cooking a celebratory dinner for Britain’s leading actors at Bristol’s Old Vic, under rising British chef Michael O’Hare? Check.

Travelling to Mexico and cooking with acclaimed chef Enrique Olvera? Done.

Preparing dishes for the Chef’s Table, which was presided over by one of the world’s most influential culinary talents, Daniel Humm? Jane had it in the bag.

These tasks – which were arguably the most challenging in the history of MasterChef UK – made not only the contestants, but every devoted viewer tense with anticipation and excitement.

Following the show, Jane invited her fellow MasterChef finalists to her house for “burgers on the barbie” to celebrate her new title. A year on, Jane wants to take a month off in May when the 2017 MasterChef champion is announced.

On the thought of one day running her own restaurant, Jane says: “It‘s extremely hard work at 12 hours a day, six days a week. Not only do you have to understand your market and be a great cook, the business side of things is so key.”

Read more about Jane’s culinary adventures here.

Let’s talk about… the MasterChef application process

According to Jane, the process long and drawn out, with various stages of filling out forms, tests and interviews. She says: “When I got the call I thought it was one of my kids winding me up, so I was saying ‘this isn’t funny!’, but the caller just laughed and told me it was the real deal.

“I was on the phone for two hours. They just spring strong questions on you, and then there’s the food tests. If you’re not experienced enough or you don’t know much about food, it’s over there and then.”

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