Winning MasterChef has changed housewife Jane Devonshire’s life. Catherine Scott finds out how.
The 2016 MasterChef champion is spending the week working ‘a stage’ for Michael O’Hare’s Michelin-starred Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds.
“I have spent a few weeks at different restaurants, giving my time for free to gain more experience of being a chef,” explains the 50-year-old.
Anyone who saw the mum of four on the BBC competition will know that her refined home cooking is a far cry from O’Hare’s experimental approach, but she is relishing the experience.
“I met Michael on MasterChef when we got to cook with him at Bristol Old Vic and it was amazing. I love traditional cooking and that’s where my cooking is the best, but to be able to get the opportunity to expand your knowledge in other areas is incredible and I am so excited about spending some time at the Man Behind the Curtain.”
Jane entered MasterChef as a bit of a dare from her youngest son Ben, now, 14.
“I had watched MasterChef from the beginning and absolutely loved it, but I was one of those people who shouted at the television,” says Jane.
“The children always said I should do it and then Ben got the application form. I just thought it was a bit of a laugh and never thought in a million years that I would even get through onto the programme let alone win it.
“In fact when I got the phone call from the production company I thought it was one of the children messing around.”
But it wasn’t and not only did Jane get onto the show she beat competition from some very strong cooks to win the title.
“All the way through I never thought I could win, and maybe that’s why I was quite relaxed. I was just enjoying myself and never thought more than that.”
Although she does admit that she knew her final three dishes for the final were potential winners.
“I’d practised it and I knew it tasted good and really worked,”says Jane who went head to head with Billy Wright, 32, and Jack Layer, 27, in the final in May this year.
Jane says it was cooking with chef Daniel Humm that really made her believe that she had a chance.
“I don’t use any new techniques in my cooking and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to refine the food I loved to fine dining. But Daniel got me cooking something his mum had cooked for him when he was little and he had elevated it to something spectacular. He gave me the courage to put together my final three dishes.”
Courage isn’t something Jane Devonshire is short of. During the final it was revealed that Jane had had a 10-year battle with cancer and had been in remission for three years. “It was a difficult decision and we had to talk it through with the children as it was something we had all been through but I knew it was likely to get out as I had done a lot of fund-raising and it had been in our local paper and we felt it was best to control the situation. We told the producers and they were brilliant and in the end it was handled very sensitively.
“There was a time when I thought I wouldn’t be here; it’s been incredibly tough, a really horrible time, a very scary time. You’ve got to get through these things, and with my children there’s no way I was going to give up. You have to try and survive and I’m one of the lucky ones.”
Jane had always fought not to let the cancer define her and winning MasterChef gave her the chance to do something for herself.
“It was great as people would no longer say ‘there’s that poor woman with cancer’ they’d say ‘There’s that lady that won MasterChef,” says Jane.
“I love being a mum and I feel very privileged to have been a housewife, but I had never done anything just for me. Now that has all changed.”
Since winning the MasterChef title Jane has been inundated with requests to make appearances and give demonstrations and she is in the process of writing a cookery book. She is planning an exclusive dinner later this year at the Leeds Club. But while conscious of making the most of the opportunities that come her way, Jane is also more than aware that she doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardise her family life.
“Two of them are still teenagers, and I actually think they need you more when they are teenagers than when they are toddlers,” says Jane who has Ben, 14, Harry, 17, Rebecca, 21, and Sam 24. After I had won but couldn’t tell anyone because the programme hadn’t been aired, my husband Mark said ‘We have got a lovely life and this is the icing on the cake. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do’ and he is so right and wouldn’t do anything to change that.
“But I am having a ball and I am happy just to see where life takes me. I am extremely busy but I’ve got to balance that with life.”
Jane is keen to pass on the love of cooking she inherited from her ‘Nanny Pearce’, and her own mum on to other people.
“We never had processed food growing up. My dad was a market trader and he’d bring home some wonderful stuff for her to cook with.
“MasterChef was an amazing experience, one that just takes you out of your comfort zone and shakes you up; I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world. On a personal front, I wanted to prove to myself how far I’ve come. I am determined not to be defined by things that have happened to me in the past and instead proud of what I can achieve now and in the future.”