Leeds MasterChef contestant Jo Mills on tears and triumphs after filming stopped

A former teacher from Leeds has told of the  'exhilarating' experience of being a  MasterChef contestant and how her life  has changed dramatically after her exit from the BBC show.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 10:34 am

Self taught cook Jo Mills was devastated when she sent home after reaching the quarter finals of the latest series, which was filmed during lockdown in November 2020 and screened on BBC One earlier this month.

But she soon got over the disappointment and is now concentrating on launching her own MrsMillsCooks cookbook and seasoning set along with a website featuring free recipes.

"It was an incredibly exhilarating, exhausting and terrifying experience all at the same time being on Masterchef," said Jo, 51, of east Leeds

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Masterchef contestant Jo Mills is launching her own website and range of spices. Picture: Tony Johnson

"But it was also amazing and addictive - once you get on there you just want to do more and more."

Mum of two Jo, whose husband Jonathan died in 2013 after suffering from a brain tumour, has said life is too short not to chase your dreams.

"It was a dream come true to be a competitor on MasterChef," said Jo, from Garforth.

Jo Mills at work in the Masterchef kitchen

"But when you walk through those swinging doors and into the kitchen to see John and Greg standing there , it suddenly becomes very real.

"I felt like a rabbit caught in the headlights on that very first cook.

"There are no pre introductions and you don't get to familiarise yourself with the kitchen or the equipment first, you literally walk in and John Torode says 'welcome to MasterChef, lets cook.'

"Once the initial panic settled down though, I loved every minute of cooking in the MasterChef kitchen.

One of the meals made by Jo Mills on Masterchef

"With each round I went through, my confidence grew and I just wanted to keep cooking and cooking.

"The excitement I felt when they said my name each time I progressed to another round was unreal."

Jo, who retired early from teaching biology around three years ago, said she went all out to impress with a complex dish in the quarter final after food critic Grace Dent asked contestants to create a street food dish.

"I thought I would stay close to home and cook good old fish and chips with scraps but in MasterChef fine dining style."

Masterchef contestant Jo Mills Picture: Tony Johnson

But her attempts to make pommes souffles as 'posh chips' went awry because the fryer was set at the wrong temperature.

"I could have cried there and then because I knew how vital this was," she said.

"I was devastated inside because it was the worst attempt I had ever produced of this dish.

"When I went out of the competition because of it I wasn't surprised but I was heartbroken.

"To be a quarter finalist is a fantastic achievement but instead I was absolutely devastated.

"I cried in the taxi going to the train station, I cried all the way home on the train from London to Leeds.

Masterchef contestant Jo Mills Picture: Tony Johnson

"I cried for days afterwards. I felt rejected, I was disappointed in myself, I knew I could have won but one mistake sent me home."

Jo said her two teenage daughters had returned home from university and asked her to write down easy but healthy recipes they could use when they went back.

"I fell in love with cooking all over again but this time with the simplicity of making meals that don't take hours of boiling stocks on the hob, or making emulsions and purees and fancy tuiles." Jo said.

"I decided there and then that I was going to take the plunge and write my own cookbook.

"And I was going to fill it with delicious, 30 minute meals that anyone can cook."

Jo also studied for a nutrition diploma and started calculating the calories in the dishes she was making and ensured her recipes were nutritionally balanced.

"Because I was cooking so much and testing new dishes, as a family we had stopped eating takeaways and processed food and we were just eating fresh, balanced home cooked food.

"And then I realised that the two stones I had gained in weight over lockdown were actually falling off me.

"No fad diets, no meal replacements, no cutting out food groups, just simple, healthy food had enabled me to lose weight without depriving myself.

"I was over the moon and it inspired me to develop my collection of calorie counted meals - under 350 calories, and under 500 calories - but all still easy and quick to cook.

"As I was developing my dishes, I also realised just how many different herbs and spices are used to enhance the flavour of food.

Jo said she developed her MrsMillsCooks seasoning set, which she says makes flavoring food easier.

Jo posts free weekly recipe cards on her website www.mrsmillscooks.co.uk

To see Jo's work, go to @mrsmillscooks on Instagram and mrsmillscooks on Facebook.

Mark Lavery

Reporter, Yorkshire Evening Post