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Jane Devonshire on how the challenge of MasterChef brought out the best in her

PUBLISHED: 16:02 24 October 2016 | UPDATED: 16:02 24 October 2016

Archant

After a ten year battle with cancer, mother of four Jane Devonshire entered MasterChef for a bit of fun. Now, having been crowned champion, she shares with Rebecca Fletcher how the challenge brought out the best in her

Sitting in front of the computer one rainy afternoon with her son Ben, Jane Devonshire never dreamed that filling out an application form would be the beginning of a seven week whirlwind of intense culinary challenges including travelling to Mexico and creating dishes for Michelin-starred chefs to taste. Not once did the Hampshire mother of four believe that this life changing experience would see her beat 40 contestants to be crowned Masterchef Champion 2016 by judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace.

Chatting away over a pot of tea in her local café in Four Marks, Jane admits that she honestly didn’t give the competition much thought until she received a call from the show telling her that she had been selected for the heats.

“The whole family had been on at me to do it for years. I’ve loved Masterchef ever since Thomasina (Miers) won the first series – it’s a family show, something we all watch together. The programme sees ordinary people doing well. It’s a celebration of that. Filling in the form was a bit of fun. I never thought anything would come of it.”

Hailing from a family of cooks, Jane has always had a passion for food. In fact it’s been an integral part of her life from growing up in London, being inspired by her Nanny Pearce who baked beautiful cakes, her mother’s wholesome traditional fare and her father’s love of the markets, right the way through to preparing family meals for her husband and children Sam, 23, Rebecca, 21, Harry, 17 and Ben, 14.

“Cooking’s my comfort zone. It’s genuinely what I go to when I’m troubled or stressed. I can be doing a million and one things but the world stops when I cook and I think that really showed on the programme.”

Described by John Torode as having ‘more determination, more drive, more heart’ than any contestant he’s ever seen on Masterchef, it offered Jane a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not only to showcase her culinary skills but to indulge in a lifelong passion and find herself again following eighteen years out of the workplace.

“I knew I needed to do something. Quite frankly, I was getting a bit bored at home. I couldn’t keep filling the house with lots of baby animals – we were running out of space!” she giggles. “Then the opportunity came up to do this absolutely bonkers thing and I thought if you’re going to do it, do it the best you can.”

Praised for her ability to elevate everyday home cooking whilst working with just a handful of ingredients, each week Jane went from strength to strength - with viewers taking a shine to her down to earth charm and carpe diem approach. But there were ups and downs too, including when the scotch egg she had prepared wasn’t cooked properly inside and Jane thought her dreams of staying in the competition were over.

“I don’t think I ever thought I could win it. I just didn’t think it was what I could achieve,” she shares. “I always felt like I was chasing to catch the others up. I knew my food tasted yum but the others were a lot cleverer, a lot more technical.”

However, Masterchef brought out the best in Jane, drawing out her potential, despite the nerves and self-doubt when it came to her dishes being judged. Celebrating the flavours and memories of her childhood saw Jane take the title from impressive competition, wowing John and Gregg with a new spin on a traditional seaside favourite of winkles with parsley on toast served alongside pan-fried cockles and mussels, an Indian inspired Sunday roast of braised shoulder of lamb with a nod to her mother’s cauliflower and onion puree, followed by the quintessential British classic of rhubarb and custard.

“Towards the end, the stress was tough. The further I got, the more it became personal to me. All of sudden I wasn’t that mum at home, I was doing something for me. That was when I realised that I wanted to stay in as long as I could, to carry on what I was doing.”

In the final episode, Jane explained that she had spent the last ten years fighting cancer and had now been in remission for three years. Having deliberately chosen not to reveal her past illness, not wishing to be defined or limited by it, it made her incredible journey and success on Masterchef all the more important to her in terms of personal achievement.

“I’ve learned that you’ve just got to grab life because you don’t know what’s going to happen to you. My husband Mark said to me when I won that whatever this brings, it’ll be the icing on the cake… and it’s true.”

A passionate supporter of all things local, Jane has busied herself with doing what she loves best, sharing her passion for cooking local, seasonal produce. Despite her hectic schedule following her Masterchef win, the last few months have seen her ever present at local events, opening a new café at Perins Schools, a new garden at Four Marks CE Primary, demonstrating her culinary skills at various festivals and attending Hampshire Fare’s Food Festival opening night.

Living in Hampshire for the last twelve years, she and husband Mark have always believed in getting involved in the community and championing the very best in their area. So much so that Mark set up a local junior cricket club, growing its initial 30 players to over 100 kids playing on the green on a Friday night.

“I love living in Hampshire.” Jane tells me. “I don’t think I could live anywhere else now.”

So what will we see next from Hampshire’s very own Masterchef? A cookbook on the horizon perhaps? She laughs: “One of the things that I know about myself as a result of this is that I love the teaching and presenting side of things. Right now, I’m enjoying it all so much that I intend to do as much as I can, discover as much as I can and see what comes out of it.”

The sky may be the limit for Jane but this talented lady has her feet firmly on Hampshire ground.

Have a go at some of Jane’s recipes and follow what she’s been up to since her win on her blog www.janecdevonshire.com

More…

Meet the chef: Luke Matthews at Chewton Glen - Creating inventive, cosmopolitan food using locally sourced ingredients, Executive Head Chef at Chewton Glen, Luke Matthews, talks serving up fine dining at one of the county’s most prestigious hotels

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