Jane Devonshire discusses her new found career

Jane Devonshire

Jane Devonshire - Credit: Archant

Three years on from her Masterchef win and Jane Devonshire is embracing her new found career, but family still remains at the heart of everything she does

From Masterchef winner in 2016 to guest presenter at events, corporate and pop up chef and now writer, it’s been a whirlwind few years for Four Marks’ foodie, Jane Devonshire.

Propelled into the spotlight following Masterchef, she has worked with a plethora of Michelin-starred chefs such as Michael O’Hare, Marcus Wareing, Michel Roux Jnr and Atul Kotchar to name a few, as well as appearing on numerous TV and radio programmes including BBC Breakfast, Loose Women, South Today and Woman’s Hour.

“Winning Masterchef was a complete surprise. I decided that I wanted to experience as many things as I could. I wanted to throw myself into everything,” Jane shares.

At the end of that first year, she took a couple of months off to work out what she might do next. What followed was the realisation that she had found a new love. Travelling around the country cooking and doing demonstrations, she discovered a passion for presenting and chatting to people.

“I love the creative side – teaching, writing, developing recipes,” she discloses. “I spend hours in my kitchen just working on new dishes, which is what I’ve always done I suppose. But talking to people about food and presenting to them has been what I’ve really enjoyed the most.”

Capitalising on her experiences, she began working on a project which would involve something close to her heart – gluten free cooking. With the inspiration stemming from her own gluten free journey which began over fourteen years ago with her youngest son Ben, Jane set out to write her first book.

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“Ben was so ill. He just used to scream before he was diagnosed,” explains Jane. “I just didn’t know how to help him. Every time we went to the doctor, I think they thought I was just struggling to manage my four kids. The key was moving to Hampshire,” she recalls. “A doctor here really listened to what we were saying and within three months, Ben was diagnosed.”

Every meal became a battleground in the early days. Discovering that Ben, aged two, had coeliac disease, a lifelong auto-immune disease caused by a reaction to gluten, there was suddenly a light at the end of the tunnel. Coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 people and if left untreated can result in complications such as anaemia, osteoporosis as well as serious neurological conditions and an increased risk of small bowel cancer and intestinal lymphoma.

“Our life completely changed for the better. I was just so relieved. I could do something. I could feed him and make him better.”

Getting a diagnosis was just the start though. Jane remembers the challenges of educating both herself and Ben, changing the way she cooked and making sure that he knew not to accidentally eat anything he shouldn’t.

“As a mum, you don’t want to make food a problem for them. It was a lot about tempting Ben to eat, trying new things and getting him involved. I went back to basics with everything. I bought gluten free flour and started from there.”

It was remembering those difficult times which encouraged Jane to write her book Hassle Free Gluten Free in the first place. What better way to utilise her culinary skills than to create a cookbook dedicated to cooking gluten free food that all the family could enjoy?

“I wanted to create a no-nonsense cookbook. If I’d have been able to cook things that Ben could actually eat with just a little tweaking of a recipe, it would have been so much easier for all of us. That’s what I wanted to achieve with my book – to be a go-to for all those people in the same boat I was. It’s about sharing tips and tricks I’ve learned over fourteen years of cooking gluten free food,” adds Jane.

A chance meeting with Annette Woolman from Coeliac UK at BBC Good Food Show saw Jane’s book evolving further. Working with the charity, every recipe in Hassle Free Gluten Free has been tested and endorsed by Coeliac UK, with proceeds from book sales going towards helping to support others who need to live without gluten, due to coeliac disease or other medical conditions.

From nibbles and every day suppers to indulgent desserts and dinner party showstoppers, Jane’s Hassle Free Gluten Free is a sumptuous collection of home-cooked recipes which are perfect for any family occasion. It’s exactly what Jane wanted to achieve from the very beginning.

“When I was writing the book, my harshest critics were my children. If I gave the kids something and they didn’t comment on it being gluten free, then I knew that I’d passed the test,” she laughs.

Moving away from gluten free offerings of the past and living in rural Hampshire, Jane took the view that if ingredients couldn’t be sourced in her local shop or supermarket then the recipe couldn’t go in the book.

“So many of the books I’d looked at for inspiration when cooking for Ben had ingredients which I couldn’t get hold of or were for those on a bigger budget than us. The one thing that should be accessible in our lives is food. If you can create dishes which make family life easier, meals that everyone at the table can enjoy, then that’s fantastic. One of the biggest problems I come across when I meet parents of children with severe allergies is that their children don’t eat.”

Continuing to spread her message far and wide, an exciting opportunity to champion her cause further came when Jane was asked to showcase her delicious recipes at The France Show, the UK’s greatest celebration of all things French, from 25-27 2019 January at Olympia, London.

“I was thrilled to be asked. I wanted to show how you can take a beautiful French dish and easily convert it into something gluten free,” Jane shares. “I love France but the one thing we struggle with is finding gluten free options.”

Demonstrating how French cookery can be adapted easily to cater for restricted diets, Jane has created two bespoke recipes (links below) - a luxuriant twist on a classic, Confit Duck Shepherds’ Pie, and a patisserie favourite, Apricot and Almond Cake Tatin. Both draw on ingredients Jane loves when on holiday in France.

“I wanted to create lovely warming dishes – something indulgent, wintry and quintessentially French,” she shares. “It’s about getting the message across too. Helping others to access support is vital.”

At the heart of everything she does, whether it’s supper at home or cooking for demonstrations, chatting to people at events or sharing recipes from her book, is Jane’s passion for food and family. That’s what makes her such a joy to listen to – she’s a mum who practices what she preaches.

“Food should be a pleasurable experience for everyone. I get such immense pleasure from being able to create moments when we sit and eat together. Who cares if it’s sausages and mash or a macaroni cheese?” she laughs. “It’s about sharing food. Food brings people together.”

More Jane Devonshire…

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

Jane Devonshire’s duck confit shepherd’s pie recipe

Jane Devonshire’s apricot and almond cake tatin recipe

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