One of my greatest ambitions – to cook on television – came true in 2018 when I was chosen to participate in Series 1 of Best Home Cook (originally named Britain’s Best Home Cook) for BBC television.
Being on Best Home Cook was hands-down the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. Yes, it was a challenge (coping with the pace of time on a TV programme took a while to get used to!) and yes, there were many moments of self-doubt, but what an experience it was.
As a teacher, I try to teach resilience and I often encourage my students to go beyond their comfort zone. I am proud that I was able to put my money where my mouth is, as it were, by taking part on Best Home Cook.
To meet, let alone cook for, Mary Berry, Chris Bavin and Dan Doherty was such a special experience. And this was topped off deliciously by having Claudia Winkleman presenting.
The rollercoaster of auditioning
I had tried for Bake Off over the years, getting to a few audition rounds and the like – but my word, presenting your bakes at a Bake Off audition only to have a dead-behind-the-eyes casting producer who responds as if she had been chewing wasps and munching on raw lemons does not give you a warm feeling inside!
By contrast, the audition process for Best Home Cook, however, was a much more positive experience: the producers were “with us” as home cooks every step of the way and that really helped you give your best.
It was a long process, over the course of several months since I filled out the application form, but each stage was great fun: the real butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling came every time there was a ‘phone call from the production company thinking “they’re going to tell me I’ve gone as far as I can in the process”.
I genuinely never expected to get chosen for the programme, let alone reach the final. I think I was more surprised than anyone, especially given so many good cooks had left the competition.
My “journey” on Best Home Cook
When I was selected, the main challenge I set myself was to enjoy the cooking, relish the experience and be myself. And I did! Granted, I was a little restrained in terms of my behaviour (those who know me are aware I have a very naughty sense of humour), but elements of that came across in the edit – which was quite funny to see!
Seeing how a TV programme was made and edited was fascinating for me. I love cookery programmes and TV cookery competitions, so this ticked so many boxes.
We were so lucky that we had a great crew: everyone involved in the programme on the technical side, including camera operators, home economists and our much-used medic, were worth their weights in gold! A particular shout-out to the fabulous Karim and Zoe who were gems when it came to helping us out with technical hiccups!
That cruel mistress called Time!
I genuinely loved every moment – even despite some dubious dishes that I presented (under-cooked chicken; a massacred chicken kiev and an embarrassingly solid ginger cake come to mind!), not to mention changing my fish dish in Episode 2 literally as I walked into the kitchen.
My errors were mostly down to time issues: in a competition such as this, even a slight mishap can throw you back significantly in terms of time, making it hard to juggle everything around and allow time for refinement: so a “chucked on a plate” approach was needed on a couple of occasions to have something to present to the judges.
I loved those moments when the judges, Claudia or the producers would come and have a chat while cooking: while it made things a bit frantic at times, I learned to “down tools” and savour those moments.
One of the many things I learned through the process is to be a speedier cook at home and to be more creative with ingredients. I also picked up many invaluable cooking tips from the other cooks and the judges.
I had so many favourite foodie memories from the series from the other home cooks. The highlights include: Tobi’s chicken gizzard pie; Pippa’s Bao buns; Dipa’s spiced roast chicken; Trevor’s hogget roast.
My low-points certainly include the dishes mentioned above – I still shudder at that chicken! But there were dishes I was so proud of:
- my harissa lamb burger in Episode 1
- my plum dish in Episode 3
- my roast lamb dinner in Episode 4
- my crab ingredients challenge dish in Episode 4
- my prawn and scallop ragout in Episode 6
- my smoked mackeral bruschetta in the semi-final
- my dinner party meal in the final
Sharing the house with my fellow cooks made the process more of a homely affair for sure, and was a great way to discuss our individual triumphs and hiccups of an evening, and support each other throughout.
I was very fortunate that the house we stayed in during the weeks (we went home at the weekends) was literally 10 minutes from my house. I found its close proximity to my home psychologically comforting, especially on occasions when I found the competition particularly challenging – such as when I had something of a “blip” just past the half-way stage and lost a lot of confidence. But just being able to chat with the others worked wonders to help move forward.
Making the final
Each week I was delighted (not to mention surprised!) to have got through to the following week, so to have made the final was the icing on the cake. Especially to cook with Dipa and Pippa, with whom I had become particularly close.
In our final challenge – a two-course dinner party – I could not have been happier with how my dishes turned out. And it was wonderful that Dipa’s and Pippa’s dishes went to plan, too.
I cherish the moments in the final when Mary Berry said my dessert was “to die for” and Chris Bavin stated that my Beef Wellington was one of the best he has ever tasted. But equally it was such a buzz when Pippa and Dipa got praise – as indeed it was throughout the competition when a fellow cook had delivered a knock-out dish.
I was delighted for Pippa to have won. I certainly never expected to win but it was an honour just being there and getting to cook all of those dishes – including the eliminator dishes (which I actually loved making!)
My advice to anyone who is thinking about applying for something that they would love to do, whether it is a job opportunity or to be a participant in a television programme is to go for it.
Honestly, I would have never believed I would be selected to cook on television, so if I can be picked, anyone can be!
After Best Home Cook
Since the show was aired I have done many private cooking lessons and food demontrations, as well as teaching cooking skills at cookery schools. I am also honoured to have become the Head of Food and Nutrition at the school I teach.
I have also had many radio slots, talking about food ideas, tips and answering listeners’ questions related to food. I absolutely love that: and I really can chat food for hours!
So what’s next for me? I would certainly love to write a cookery book: I have so many ideas, with a couple of books drafted out that I have worked on over the years so to have one book published would be another dream come true. But more writing for a magazine or newspaper would be a tremendous thrill. I would also love the opportunity for more cooking-related work on television.
Mind you, I have often joked with friends that if they ever let a non-celeb gate-crash Strictly, I’m a Celebrity or Bear Grylls’ The Island then I would be there like a shot!
But they are dreams, and even if they amount to nothing, I still count myself very lucky to have had this experience: the memories of being involved with Best Home Cook and meeting some wonderful people will stay with me forever.
About Best Home Cook
A trailer for Series 1 (orignally called Britain’s Best Home Cook), including each of us popping up, can be viewed here.
Full information, including the low-down on all 10 of us, is at this link: Britain’s Best Home Cook