Jane Devonshire was urged to enter MasterChef in 2016 by her youngest son, Ben, after being in remission from cancer – and it is a decision that changed her life.
The mum-of-four was diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago and after undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, five years later secondary cancer in her liver was discovered. But after surgery, she has been in remission for seven years.
After getting back to full health, the keen cook was encouraged to fill out the application form for the popular BBC programme by Ben and after impressing judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace, she was crowned the 2016 winner.
Now, she has written her first book called Hassle Free Gluten free and her love affair with cooking continues to shine bright.
How did you discover you had cancer?
I felt a lump when I checked my breasts in the shower so I went to my GP and went through all the normal tests but you never think it is going to happen to you.
When I received the news, it was a big shock. I was healthy, I hardly drank, I didn’t smoke, I had breast-fed my four children and there was no history of breast cancer in the family. It was a bolt out of the blue.
It was awful having chemotherapy, it is revolting. I really struggled but you have to do these things, it was part of being well again.
Life was getting back to normal when just before the five-year remission mark, I discovered I had secondary cancer in the liver and I had a liver resection to remove the tumour.
After the operation, I continued to look after our four children who are now aged between 17 and 28.
How important was continuing to lead a healthy lifestyle at this time?
I’m a great believer in a little bit of what you fancy does you good because you have to have a healthy relationship with food and that includes the occasional treat. It is about balance.
I try to avoid processed foods and those with E numbers so for example I’d rather have butter not margarine and my dad is a great gardener so we have a wide variety of vegetables. I source my meat from a local butcher who has a farm 12 miles away so I am very lucky in that respect.
It is important not to think that if food is really good it must be really expensive. That is not the case since you can make the most amazing dishes using simple, cheap ingredients like potatoes, carrots or mushrooms.
Why did you decide to enter MasterChef?
I have always felt most at home in the kitchen and love cooking and my family had said I should enter for years.
I was at home with the four children because I hadn’t been able to work properly after having cancer and my job was being a full-time mum – I loved it and felt very privileged to do it.
I filled out the form with my youngest son, Ben, and couldn’t believe it when I was accepted.
The whole experience was wonderful and terrifying in equal measure. I turned 50 the year I became MasterChef champion and to say it has changed my life is an understatement. I have a career and I am doing something that I am passionate about.
How much are you enjoying seeing your book in print?
I still can’t believe it. I am extremely proud of Hassle Free Gluten Free. It is very true to my heart because my youngest son was diagnosed with coeliac disease which is an incurable autoimmune disease when he was two. I needed to cook everything gluten free and create dishes that the whole family would enjoy instead of making separate dishes which is time-consuming.
I found that a lot of gluten free books had recipes that were very fussy and used ingredients that were very expensive or difficult to source particularly if you lived outside a major city.
I wanted to create gluten free food with recipes that were easy such as quick pasta dishes. I love cooking and would happily be in the kitchen all day but sometimes you want to prepare a quick meal especially if you have been working and want something on the table within half-an-hour.
My book is aimed at taking the mystique away from gluten free cooking that it is lesser quality and it is not as tasty or as good for you and is more expensive.
I have always experimented with different cuisines and am constantly trying to learn about food. I approached gluten free cooking in much the same way, it was a new challenge and a new way to cook.
How do you look after your wellbeing?
I am a very physically active person. I have two dogs that I walk for over an hour every day and I am always doing jobs such as the gardening or hanging the washing out.
I try to get to the gym as often as I can to keep myself fit and I am sensible with food. I don’t want to make eating food a chore because I truly believe it is important to embrace food and maybe go back to the old-fashioned way of removing processed food from your diet by making simple soups, stocks and sauces from leftovers, for example a chicken carcass or some bones.
This way of life works for me and I am lucky that I have been in remission for seven years and I am not going to change now!
Jane Devonshire is one of the guest speakers at the Being Well Festival at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena on Thursday, October 24 which aims to promote happier, healthier lives by educating people about their health and general wellness. The event is free but visitors need to book tickets to attend at www.beingwellfestival2019.eventbrite.co.uk
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