Hilary Armstrong catches up with Dominque Woolf, Leiths Essentials alumni, on winning the show, working with Jamie Oliver and her new cookbook.
Congratulations on winning Channel 4’s The Great British Challenge? How did it feel when your name was called?
“It was a very surreal moment. We’ve all watched cookery competitions and the idea that I would actually win one is mind-boggling, to be honest. When you’re on a TV show, it’s a complete bubble; you’re so focused on it, you just don’t know how it’s going to go. Watching it on TV was a bit of an out of body experience. It didn’t feel like it was actually me.”
What have you been doing since the show was filmed?
“As soon as the show wrapped up, I got to work on the book so I have been literally 24/7 working on that. The recipes were written by January, then we had photo shoots, then amendments, checking the proofs, and we set off the proofs a few days ago. I’ve been in the kitchen most days, literally all day, cooking six dishes a day when I was recipe-testing, and on shoot I was cooking 10 or 11 dishes a day. I have never cooked as much in my whole life!”
Which recipe were you most proud of?
“The tamarind, honey and sesame chicken from week one was a really simple dish and to have something so simple get through the first round and get such praise was quite amazing. I debated going more elaborate but the chicken, a tray bake, reflects my style of cooking.”
What was it like working with Jamie Oliver?
“Jamie’s been my food idol since The Naked Chef. I’ve followed his journey the whole way. I’ve watched his programmes; I’ve got his books; I love his recipes. So even to have met him, let alone to have been his TV show, I couldn’t quite believe it was real. He has the most amazing energy and is so inspirational. Because he’s so experienced, you just want to listen to what he’s got to say. I stopped myself butting in and chatting as much as I wanted to because I wanted to hear what he had to say. There’s so much to learn from someone like that from a cooking perspective but also from an entrepreneur’s perspective.”
How did you find writing the book?
“Recipe creation is something I really thrive on. I absolutely love it. When you’ve got ideas, and you work on them, and come up with a recipe that actually works, I find that thrilling. I love being able to tell a story through my recipes. I’ve certainly realised what a perfectionist I am because it’s all about the little, little details. I especially loved doing the bits of intro on each recipe. I love being able to tell a story through my recipes.”
Did your Leiths experience help you?
“The time plan really came into its own. I would never have known to do a time plan before. For each challenge, you had your recipe and having that time plan gave me the confidence to do what I needed to do. Although I am quite a messy cook at home – unfortunately I haven’t taken on board the Leiths tidiness!– but actually I was tidy on set. I knew that was going to help me in that competition process. I added clean down to my notes.”
What’s next for you?
“Now is the fun part promoting the book. There’s going to be a lot going on there; hopefully there will be a lot more cooking, demonstrations, some live stuff. That will be really great doing my recipes in front of different audiences. Building my social media is high on my list. That’s an area I need to continue to work at. I’m going to get the hang of Reels soon! There’s also a lot going on with The Woolf’s Kitchen, as we’re launching with the Co-op soon, so I’m looking to get someone to help me run the business. There’s only me at the moment and there’s only so much you can do as a solo founder.”
Dominique’s Kitchen: Easy Everyday Asian-Inspired Food by Dominique Woolf is available to pre-order now (Michael Joseph, £20)
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