'Free from' kitchen 'Free from' kitchen

Meeting Jo Wheatley, 2011 winner of the Great British Bake Off

Jo Wheatley (Martin Poole)

Jo Wheatley (Martin Poole)

Back in 2011, Essex-based mum of three won Series Two of the Great British Bake Off, a series in which Jo wowed the nation with her baking skills. Judge Mary Berry even described her cupcakes as ‘sublime’.

It’s fair to say life, post GBBO, has been completely transformed. Jo is the author of two hugely popular cookery books, and runs regular baking classes from her home. Jo’s famous for her delicious and practical family recipes, which she shares on her blog, Jo’s Blue Aga. Here is one of my favourites, her crab linguine.

I recently caught up with Jo to see how this new chapter in her life has unfolded. First of all, I asked Jo how life is right now. And this is what she said: “I love how winning GBBO gave me the confidence to set up my cookery school and have a belief in myself. Also when so many publishing houses approached me wanting me to write a book, it was amazing, but at the same time a little scary. Pre-Bake Off I’d actually only ever ordered the weekly shopping on the computer and a had a go at a bit of social networking, so then to be developing and writing a whole book was a little daunting, but actually turned out to be the most wonderful thing. Recipe developing and writing is one of my proudest achievements and something I enjoy, and to my delight find that it comes naturally.”

Jo often gets asked what her favourite recipes are to make. She says, “the honest truth is it changes daily, but the thing I get most joy from is developing a new recipe. In my first book, A Passion For Baking, I made a coconut and cranberry pastry. I first tested it on my friends – they loved it and two and a half years later, they still say how good it was. That’s the wonderful thing about my job; it gives people joy, which in turn gives me great pleasure.”

And what about her family? “My Family all love different things, but I suppose the thing that they all really like are the cookies. I’ve been baking them since they were small, with three boys there were always a huge number of friends over. Sometimes we’d have nine boys running around the house so a batch of cookies would be gobbled up very quickly.”

Of all the recipes Jo’s written, the one she’s most proud of is her chocolate mud cake. “ I always say it’s like a little black dress, you can dress it up, you can dress it down, you can add to it, but it’s always there and never lets you down.”

Now, three years after her GBBO win, Jo’s books are stocked on shelves up and down the country. “It feels amazing” Jo tells me. “I remember my friend sending me a photo of my godsons standing by a big banner with me on it – their faces were hilarious.”

Despite all her success, Jo’s proudest achievement is her three boys. “I love them with all my heart, and when I see the men they have grown into it makes me feel proud. I think being a parent is the hardest job, you have your ups and your downs. It’s how you deal with them that’s important. Enjoy the ups and learn from the downs don’t let them define you. As a family be there for each other, I really hope my boys know that I’m always here for them.”

It’s so nice to have a job teaching something that I love” Jo tells me, when asked about her home cookery school. “I am also a real people person, and love chatting. When I was a child apparently if we went out as a family my brother Mark would fall asleep on the way home but I would speak non-stop for the whole journey. So to be chatting about something I love to a group of like-minded people is just fabulous, with the added bonus when they leave they have learnt to bake something they couldn’t bake before. Plus we actually laugh all day and as we know laughter is good for the soul.”

What’s next then for Jo, after the whirlwind adventure of the last few years? “More of the same, hopefully another book.” She says. “I recently hosted a column for a national paper which I thoroughly enjoyed doing. More of the food festivals and maybe some more TV.  I’m also I’m hoping to open a gastro pub in the not too distant future. I have been looking for premises but at the moment can’t find the perfect one. I go by gut instinct which drives my husband insane, I drag him round a zillion places that all look fab on paper but I just don’t get the right feeling!”

It would seem as though this is a start of an adventure that’s only just begun.


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