Juanita Hennessey is 38 years old and lives in Fosbury in Wiltshire with her husband, squinty-eyed cat and 8 chickens. She has two beautiful step-children called Bella and Lena who come out and stay with them at weekends. Juanita recently became a finalist on MasterChef 2016 and is now taking her next steps into the culinary world.
I am very grateful to have been able to grab a few minutes of Jaunita’s precious time at this very busy and exciting point in her career.
You are clearly extremely passionate about what you do, so what or whom inspired your love of food?
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with food, as I seem to remember always being fond of it. My mum will back me up when I say I was probably the only child she knew that would eat absolutely anything that was put in front of her.
I’ve always found the kitchen to be the one room in the home where I felt most comfortable so I would spend most of my time in there as a child watching my mum cook and getting involved where I could. However, at the age of nine or ten I was allowed in the kitchen on my own and this is when I really started to feel the joy of cooking. I loved the reaction I’d get from my family (not always positive but every time encouraging) and that drove the desire to push myself further and try harder with ever increasing complex recipes.
What’s the best thing you enjoy cooking for yourself?
Where I live means I have access to a lot of fresh game and home-grown veg so I’m into comforting hearty country-style cooking. However I also love my spices and the flavours of the med, so like to bring those elements into my dishes as well.
I enjoy the creativity of cooking and love being experimental so play around with dishes not only to elevate how they taste but to make them visually appealing. My mother is an artist and the great-grand daughter of a famous Maltese painter called Giuseppe Cali so it’s fair to say the creative streak and flair for colour and visual presentation runs in my veins.
Do you feel women are underrepresented in the food industry and how do you feel you could impact the industry?
Maybe 10 years ago we were underrepresented but I don’t feel that is the case now. There are a lot of women excelling in the industry: Monica Galetti, Helene Darroze, Clare Smyth, Dominique Crenn and Angela Harnett to name but a few. It’s no longer a gender issue it’s just about producing the best food.
I would like to think I could help encourage those who maybe feel it’s too late in life to change their career to take that step and chase their dream. In terms of cookery, my flair for creativity and my passion for championing local producers will hopefully be a good foundation to build on and expand my repertoire of dishes.
Do friends and family leave it to you to cook for special events such as Christmas or do you encourage others to get involved?
No not at all, everyone gets involved. That’s the lovely thing about cooking, it can be something that brings family and friends together. Now I’ve appeared on MasterChef people are a little intimidated to cook for me but I just tell them not to be silly and get them to cook for me anyway. I love cooking but sometimes a girl just wants to be cooked for!
What was the dish you most enjoyed preparing, cooking and presenting on MasterChef 2016?
The dish I was most proud of was the Tomato, Bread and Oil dish. It was something very close to my heart and a dish I’d been conceptualising for a while; I was just waiting for the opportunity to use it. It was big risk, I didn’t know if they’d get the idea behind it as I was literally using 4 key ingredients but in lots of different ways. However the response I got from John and Gregg was overwhelming, I had to hold back the tears when I got the feedback. I never expected in to get that response for a dish based on the tomato sandwiches my mum would feed us as children.
What’s your favourite ingredient/ingredients of the moment to cook with and why?
I don’t have one particular favourite, I love to experiment will all kinds of flavours and textures. However I try and stick to what is available and in season at that time and always try and source from local suppliers where at all possible. I think it’s important to support the smaller traders, everyone tends to head to their local supermarket for convenience and forget there is a local butcher, for example, on their high street selling superior quality meat and usually at a lower price.
(I sent Jaunita some rose veal to cook with and this is what she had to say about rose veal)
I’m really passionate about supporting rose veal farming in this country. Some people still think that it’s cruel but this is not like the traditional milk-fed farming method you still see in Europe. The calves have access to daylight and an unrestricted diet and their welfare is paramount. Male calves are an inevitable by-product of the dairy industry and are largely unwanted for conventional beef production and would therefore normally be slaughtered at an early age. This is a sustainable form of farming and a kinder way to treat the male calves and ensures nothing is gone to waste. –
I would create a slow-braised osso buco cooked down in red wine and tomatoes and then served on top of a bed of saffron risotto.
If you could cook one of your signature dishes for anyone who would it be and why?
I love creative and inspiring minds so I would selfishly cook for people I’d want to spend the rest of the evening with, chatting into the early hours over a few glasses of wine.
David Attenborough, because he is a childhood hero of mine and I have so many questions to ask him. Will.I.Am as he is fiercely intelligent and absolutely bonkers, like a musical Willy Wonka. Stephen Fry, just because he could talk to me for days and I’d never get bored. David Bowie, if he was still with us, legend. Dame Judy Dench, because she’d have some wonderful stories to share and looks like she’d be a raucous laugh. I could go on.
How do you plan a dish? Do you start with a vision or theme or do you start with the ingredients and build the dish from there?
When I create a recipe from scratch I like to start with a ‘theme’. It could be something as simple as one core ingredient around which to base the dish or as abstract as a colour, an emotion, a place or even a quotation from a well-thumbed book. Basically, anything which inspires or invokes an emotion in me. This has two benefits. It helps focus the mind, providing a basic foundation on which to build upon but more importantly it means that whatever I produce has come from a place born out of creativity, passion and love.
What does the future hold for Juanita, MasterChef finalist? What do you hope to achieve next in your career?
I’m very excited about the future. My experience on MasterChef has just cemented the fact that I want to pursue a career in food. Another passion of mine is writingand photography so to combine of all those loves and write a cookbook would be amazing. I’ve already launched my website: www.fosburyfoodie.co.uk, where you can find recipes and blog posts on what inspires me. It will also eventually become a place where people can find out what I’m up to.
As well as the website I am signed up to run some cookery classes at Seasoned Cookery school and am looking into signing up with another school closer to home. As well as that I’m keen to explore the private dinning root, creating bespoke and beautiful feasts for people in the comfort of their own home. Watch this space!