What was your first job? Did you work in the food industry from the off?
Aside from a newspaper round, my first job was actually selling double glazing in the holidays when I was 16! When I left school I went into media sales and then recruitment. I didn’t move into food until 3 years ago.
What happened with your career in your 20s and then your 30s?
I did sales and recruitment for nearly 10 years then left to try and make it as a singer-songwriter. I did freelance market research analysis on the side.
With hindsight I probably frittered away my 20s!
By my mid 30s I realised I had fallen out of love with music and suddenly had no vocation. I then had three kids in quick succession (there are just 16 months between each of them) and was a stay-at-home parent for 5 years.
And then your 40s?
When I hit 40 my youngest was just over a year and I had a bit of an identity crisis. I had no career to fall back on and was desperately soul searching for what I wanted to do with my life. I spent the best part of a year researching and thinking and eventually realised food was what I wanted to do. My Thai auntie used to make these incredible sauces, in particular her tamarind sauce, and I knew I wanted to bring that to market. I also wanted to be a food writer and thought the two would work hand in hand. At the end of 2018 just after turning 40, I enrolled in a professional course at Leiths cookery school. I knew that wouldn’t help with sauces per see, but I wanted to immerse myself in the industry. At the same time, I got a regular writing gig with a health and wellness site. Although unpaid it was a brilliant experience and helped me hone my writing skills. I also wrote regular recipes and articles for a local magazine. I then started The Woolf’s Kitchen two years ago in lockdown with my then 3, 4 and 5 year old kids in tow. Initially selling a range of three sauces, then a range of nuts and last year a range of chilli oils and pastes.
How did the Jamie competition come about?
I saw it on Instagram. I then sent in a video with my cookbook concept idea and got through to the interview round. I had several zoom interviews and cookalongs before being accepted onto the programme.
Was it out of your comfort zone?
Yes and no. Yes because you’re cooking on a TV show and the pressure is there. Fortunately I mostly chose relatively straightforward home cooking style dishes, so the cooking itself wasn’t as risky as it could have been. Of course there were times when I had no idea if the judges would like the food and that was nerve-wracking to say the least!
What’s your typical day now?
I’ll spend a chunk working on The Woolf’s Kitchen – dealing with ops issues for example, and talking to clients.
Then I might spend some time writing a blog post and a lot of time creating content for Instagram and promoting the book and the tour on various social channels.
Last week I did several food demos and talked at The BBC Good Food Show
How has your approach to work changed in your 40s compared to your 20s?
I’m a lot more focused now.
What is a career highlight?
Winning The Great Cookbook Challenge of course. And also winning four Great Taste Awards for my sauces and nuts.
Do you find it easier or harder now that you are in your 40s to do your job?
It’s completely different – when I was in my 20s I worked in an office in a job I knew wasn’t ultimately for me. Working for myself I am completely driven. Juggling work and young kids is definitely a challenge though.
Have your ambitions/aspirations changed?
I used to want to be a singer-songwriter and now that has shifted to food!
Any key advice you’ve received (or would like to give).
My main piece of advice is to start before you’re ready. Take positive action in the direction you’re interested in. You have to make it happen.
What next for you?
I’m doing lots of food festivals over the summer. I’d love to get into TV so watch this space!
Thank you for talking to us Dominique!