Best Home Cook finalist Sarah Woods has a new career in food
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 April 2020
The Wilmslow based food blogger has a plan to serve up her family’s culinary heritage.
After months of culinary planning, keeping secrets, missing family, baking and rustling up, Sarah Woods can finally relax. Although it seems unlikely as the former pharmaceutical recruitment partner from Wilmslow has unfinished business from her time on the BBC’s Best Home Cook, where she finished a respectable third having continuously impressed the judges throughout the series.
The 42-year-old mum was approached by producers for the show shortly after launching as a food blogger on her Instagram page @myhomecookeduk.
‘As soon as I realised it wasn’t a hoax I applied,’ she laughs. ‘The application process was gruelling and I couldn’t tell anybody about the show, apart from those who simply had to know.’
‘My mum and dad are the most indiscreet people in the world, so I didn’t even tell them. It was my hubby and 10-year-old son who were my biggest support, along with some great friends who helped massively over the two-month filming period in particular.’
Having spent her former life in the corporate world, it was a shift change to be put in front of the cameras.
‘Once I was on the show the pressure was intense; you’re living in a house with people you don’t know, which was strange, but we all got along brilliantly, despite being competitors,’ she chuckles. ‘When I first saw Mary Berry and Claudia Winkleman walk in, it was a wow moment and the other judges, Angela Hartnett and Chris Bevan are both amazing too. I’ve followed Angela’s chef career for a long time, so the enormity of what I was doing was really brought home by her presence.’
Born into a food-obsessed family, Sarah says she was always on the lookout for things to eat as a child and so the passion to learn to cook was natural and results-driven.
‘I was very greedy, so it came naturally,’ she shrieks with laughter. ‘Our house was always full of visitors and friends, and there was a real sense of community and belonging defined by the sharing of food. Although my upbringing was very working class I didn’t necessarily feel I was missing out on anything – we ate like kings.’ Sarah’s grandparents came to Britain in the early 60s from the Punjab when her father was 12. Both her mum and grandma were exceptional cooks and they had a huge influence on Sarah as a young girl.
‘They grew their own fruit and veg, and what they didn’t grow they’d get from friends. They would use everything and there was minimal waste, amazing spices and we always ate seasonal produce – I can still remember yoghurt being cultured near the fireplace,’ she says.
‘But we also had great British traditions as well – they always cooked from scratch – we’d have chips and gravy every Friday, and we often had fruit crumble and bread and butter pudding with lashings of custard.
‘Grandma instilled a great sense of pride in us and self-worth. I learned at the elbow of an amazing woman, and I’m doubly lucky as I’ve learned from another amazing woman and cook – my mum.’
She has learnt much too from her TV debut and is now putting that experience to good use, developing her craft using the advice she gained cooking for judges Angela, Mary and Chris to push herself.
‘It was a great privilege, but really it was having the chance to learn and develop from experts at the top of their game,’ she says, gratefully. ‘I was pushed and challenged to my limits and it’s only when you are challenged to that point that you can really discover what you are capable of, and with that comes growth – I actually loved that.’
Her not-so-happy experience came, ironically, in a samosa challenge: ‘It was pretty hideous,’ she groans. ‘I’ve been making them all of my life, so it was difficult to follow somebody else’s recipe, which was so different to how I make them. I’ve also always struggled with written instructions and comprehension – my brain just isn’t wired that way – so I take a little longer than most people.
‘I thought, “right you’re going out in week three and it’s a samosa that’s seen you off”,’ she says, cringing. ‘I was thinking I’d brought shame on the family and I’m actually going to have to emigrate as I’ll never be able to live this one down.’
Prior to taking part in the show Sarah described herself as more of a cook than a baker, but baking skills had to be quickly acquired for meringue and cake week: ‘It’s something I’ve developed a real passion for now – I’ve picked up some great baking hacks. I love the creativity of decoration, piping and chocolate work so I’m continuing to learn with that. I’m an all-rounder now thanks to this amazing experience.’
But back to that unfinished business: viewers of the show will know contestants had to cook their ultimate dish and, for the final, it was the ultimate three-course meal. But the judges sprang a surprise challenge on the finalists with an eliminator round. It was Angela’s pasta eliminator that signalled the end of the competition for Sarah, despite her tail of salmon in the final rustle-up being the best dish.
‘I made a silly error and unfortunately I paid a dear price for it,’ she says with a tinge of frustration. ‘At the time you’re so absorbed in what you’re doing and you just have to get on with it.’
She never did get to cook that wonderful three-course meal but Sarah now plans to follow her dreams. She’s resigned from the corporate world of work and is running supper clubs, private dining and workshops in Cheshire, with aspirations for her own restaurant one day.
‘I have taken up an opportunity to get some experience in a professional kitchen and I’m looking at formal training so I can learn how to cook to volume and scale, as well as know how to cope with a busy service, kitchen prep, food safety and general best practice,’ she says.
‘I want to showcase proper Indian home-cooked food and those dishes we second-generation British Indians eat – not only the classics but also the hybrid food that takes the best of my British roots and Punjabi heritage and brings the two together in a delicious alchemy. This is my opportunity to give back to the community and to the country that has raised me, and spread love through food.’