The winner of the inaugural series of The Great Cookbook Challenge with Jamie Oliver has been named: Dominique Woolf will see her very first cookbook, Dominique's Kitchen: Easy Everyday Asian-Inspired Food, released 9 June, courtesy of Penguin Michael Joseph.
Dominique, a cook who inherited a love of delicious food from her Thai auntie’s “sweet, spicy, fresh homemade sauces and dishes”, wowed the judges over the course of the series with her aptitude for big, bold flavours, her thoughtful and accessible recipes, and her flair for making viewers feel a part of her culinary world.
A statement about her forthcoming cookbook – endorsed by Jamie Oliver, Georgina Hayden, Jimi Famurewa, and Michael Joseph Managing Director Louise Moore – promises “her every day, Asian-inspired meals, packed to the brim with excitement and flavour. Thai green chicken traybake, lemongrass lamb chops, pan fried sea bass with spring onion, lime and chilli and a Hong Kong-style rice pot are just a few of the simple, accessible, completely tasty dishes you'll want to cook for your family every night of the week.”
Her victory is well-earned, too. Though Dominique has been cooking her whole life, she’s put in incredible work over the last few years to lay the groundwork for achieving her dream: attending cookbook talks and events, writing and perfecting her recipes for a food blog, and turning her love of flavour into her Woolf’s Kitchen line of sauces and condiments.
We caught up with the busy mum of three to ask about where her love of food originated, the importance of a refined USP – or unique selling point – in a cookbook, and why “every day is a chance to eat something exciting.”
When did your interest in cooking begin?
My grandmother bought me my first cookery book when I was about nine. I can’t remember the name, but it was a smaller size, and it didn't have pictures in it – I remember there were pancakes. Ever since then, I've been interested in it. When I left home and I was in my twenties, I started cooking for myself and my then-boyfriend – now husband – and we started cooking together a lot more. I've always had people over for barbecues, and I was always making sauces; it was always important to me to have good condiments. About three, three-and-a-half years ago, I realised: I definitely want a career in food.
Can you tell me a little bit about your path there?
I knew I wanted to get into food, and that it would be with sauces that my auntie had made, but I didn’t have the confidence yet. So, I enrolled at Leiths cookery school, starting the course in the beginning of 2019. I just thought, “This is gonna really help, you know, on a day-to-day basis; it's great to have on your CV. If I do that, that's going to open doors in some capacity.” At the same time, I started contributing recipes to a health and wellness blog – nothing fancy, but they wanted a monthly recipe, so I started recipe-writing. All of that was really good training for me, because I definitely got better as those recipes progressed.
Did the goal of writing a cookbook start there?
I was already thinking about it, yeah. I was going to a lot of events and talks: I went to The Shard to see several publishers talking about cookbooks and what they look for; Felicity Cloake did a workshop at The Guardian on food writing; and I met Thomasina Miers at an event, and Diana Henry. I was doing whatever I could to get involved in that area. I started working with an agency who were helping me with my branding, what the USP of [her range of sauces and condiments] Woolf’s Kitchen would be, and I said: “Well, maybe it's me, because these are my recipes.” I was just literally trying to learn as much as possible.
How much did your cookbook idea – and your USP – evolve as the series progressed? Did you ever doubt your idea?
So I always had the concept exactly the same: simple and vibrant Asian-inspired recipes. But it was how I thought about it, how I framed it that changed. I never doubted my cooking, but Louise would say, “Oh, I’m still not sure about the concept.” [Fellow GCC competitor] Rex was very clear: “This is Filipino food.” The Skint Roofer was clear as well: “This is budget-friendly food.” So there was a bit of a concern – it did feel like it could go either way. I thought, “Right – what's the solution I’m giving to the customer? It became: “It’s for busy people who love Asian food, but either don't know how to get started, or they don't have time to spend hours in the kitchen. I'm going to show them just how easy it is to use Asian ingredients to make delicious food every day.”
What do you hope people will get from Dominique's Kitchen?
I want to inspire them to get cooking! Everything I eat, I want to be exciting. Every day is a chance to eat something exciting, and I want people to have that joy of eating something exciting whenever they have a meal. I hope, by giving them this book, it's almost like the gift of exciting food that’s really achievable. And want people to think, “Gosh, I can make that!” For the most part, mine are everyday ingredients; you can get them in every supermarket now. I'm trying to go, “Let's make your store cupboard work for you!” If I'm making you go and buy chilli bean paste, it’s: “here are some recipes that you can use it with, so you don't just have a jar of chilli bean paste left over.” I want to empower people in the kitchen.
Finally, Dominique: what's your death row meal, the last food you would eat if you had one meal left?
Maybe some amazing Thai skewers – they've got this thing called moo ping, which are pork skewers and they're really absolutely amazing. So, it could be something like that, with a wonderful dipping sauce. And definitely a big bar of chocolate to finish off!
Pre-order Dominique's Kitchen here.
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