Women Unlocked: Joani Mitchell masters the art of cooking

Women Unlocked: Joani Mitchell masters the art of cooking

August is Women’s Month and ECR is featuring successful women from KZN who have achieved success in business and their personal lives.

Joani Mitchell

Meet Joanie Mitchell, a former Masterchef SA finalist, private chef, and events, catering and venue company owner from La Lucia Ridge. Joanie has also launched a range of food for babies and toddlers called, BeBe Foods, centred on seasonal produce and good nutrition. This 54-year-old wife, mom, and gran’s life is busy, but she maintains a fine balancing act and is still chasing her dreams.

This is Joanie’s story:

1.    What inspired your love for cooking?

I come from a Portuguese background where food and family are a constant, and go hand in hand, so from a very young age, I have memories of standing on a stool in the kitchen cooking with my mom who also loves to cook. As a little girl I was placed in a boarding school as a refugee, and the food was absolutely appalling and so from a very young age I knew what I didn’t enjoy eating and this was definitely the beginning of my relationship with food. I studied fashion design after school and so there was always a creative element to my interest, I just substituted clothing for food. I have always loved to experiment and create tasty and beautiful looking food, and on many occasions, I wake up in the middle of the night to draw a plating idea that I have dreamt about, it’s clearly a huge passion of mine.

2.    At what age did you realise you were a great cook?

I have always loved to cook and would always host dinner parties with many courses so that I could “play out” all my ideas that I had about food. While it was always so satisfying to get great feedback from family and friends, it was only after appearing on Masterchef SA that I gained enough confidence to take it to the next level. I was 46 years old when I entered MCSA and would love to encourage others to take a chance on a dream, whether it’s to write a book or learn to fly, regardless of your age. Look how many doors have opened for me by taking part in a reality show. I really am living the dream.

3.    What’s your signature dish?

As I said I come from a Mediterranean background and so I find myself drawing back to traditional Portuguese dishes that my mom used to make, but I reinvent them slightly to modernise them and by plating them beautifully. The dish that got me into the top 50 of MCSA and the first dish presented to the TV judges, were my prawn rissoles and I have definitely perfected these, to the point where people often request them on the menu for functions and dinner parties. I’d say these little eats are my signature treats and they represent me well. Portuguese, finger foods, seafood, spicy, and delish!

4.    In 2013, you took part in MasterChef SA. How was that experience?

I didn’t win Masterchef, but I sometimes feel that I did with the amount of exposure and work opportunities that have come my way since the show. It was without doubt the toughest experience of my life. We were away from home for a period of almost three months. To be away from family and loved ones for that period alone is hard, but throw in the fact that you are constantly having to reinvent yourself, be creative, and also be judged at something that you are passionate about, it really is very difficult , but worth it. Nothing that is worthwhile comes easy, that’s for sure. I made life-long friendships, learnt so many things about myself and it also taught my family to cope without me, which were all valuable life lessons. I am forever changed because of this experience.

5.    What are some of the lessons you learned during the show that have stayed with you?

The lessons that I have taken away from this are far beyond the obvious, which include the cooking skills I gained. There were so many personal lessons.  As the oldest contestant in the top 15, I instinctively took on the “mother role”, which has always brought me great comfort and it was from here that I found my strength. As a young refugee, I always felt that I was never enough, and so I always tried to over-achieve to make myself feel worthy. Through the Masterchef experience, I found a calmness and acceptance about myself and what I bring to any relationship or interaction. It ultimately gave me confidence to do anything that I set my mind to achieve. I have since completed a full Ironman in a competitive time, done motivational talks, and continue to set personal goals that I would never have entertained before this experience

6.    Name the three ingredients that every kitchen needs to have?

Garlic, chocolate, and wine - for cooking and for consumption!

7.    You are very versatile. Apart from being a cook, you are also a fashion designer and homemaker. Do you think many women are living up to their fullest potential or are underutilising their strengths and skills?

I do push myself to the limit and want to explore all sorts of things from hosting functions, writing blogs, doing recipe development, and doing cooking demos (now Zoom sessions). I find it hard to find a balance between working really hard, exercising daily, and being a wife, mom and granny, but for me, it’s all about fitting it all in. I thrive on maximum overload and I have battled to adjust to the new normality of the lockdown pace. It has definitely taught me to appreciate the quiet time, but I still crave the buzz of the adrenaline rush. I think a lot of women do have to wear many hats today, we are all still paralysed by fear of failure and the limitation of time and money to fully achieve our potential. I am all about empowering woman and really encourage all the beautiful women out there to take a chance on themselves!

8.    What is your advice to women who face many obstacles in life and feel like giving up?

Never ever give up on yourself and your dreams, these are what keep us working towards something. Work hard as nothing comes without effort but remember to “dream big and dare to fail, as limitations live only in our minds”.

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