Jonathon Davies was earning a decent living as a steel worker, but his heart wasn’t in it.
So, aged 26, he decided to quit his job, sell his home and possessions and set off overseas to find out what he really wanted from life.
Jonathon’s journey through Asia fanned the flames of a passion for cookery, and when he returned he started importing ingredients, to capture international flavours he’d discovered.
His food blog caught the attention of producers of Britain’s Best Dish, and Jonathon went on to win the ITV show and its £10,000 prize.
He impressed judges over the eight-week series, with celebrity chef John Burton-Race declaring that his sweet onion chutney – a key component of Jonathon’s winning dish – was the best he’d ever tasted.
Now Jonathon has launched a range of chutneys, soups, sauces, spices and flavoured oils called Taste It, inspired by his travels. He is also behind a new venture setting up “interactive restaurants” worldwide.
He’s come a long way since working for his father as a metal fabricator.
“From an early age I loved cooking. I wanted to be a chef, but I went into the family business instead,” says Jonathon.
“Bashing metal got boring and one morning I woke up and thought ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I sold my home and everything I owned, down to my last knife and fork, to follow my dream of cooking my way around the world.”
Jonathon spent a year travelling to places such as China, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong, the Phillipines and South America, and was excited by the food he encountered.
“I did cookery courses and learned about different ingredients and ways of putting them together. I adopted my own style of pan-Asian cooking – westernising dishes, with a twist – and it turned out I wasn’t bad,” he says.
“When I came back I couldn’t find the spices and other ingredients I wanted, so I imported them from places like Malaysia.”
Jonathon started blogging about his culinary experiences and his quest to find new produce. But if it hadn’t been for the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud in 2010 he may never have realised his dream of becoming a chef.
“When Britain’s Best Dish contacted me, I didn’t think I could make the audition. It was only because a delivery I was waiting for didn’t arrive from Thailand, due to the ash cloud, that I went,” says Jonathon.
“Doing the show was a great experience. It meant so much to have the approval of such experts. All I ever wanted was to make a living from cooking – winning the show enabled me to do that.”
Jonathon bowled over big-name foodies including Sophie Grigson with his main course of seared masala spring lamb with Bombay potato.
“My dishes use fresh ingredients imported directly from source. I try to deconstruct ingredients so each flavour is very apparent on the palate,” he says. “The spice market was massive here, but after the war we took on home-cooked food and people forgot how to use spices.
“I always say spices are like sushi – people think of sushi as just raw fish and they associate spices with hot food, but they’re so much more than that.”
Jonathon’s Taste It range includes Indian sweet onion chutney, with a ‘cheeky Kashmir chilli kick’.
“We have a ‘no nasty’ policy. We don’t use preservatives, additives, colours or flavourings, only natural ingredients,” he says. “Simply making amazing sandwiches, steak topper, delicious curry or stuffing in chicken are just a few ways to use our chutneys.”
The products are backed up with recipe videos on the Taste It website.
“We show people how to cook with them, in an easy-to-follow structure. It’s all part of a worldwide food hub I’m building up,” says Jonathon.
“I love cooking authentic dishes but like to push the boundaries. Travelling introduced me to new flavours and inspired me to cook. Now I’m introducing others to new flavour experiences.’ As well as running a catering business and a menu consultation service, Jonathon is launching the Restaurant Experience, an “interactive restaurant” concept, and filming a TV series, for a cookery channel, following its progress.
The Restaurant Experience brings together people from different countries, via a website, to create and run a fully interactive restaurant.
“We’re opening up in ten places globally, including London. The public choose the location, food, wine and chef – it’s about giving control back to the diner,” says Jonathon.
“There’ll be 24-hour video streaming in each restaurant, showing what’s happening in the kitchen as well as front-of-house. We’ll have special guests – celebrity chefs and food producers – and we’ll showcase products, recipes and kitchen equipment.’ As we turn our thoughts to Christmas, Jonathon says now is the time to start planning that all-important festive dinner.
“Make it as stress-free as possible by being organised. Order your turkey three to four weeks prior to the big day from a good butcher,” he advises. “Making a Christmas dinner from scratch on the day will be far too stressful, so get prepared two to three days before and know exactly what steps you’re doing and when.
“Prepare as many vegetables in advance as you can. If you’re serving carrots or peas, cook them the day before, butter and season them then place into a serving dish covered with cling film. On the day, reheat in the microwave. This will free up space in your cooker.
“Shred sprouts and wok-fry them with smoked bacon, roasted chestnuts and a good nob of butter. They’ll be the talk of the table.
“Roughly chop carrots, leek, onion and celery then spread them into the bottom of the roasting tray, before placing the turkey on top. When the turkey is cooked remove it and make the gravy in the tray. Strain out the roasted vegetables to leave a very tasty gravy.”
When it comes to the turkey, Jonathon rests the meat for at least an hour “upside down under foil, so all the juices run into the breast”.
He adds: “Lay your table on Christmas Eve. You’ll be so pleased in the morning that it’s done and its one less job to worry about.”
Finally, he says: “Don’t panic. Your family are there to have a lovely time, not to award Michelin stars."
- For more about Jonathon’s projects, visit jonathondavies.com.