Helen Granell-Watson - what happened to the former Masterchef contestant?
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 October 2020
Helen Granell-Watson cooked her way back from the grief of losing her mum to leukaemia and turned cooking into a passion during lockdown. Now she is helping budding home cooks creates dishes to impress.
Lockdown was the best thing to happen to me in a lot of ways,’ says Helen Granell-Watson, talented home cook, farmer and MasterChef contestant. ‘It’s been amazing for me and the best thing that’s happened. I’ve slowed my pace down and focused on what makes me happy.’
That joy for 46-year-old Helen, who lives on a farm just outside Lancaster city centre with farmer husband Fraser and their Lakeland Terrier Tessy, has been cooking and baking. Everything from glorious home cooked dishes like Beef Wellington to delicious bread and cakes and super suppers have been the focus of Helen’s attention since March. An extra bonus has been sharing them on her new website, Cook Make Bake.
Her enthusiasm for ‘proper’ food was sparked as a child, during cooking and baking sessions with mum Celia Granell.
But the enjoyment of cooking also took on deeper meaning and helped her through traumatic times – when her mother was being treated for and then passed away from leukaemia. Her mum spent two years receiving treatment at The Christie Hospital in Manchester.
Helen used to cook not only for her mum but also the nurses, developing recipes packed with flavour so her mum could taste them – leukaemia sufferers often lose their sense of taste. Dishes packed with cardamon were a hit – in particular rose and cardamon cookies. But as well as giving her mum a much welcome boost, baking and cooking also gave Helen purpose and a focus while her mum was receiving treatment.
‘It’s your instinct to feed someone when they are not well so I used to take treats in for my mum and the wonderful nurses. They all said I should go on MasterChef,’ remembers Helen. ‘I went into the kitchen and thought about nutrition and what would work for my mum and help her. I ramped up the flavours in recipes and spent time developing new and different ones, too.
‘It was a nice process for me, it was quite cathartic. I wasn’t thinking about my mum’s illness, I was thinking about ingredients and recipes that looked good and tasted good.’
Following her mum’s death – and after encouragement from friends, family and even the nurses who cared for her mum – she decided to apply for MasterChef. She left in the second heat.
‘When my mum lost her fight, I carried on cooking afterwards,’ says Helen. ‘It was something else to focus on again. You channel your grief and get angry about it or you put your mind to something else and get on with it. That’s what I did.
‘Applying for MasterChef felt like something she would be proud of and it was a great experience. My MasterChef journey may have been short but it left a lasting impression.’
Since lockdown she has joined a group of other former contestants to found a Facebook group Let’s Get The Nation Cooking to encourage other cooks and her own website continues to attract more people. She also now has an outdoor kitchen in her garden and is hoping to start producing cookery videos.
‘It’s been a great platform for members to share their recipes, hints and tips with one another,’ says Helen, who also takes food inspiration from her father, Roberto Granell, who is originally from Valencia, and sparked her love of Mediterranean food. ‘We have thousands of members and we are all on hand to offer any foodie advice where needed.
‘It’s fantastic fun and we like to champion our local produce and seasonality. I’m proud to celebrate Lancashire produce and food. I enjoy taking the mystery out of seemingly impossible recipes, too, and giving people the confidence to try some new and old recipes.’
But food isn’t the only string to her bow. Helen, a keen potter, also breeds White Park Cattle – she keeps 25 cows on Fauna Nature Reserve. The animals graze the land.
‘They are an iconic breed and are rare breed because they are a bit of pain in the neck to look after,’ laughs Helen. ‘We move them from field to field to graze the grass at the reserve. It’s made farming a bit more exciting for people in the community, too, they’re a local attraction.’
Helen is now focused on using her knowledge and skills to carve out a successful career in food.
‘The dream is to carry on developing my recipes and the hopefully start to write,’ says Helen. ‘I want to grow and develop and get better. I have a real opportunity to share my successes in the kitchen, culinary tips, cheats and show people how to make extraordinary food look and feel effortless to prepare. It’s an exciting time.’