When did you realize that cooking was a passion?
I have always loved to cook. I used to love helping my mum in the kitchen and by the age of about 12 I was making my own birthday cakes. My mum and I dream of opening a tea room and hopefully we will get to realise this dream one day soon.
Before becoming a professional chef, you were working at a top law firm in London. You traded that life in to move to the English countryside. Was it scary to make that transition?
It was a brave decision to leave the security of my job in London. At the time I think my work colleages thought I was crazy taking such a large salary cut, but it was definitely the right decision. We now live in a 17th Century thatched cottage, with a stream in the garden and my flock of hens who cluck around the back door waiting for scraps from my cooking. It is idyllic and I am so lucky to be able to work from home.
What led you to try out for Masterchef?
My brother appeared on Masterchef two years before me and it was him who made me apply for the show. I originally didn't get on but was called as a last minute standin when one of the contestants dropped out. I had two days notice and then ended up being away from home for about 7 weeks when I found myself in the final. It was a complete rollercoaster adventure but I loved every minute of it.
The strapline on the show was: "This is Going to Change Their Lives," which John and Gregg, the Judges, would yell at the beginning of every episode. We laughed about it at the time but looking back the programme really did change my life. I always enjoyed cooking but didn't realise until the programme that I was actually better at it than I thought. The programme gave me a lot of confidence to follow my dreams. I now have two cookery columns each month for UK food magazines and have just finished my third cook book. If you had said to me when I was working on London that I would publish one cook book, let alone three, I would never have believed it. People always used to say I should write one but it wasn't until the programme that I was given the opportunity to do so and I will always be so grateful for that.
Sundaes & Splits is the first book you've done with Ryland Peters & Small. How did the book come about?
I woke up one winter morning with lots of sundae ideas in my head - I think I had been dreaming about ice cream - which given the temperature outside at the time was very strange indeed. I jotted them all down and sent them to [editor] Julia Charles at Ryland Peters & Small and she kindly agreed to publish my little book. I am so grateful to her for loving ice cream as much as I do and for giving me the opportunity to see my recipes in print.
What was the process like creating the recipes for the book? Were you on ice cream overload by the end of it? Did you recruit friends to help as testers?
The book was a joy to work on - just imagine eating ice cream every day for 6 weeks! Some days I had two ice cream machines churning in tandom! We ate a LOT of ice cream. The whole village became my taste panel - I think they enjoyed me writing the book as much as I did. It was really useful to have their feedback and some of the recipes were tweeked as a result. I find children are often the best tasters as they give really honest answers and will say if they don't like something.
The desserts you create and chronicle on your blog, Hannah's Country Kitchen, are absolutely breathtaking. Where do you find inspiration?
I take inspiration for my cakes from everywhere. I know as soon as I see a decoration what sort of cake I will use it for and its then just a question of waiting for the right person to bake the cake for. I have crates and crates of cake decorations and ribbons in my kitchen - people think I'm crazy always buying decorations but I know they will all come in use one day! I love to bake something that the recipient will always remember and always try to make my cakes personal to their likes and interests. Many of my cakes are inspired by my garden - lots of fresh flowers and maypoll ribbons, sugar ladybirds and butterflies. I also use flowers from the garden to flavour the cakes - rose, violet and lavender are all my favourites.
What's coming up next for you?
I have just finished my third cookbook - Whoopie Pies - with Ryland Peters and Small. This has been such a fantastic project to work on and I have loved decorating the pies in as many wild and wacky ways as possible. Steve Painter and Maxine Clark who styled the book have done such a fantastic job and I was thrilled with the photos when I saw them last week. I can't wait
for it to be published and to share it people. My next project is a cookery demonstration in the Prince of Wales' garden at Clarence House in London in a few weeks time. I don't think things get much more exciting than that!
For more on Hannah Miles, visit her blog: http://hannahscountrykitchen.blogspot.com
Interview by Marny Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org