How Great Cookbook Challenge winner Dominique Woolf quit music and turned her ‘foodie’ passion into a living

Former musician Dominique Woolf explains how song writing and creating recipes are very similar: “Getting all the pieces to fit and the flavour combinations to work.”

“My Thai auntie used to make these wonderful sauces. One of them was this tamarind sauce – I’ve never had anything like it,” says Dominique Woolf, a 43-year-old cook based in north London.

It was a sweet, tangy sauce made of tamarind, fish sauce and sugar.

And in 2019, when Dominique was trying to navigate a career change after having her three children, it was the sauce that caught her imagination: “To me it sparked something – we should bring this to market.”

And that’s exactly what she did.

Dominque started to make her own version, adding roasted chilli and removing the fish sauce.

“I just wanted to get it right…it’s not quite barbecue sauce-y, but there’s a note of that in it,” she explains.

“Traditionally, tamarind was used in brown sauce, so it’s got that kind of tang as well.”

Dominique, who lives with her family in Crouch End, had worked in recruitment in sales for 10 years, before becoming a singer-songwriter.

She’d done song writing sessions, gigged around London and even played Glastonbury, but, by her mid-30s, she’d started to fall out of love with it.

Dominique launched her sauces, condiments and nuts business in 2020

“I had three kids in quick succession, so I had my hands full,” she tells LondonWorld.

“I didn’t have a career to fall back on, so I was happy to be a stay-at-home mum.

“But when my youngest was about a year and a half old, it was like: what do I do with my life now?

“I wanted something for myself. I wanted a career that I could be proud of, and that I would want to wake up to do.”

A period of soul-searching followed. Dominique wanted to write, and she had always loved cooking.

Being half Thai, she’d grown up in Qatar to the smell of her mother’s cooking: Thai food, western food, satay, curries.

She received her first cookbook —an illustrated A5 book containing a standout pancake recipe— when she was nine years old.

Dominique enrolled onto a course at Leiths Cookery School, joined the Amazon Small Business Accelerator programme, and started writing recipes for a health and wellness publication and a local magazine.

In June 2020, she launched her own sauces, condiments and nuts business, The Woolf’s Kitchen, which is now stocked by almost 40 retailers around the country, as well as on Amazon.

“If you have an aspiration to change career or do something, I think you have to just do it. Taking action is the most important thing,” says Dominique

“Ever since I was little, I’ve loved sauces,” says Dominique.

Food has to have sauce, pretty much. This was something I could genuinely be passionate about, because it’s how I eat my food.”

Does she have a favourite? Dominique is torn.

“I love the jalapeño and lime, because it’s great on anything Mexican – and actually, I do love Mexican food,” she pauses.

“But the Chilli Crunch is my favourite. I spoon it on top of anything – even a homemade tomato soup or tomato pasta.”

Still, in the midst of the pandemic with three children at home, starting The Woolf’s Kitchen was taking a plunge.

She says: “[I thought]: let’s put my money where my mouth is and get these products out…I’m very much one of these ‘start before you’re ready; just do it’ [people] - because otherwise you could be sitting there for years until it’s perfect.”

In 2021, with the business under her belt, Dominique spotted an unmissable opportunity: Channel 4’s The Great Cookbook Challenge with Jamie Oliver was looking for applicants.

Not only did she make it onto the programme, which aired this year, but Dominique won the competition – securing her a cookbook deal with Penguin Books.

“On my first challenge, I did a chicken traybake,” she recalls.

“I saw that the chef ahead of me had made something really fancy, and I thought: ‘Oh my goodness, why am I making a traybake?’

“But actually, it’s about the concept being something that people can replicate.

“People want to buy books with food that they can cook,” says Dominque.

“[Getting on the programme] was the biggest high I’ve ever felt, really.”

Her cookbook, Dominique’s Kitchen, compiles simple, Asian-inspired recipes with big flavours, and was released in June this year.

It includes several of her own go-to dishes, like her peanut hoisin noodles —“quick; moreish; comforting, with a bit of spice to it”— and Thai tuna fishcakes, which use store cupboard staples. For desserts, there’s also an “addictive” miso fridge cake and three-ingredient coconut ice cream.

It is still a novelty for Dominique to see copies of the book in shops.

“It’s everywhere. I’ll go into my local Sainsbury’s —which is just a medium Sainsbury’s— and there it is. WH Smith – it’s there on the shelf. That’s really, really exciting,” she says.

Dominique with a few of her favourite sauces

With a summer of food festivals ahead, Dominique is optimistic about the future. “My career has just begun - this is the start of something.”

“I was always a foodie, but I didn’t realise you could have a career in it,” she says, comparing recipe creation to song writing.

“When I wrote songs, you’d come up with something and then it would be like a jigsaw to get the words right and everything flowing.

“I used to love that process, and it’s really similar with recipes – getting all the pieces to fit and the flavour combinations to work.”

Dominique adds: “To be able to do it as a career is incredible. I can’t believe how lucky I am.”

To read more of Dominique’s recipes, her book, Dominique’s Kitchen, is available online here.