Tuesday, May 28, 2024
11.6 C


My Account

- Advertisement -

Homegrown chef’s success

Former St Matthew’s Collegiate School pupil Jess Daniell opened her second deli in Auckland this month. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

By Chelsea Boyle

[email protected]

Losing her dream job may have been a blessing in disguise for Jess Daniell who turned the “summer I was out of a job” into the start of a successful food empire.

Ms Daniell opened her second deli in Auckland this month, not long after her second cookbook came out in April.

Her business, Jess’ Underground Kitchen (JUK) started because she wanted to share quality home-cooked meals with friends.

Growing up on a father Derek’s farm near Bideford, Masterton, gave the former St Matthew’s Collegiate School pupil a taste for fresh produce.

“I think growing up in Wairarapa gave me a great understanding of where food comes from and the province of food…”

After finishing university the foodie travelled across South East Asia, Europe and India on a “shoestring budget” and quickly learnt the “best way to travel is by going to a country and experiencing life through their cuisine”.

While in Britain with her partner Jono, she started a food blog to share her travels with friends and family.

Her partner’s new job brought them back to New Zealand but they had to “literally pack up and go within a week”.

With her feet firmly back in Auckland, Ms Daniell, 32, thought she had found her niche landing a job with Bite magazine.

After all, she had an English degree and experience in marketing and copywriting to boot.

“Food writing, this is my calling,” she said.

But then they put a freeze on all contractors at the end of that financial year, she said.

“I found my dream job and I lost my dream job all in the space of a couple of months.”

Suddenly, she found herself in a tight spot.

“What am I going to do until I find another job that’s as good as that one,” she said.

Luckily a friend, who just wanted more of Ms Daniell’s cooking, had the answer.

Sharing a meal one night the friend, impressed by the homemade hummus, told her the meal was that good she would pay to have it more often.

A notion Ms Daniell initially dismissed.

“I cook way too much food every night, you just come around whenever you want,” Ms Daniell said.

“I’ll make sure you’re eating well.”

But “it all snowballed from there”, with friends of friends, and flatmates too, wanting to pick up a healthy home-cooked meal on their way home from work.

A $10 buy-in covered the cost of ingredients, essentially allowing Ms Daniell to eat for free while she was between jobs.

It was an elegant solution that used her love of cooking and would tide her over until she found “a proper job”.

The first night she cooked for 14 people and before long she was cooking for a 100.

Bite magazine came back to her four weeks later, they had found a “loophole” and wanted her back.

But she knew she had to see her new project through.

“I really need to see if it’s got legs.”

She decided to take the risk, and commit to it 100 per cent.

“I turned down my dream job and started doing JUK fulltime.”

She started cooking in a commercial kitchen and people would pick up the meals from points around the city.

Her first cookbook ‘My Underground Kitchen’ was published in April 2015.

Some people from Wairarapa had a hand in the book, which was edited by Alex Hedley with photographs taken by Lottie Hedley.

Fans have told Ms Daniell they have cooked every meal in the book.

“One of them is even called Jess, it’s a real-life Julia and Julia,” she said.

In February 2016, she opened her flagship store Jess’ Underground Kitchen in Herne Bay.

From the store, you could pick up meals but also grab a “coffee, delicious cabinet food and French baking”.

“I like to think my food is healthy but not saintly, I’m not trying to be a wholefoods chef,” Ms Daniell said.

“I love salted caramel on anything.”

The aim over the next year is to focus on distribution and “get JUK into even more homes”, she said.

The JUK frozen meals are now available in Moore Wilsons, Masterton.

Success seems to be no stranger for the Daniell family.

Derek owns one of the most prominent sheep studs in New Zealand, mum Chris, is a published author and brother Marcus is one of the country’s top international tennis players.


Jess Daniell inside one of her Auckland premises. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED
Jess Daniell inside one of her Auckland premises. PHOTO/SUPPLIED


  1. The Wairarapa Age is commended for celebrating an everyday story of hard work, creativity, taking risks and success. The Wairarapa web spreads far and wide.

Comments are closed.

Related Articles

- Advertisement -
broken clouds
11.6 ° C
11.6 °
11.6 °
64 %
63 %
13 °
11 °
12 °
17 °
17 °