Food, says vivacious Masterchef finalist and businesswoman Joanni Mitchell, is not just a passion but has provided an opportunity that few people get – to create a second career.

Her decision to enter Masterchef in 2012 was not a career move. Instead, she admits, it was to fill the huge void left when her two sons went off to university. Up until then, she had been running a busy guest house in Durban North. However, when she was asked to buy the property, she decided it was time to change course and instead closed her business.

Her foray into the world of reality television in 2012 was a massive eye opener. It was also short lived and Joanni fell out of the competition in the early rounds.

Undaunted and a little more savvy about what was expected, she was back in the kitchen chopping and mixing up a storm in 2013. She made it all the way through to the Nederberg Kitchen and ninth place.

“It was an awesome journey and validated that food was where I needed to be. I am busier than I have ever been before and travel across the country doing food demonstrations. I’ve even become a public speaker,” she smiles.

The difference between Joanni and the many other contestants that make their way through the Masterchef kitchen is that she has creatively looked for ways to make the experience last way beyond the initial competition and ultimately incorporated it into a personal brand.

Her 22 year career in fashion taught her that creativity and business go together and she has run pop up restaurants, shown off her culinary skills at expos and catered for special occasions and charity events.

In addition, two years ago, she created Joanni’s Mezza which supplies gift boxes and hampers filled with gourmet home baked treats for corporate and personal gifting as well as giveaways at functions and product launches.

This was the result of both her Masterchef achievements and her longstanding love for always giving friends homemade gifts from her kitchen.

After creating a special food hamper for a friend, she was persuaded to expand this.

She makes her hampers to suit each customer’s needs using fresh, seasonal ingredients.  Each one can include anything from small cakes to cranberry jam, mint jelly, roasted nuts and her signature chilli brittle.

Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother and Father’s Day and Secretary’s Day are times when Joanni is now found particularly hard at work in the kitchen. Orders can extend from the 300 boxes that she despatched to the Seychelles last Christmas to individual gifts for teachers or friends. Some are standing orders – she regularly creates gifts for new car buyers for a motor dealership – whilst others are once off.

Her first Christmas, she remembers, was something of a shock. Luckily, her husband was working in Sierra Leone at the time and she had the space to work to the point where she got just four hours sleep a night.

Christmas 2014 was a lot easier as, she says, she was more prepared. She also more than doubled turnover and has seen what started out as a micro foodie business grow steadily ever since.

While that is a wonderful accolade, she says Joanni’s Mezza will always remain a very small business to preserve the personal touch.

So far, she hasn’t articulated too many long term plans for Joanni’s Mezza. But, given the way things have been growing, she concedes that she will not be able to cook everything herself for much longer. That will provide an opportunity to which she is certainly looking forward – training up disadvantaged women to prepare some of the goodies.

“This can’t be just about me,” she says.

Given that Joanni is also one of the Shark’s Academy’s host mom’s with seven hungry U-19 sharks rugby players to feed, you realise that it could never be!