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Appetite for life

After being dished up a serving of the real Jax Hamilton, you come away with an appetite for life.



The fun-loving queen of food first caught the public’s eye as MasterChef New Zealand’s runner-up in season two. Then for the next six years her Cheshire Cat smile and cockney banter brightened up the ad breaks as food ambassador for Countdown. Jax is now fabulously freestyle with plenty of bite-sized projects filling her crazy life to the max.

Originally from London, she arrived in Timaru in 2001 with her then Kiwi husband, before migrating North to her forever home of Christchurch. London life was exciting working for WEA Records as a Press Officer for some notable celebs. “However, Christchurch embraced with more warmth than London ever did,” she says. And she’s here to stay.

The marriage ended in 2009, however she warmly describes her long-term partner, a Property Manager, as a stunningly gentle and gorgeous guy. “He balances my chaos, we’re like ying and yang.”

Her tucked-away abode, which she shares with Pumpkin the cat, is where Jax’s real personality is showcased – all over the walls. Her projects and plans are scribbled in liquid chalk on her office window, illuminated by sunlight. “I just haven’t got enough room,” she laughs.

Inspirational musings are pinned to the bedroom door – so they are top of mind every morning.

Purposeful quirky slices of life are everywhere. Even her toilet has a chalk wall for quotes on one side, photos of her now grown-up sons on the other, and the Queen on her shower curtain, with plenty of other nods to old blighty. This all makes the British-born 53-year-old with Jamaican heritage feel right at home.

The Colour Purple is her favourite novel – its pages line an art-deco cabinet she artfully transformed. Boxes inside boxes, she organises her cosy, jam-packed creative pad to function with her full schedule.

Engaging rituals to de-stress include quiet moments on the swing in the park next door. “I cope by living life fully, and in harmony, in 10-minute increments – then it’s easy.”

“I like to eat dinner when the sun is going down, or sometimes have a relaxing bath in middle of the day, infused with camomile or lemon verbena.”

She makes her own Jamaican chilli sauce, has designed ‘Jax’ tea towels, written two cookbooks and formulated a range of hair products to tame her head-turning dreads.

“My hair and glasses are my brand, so I make extra effort to keep them sharp.”

Her days are spent on causes that really resonate with her heart. They say charity should begin at home – and Jax’s focus lies with her Christchurch community. “Our job as humans is to nourish each other.”

Jax is a recruit with Nora’s Army, helping a little girl with a rare cancer who needs lifesaving treatment in Texas, fundraising when and how she can.

She helped collate the recipe book Eats for the charity One Mother to Another which supports mothers and caregivers with children in the Christchurch neonatal units. Jax has also joined the team presenting Christchurch’s new garden festival Grow Ōtautahi as a food ambassador. And as a mentor to the next generation of cooks, Jax has taken seven-year-old Maiyah Martin of ‘Girl with Cake Project’ under her wing – with all funds going to the Christchurch City Mission. If you’d like your own slice of Jax, she is available as a MC and for keynote speaking and cooking demonstrations.

“This is what I love to do. You’ll get the real, authentic me and I’m always honest – and this is where I really get to turn the volume up!”

She adds, “when I discuss business, it’s about planting a seed of integrity and authenticity, where we grow together. I like to chase the passion and not the purse. I call my job ‘giggles and nibbles’.

“I naturally give who I’m with my full attention and presence. If I’m having dinner in a restaurant, for example, I’ll engage with the waiter – because I’m really having dinner with him too!”

Her tip for Christmas feasting: “Prep beforehand as much as possible. It’s the time to be together, and you can’t do that if you’re busy in the kitchen. There’s not much prep in crayfish and champagne!”

She will no doubt have some divine delectables of her own ready in her freezer and SMEG Union-Jack fridge.

Surprisingly, Jax says she would choose music over food any day. “Melody fulfils me, and then I cook! And love goes in first – it’s all a dance.”

With her love of cooking, and a warm personality and heart, Jax has certainly got her own recipe just right. “I have never been happier,” she says.

See more of Jax on and also for foodie tips and tricks.




A Culinary Queen

Annabel Langbein has personally penned more than 10,000 recipes.



I could almost tell you them all too; it’s like this huge computer in my head that would drive anyone else mad, but I love it,” she laughs.

It was her dad that was the engineer by trade and, although Annabel had always thought the “clever engineer gene” had missed her, the penny dropped when she was asked recently ‘how do you engineer a recipe?’

Cooking wasn’t a fashionable thing to do when Annabel first started dipping her fingers in the baking bowl, but she discovered an incredible sense of achievement being able to give others pleasure through her baking. “I would feel useful and successful and have a lot of fun,” she says. “And as I went through life subconsciously, without realising it, I was always cooking.”

It was ironically food poisoning rather than the food itself that paved the first step in her career path. During her OE, she got food poisoning in South America and ended up staying in a village in Brazil, renting a room with an Argentinian couple. “All I wanted to do was cook!” she says. “It made me feel anchored and good.”

When that couple asked if she could make croissants, she wasn’t going to let the fact that she had never made them before in her life hold her back. Soon, she had her own croissant business! When she eventually found her way back home she started a catering business and writing for The Listener. Not knowing where to go next, she did what all good fan girls do and she wrote to Julia Child, who invited her to America to introduce her to the world of cuisine. She spent the late 80s and early 90s learning everything she possibly could about cuisine.

“I found while travelling that food is the bridge between us all. It can help you discover cultures, ingredients, nature, community, and also this wonderful idea of creativity,” Annabel says.

“The idea of a recipe being written down is a reasonably recent invention; in places like India and China, the language of cooking is handed down. People can have nothing and yet make these amazing foods; feeling part of this world is very nourishing.”

It’s this travel that formed the basis for her understanding of ‘food families’ and ‘flavour profiles’. “Food is like music; you learn a few chords and before long you can riff. When you understand the different flavour profiles and how they go together, it opens up your world.”

What this means is that the core ingredients of a salad may be the same, but it’s the understanding of flavours that enable you to transform those vegetables into a South East Asian salad or a Middle Eastern salad.

A lot of what Annabel turns her award-winning hand to these days is driven by ingredients and what’s available – particularly in her own Wanaka garden. It’s 12 minutes from her place to the shop, so if she doesn’t have to go, she won’t, learning instead to be resourceful with what she has. Her Essential cookbooks were written on this basis – the idea of giving people a basic toolkit of basics that can form the basis of just about anything.

“I’ve always been interested in helping people to feel empowered and confident with cooking. This isn’t MasterChef; it’s home. Most people are tired at the end of the day, so dinner doesn’t need to be an enormous amount of work and palaver; it’s about taking something fresh and knowing the easiest way to make it yummy.”

She’s an “old hippy at heart”, or, more formally, a founding member of the Sustainability Council, so sustainability is pretty close to her heart.

While a key aspect of this role is keeping GMOs out of the food in New Zealand, even the basics of ‘reuse and recycle’ are important.

“I’m a big believer in getting things when they’re in season, like tomatoes, and freezing them so I’ve always got it.” She’ll cook spinach in olive oil and freeze handfuls of it so it’s always available as a meal addition.

Another top tip is when you get to the end of the week and your salad greens have gone limp, or your rocket has wilted in the hot sun before you’ve made it back to the house, put them in a big bowl of water and ice cubes, and the water will pump the cells up again, bringing them back to life.

Treat protein as a treat and have a meatless meal each week, she says. Although most New Zealand meat is freefarmed, so it’s not as bad for the planet, cutting back can certainly make a difference.

“I’m a big composter and worm farmer, in the same way we understand our gut microbes are important to keep healthy, the soil is as well, so having compost and creating worm farms is a fantastic thing.”

And trying to avoid plastic is a biggie. So why not put a plate over food in the fridge instead? After all, as Annabel says, “If we all just do one little thing…”