In a career spanning more than 25 years, Joanna Bell has catered for HM The Queen and the royal family, created dishes for several star-studded BRITs ceremonies and led the catering teams at a string of prestigious events. Now, Joanna, who opened her first restaurant at just 19, is embarking on a new challenge â€“ as head chef at Bateaux London.
So, Joanna, what inspired you to take up your new role at Bateaux London?
They have a really great team and Iâ€™m fascinated by the logistical challenge of providing fine dining in a confined â€“ and floating â€“ space. Itâ€™s such an iconic company and itâ€™s just so London, that, when the vacancy arose, I couldnâ€™t not take it.
Do you have a signature dish?
No. I love creating desserts, but Iâ€™m equally happy creating savoury dishes such as a recent favourite of cured salmon â€“ I cured it myself â€“ with edible flowers and caviar.
My presentation style is quite feminine, I suppose. I like to use lots of fresh herbs and flowers such as violas and cornflowers â€“ it matters to me that the dish is pretty to look at.
You were born in South Africa â€“ has that inspired your cooking?
My cooking style is constantly evolving and obviously I follow trends very carefully, but really I favour dishes with fewer ingredients, executed well.
My South African roots come through sometimes, too, with spices and street food influenced dishes such as bunny chow, which is a hollowed-out loaf of bread filed with a spicy curry.
South African food is itself influenced by Indian cuisine and so spices feature quite a lot in my dishes â€“ particularly Cape Malay spices, which are a lot sweeter.
Youâ€™ve had such a varied and interesting career - what has been the highlight?
Two things really stand out for me. The first was opening my own restaurant when I was just 19. I was incredibly nervous and my parentsâ€™ inheritance was at stake, so I needed to make it work â€“ and it did. It was an amazing time.
The second was 2012. Iâ€™d cooked for HM The Queen on countless occasions but that was Jubilee Year and I spent a lot of time at Windsor cooking not only for Her Majesty, but other members of the Royal Family, too.
Then we went straight from the Jubilee celebrations to catering at Farnborough International Airshow and, from there, to the French Village at Billingsgate to cater for the entire French contingent at London Olympics 2012.
It was an amazing year and Iâ€™ll never forget it.
You must have some tales to tell â€¦?
(Laughing) Well, I also catered for The BRITs for a few years so, yes â€“ but theyâ€™re stories for another time.