Janelle Halil – the My Kitchen Rules winner chats about the Cake Bake and Sweets Show & her obsession with Nigella Lawson!

The Love Cooking Live, Cake Bake and Sweets Show, and World Food Championships was recently on in Melbourne and is soon to be in Sydney. Across the three days, demonstrations, workshops, food sports and sampling, along with other interactions were enjoyed. Thousands attended this extravaganza which played host to some of the biggest names in the Australian cooking and food industry including, Manu Feildel, Alastair McLeod, and Kirsten Tibballs. Also making an appearance was Janelle Halil, entrepreneur, and baker.  Janelle along with her partner were co-winners of My Kitchen Rules in 2022. 

Janelle Halil – Up Close and Personal with Jake Freeman on breaking into the food industry and her experiences as a contestant on My Kitchen Rules. 

Janelle, please tell us at what age did you get involved with baking.

I started when I was about 15. My reason for starting to bake was during high school, I got bullied and didn’t have many friends, I was bored and would watch YouTube. I came across a video, it was a Wilton cake decorating video, and I was like, you know what, I never knew that people could do this at home. I was just naïve about the cake-decorating world. I decided I’m going to give this a go, so I went to Coles, and I bought a whole bunch of stuff to make the Wilton cake that I saw on YouTube. 

I successfully made this cake, and my family were shocked, they were like, “Did you actually make this?” And I was like, “Yeah, I did.” 

Were there any cooking shows or any renowned Chefs that you looked to for inspiration when growing up? 

Probably Nigella Lawson was the most inspirational for me. I watched a bit of Jamie Oliver, but I really liked Nigella. And I also liked Anna Olson. She’s from America and she’s a baker. I used to watch Anna Olson a lot. I also watched a lot of Giada at Home.

At what age did you come to realise; you want to do this professionally as a career?

I think I always kind of wanted to do it, but I just never really – I mean I didn’t know anyone that had a cake business, and I don’t think that people really take it seriously. When I was in high school, I focused a lot on making cakes for fun and then I attended university. While at uni, I got really burnt out from studying, and I was like, you know what – I want to do something that I love. Making cakes was my happy place, so I took a risk, and I was like I’m just going to go full-time with my cake decorating business (Sassy Sprinkles Cakery) and so here we are.

Did you do any courses in cake-making or did you teach yourself?

No. I’m pretty much self-taught. I just watched a lot of videos. I did a small course at Bankstown College; it was like a night class. I did it more for social interaction so that I could meet other people that liked cakes.

Before you had your own business, did you work in a cake shop or something similar?

No, I never worked in a cake shop. I did apply and I got pushed back by a few different cake shops.

Moving onto My Kitchen Rules, how did that come about? Did you apply? 

I’d always wanted to go on the show but never had anyone to go with. And then out of nowhere, I think it was after COVID, my business with cakes slowed right down. Obviously, we had to stop making them, there were no events happening, so I was just in a bit of a slump. And I was like, I need to do something, and I just don’t know what to do. Do I go back to uni to study psychology? And then I was like, I’m going to apply for My Kitchen Rules, kind of as a joke. I’ve always wanted to do it, but I just never thought I would get on. 

Had you ever applied for any other shows, like MasterChef or anything like that?

Yes. I applied for The Great Australian Bake-Off years ago, and I got into the second round, and then I got kicked out because I told them that I wasn’t very good with savoury bakes.

Were you starstruck at first when you met the My Kitchen Rules judges the first time?

Yeah, I was, especially Nigella. I absolutely wanted to die when I found out that she was going to be on the show because I introduced my partner to Nigella on television.

I’d watch Nigella before I’d go to bed, as it was a soothing thing for me. My Partner once said to me, “Who the hell is Nigella?” We’d make her recipes together once he realised how amazing she was. 

How did you find working on the show with an audience, lights, cameras and of course the judges?

Honestly, this is going to sound weird, but I loved it. Like I felt very normal, and it’s not normal to cook under that kind of pressure. I was scared, and I was nervous, but I was always very enthusiastic about cooking. 

It wasn’t so much fun In front of the cameras; they were a bit annoying at times because obviously you’re really stressed and you want to do a good job and they can be in your face telling you to pause and stop and this kind of stuff. But I was always very, very enthusiastic about cooking. I think I was just way too excited.

What was your favourite thing about being on the show?

There were a lot of things. I loved the idea of having dinner with Nigella. I thought that was something that not everyone is able to do. As you know, people might meet her on the street or say hi, but to have six dinners with her, and sit next to her and talk to her, was just the most surreal experience of my life. 

I just always dreamed of meeting Nigella my idol! I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes as well, even though no one gets to see that, but that’s what I found most rewarding.

Talk me through the build-up and when they announced your name as the winner of My Kitchen Rules.

I did not expect us to get as far as we did. I think during every round, I kept expecting to leave. And we just never left. And I was like, what’s going on? Like I don’t know, I’ve got a lot of self-doubt in myself, so I think that that was kind of creeping in, but my partner Monzir was like, “No, we’re going to win. I just know we’re going to win.” 

I knew my partner was nervous, but I think he was trying to make up for the fact that I was freaking out so much. But it was a great experience. To add to this, both our mums met during the filming of the show while watching from the balcony. 

Where to from here? What’s next for you? 

I’ve gone back to work, just part-time, because I’m still invested in my business with Sassy Sprinkles. There are things I want to do with the business that I guess is different from what I was doing previously. 

I think I want to take it elsewhere, where I want to teach cakes. Eventually, I want to have my own show because I want to showcase more cake decorating skills and baking in general.

My boyfriend Monzir and I now have a spice business, where we’re promoting his Sudanese spice mix. And we pretty much just try and work on that stuff. We want to do the whole food dream minus the restaurant. We don’t want a restaurant or anything like that at this stage. We also regularly appear on The Morning Show and Sunrise which we enjoy immensely.

The Love Cooking Live, Cake Bake and Sweets Show. Can you talk a bit more about what we can expect from you there?

I’m going to be teaching a workshop on cake piping and doing the old-school Lambeth design, with a few little modern bits to it as well, adding in the retro feel. I’m going to be teaching those workshops every day in both Melbourne and Sydney.

To learn more about Janelle Halil and for any business inquiries and for upcoming events and appearances, go to https://www.instagram.com/sassysprinklescakery/?hl=en

Love Cooking Live, Cake Bake and Sweets Show, and World Food Championship will be held in Melbourne from 30 June – 2 July at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and in Sydney from 22 – 24 September at the Sydney Showgrounds. To buy tickets and to learn more about the exhibition, go to www.cakebakeandsweets.com

Interview by Jake Freeman