When Jax Hamilton's 18-year marriage ended, the star chef's world crumbled around her.
"Suddenly I found myself without all the trappings of a married woman – the house, the car and the husband with the lovely job," she recalls.
"I'd been a corporate career woman running her own business, and now I was a solo parent in rental accommodation and on benefits."
But while the "material bollocks" were a loss, Jax's main concern was for her two teenage sons Jack and Tom.
She tells, "My husband and I had promised a future for our children, and now I had to provide a new future that was just as good."
It was this pressure that inspired the London-born, Christchurch-based foodie to apply for the second season of MasterChef New Zealand, where a tumbling tower of macaroons saw her come runner-up to Nadia Lim in the nail-biting 2011 grand final.
"Some people are supposed to win and some people just aren't," the 52-year-old says philosophically.
"But after not winning, I decided that all of the things the winner got as their prize, I would get by myself, which meant I had to work three times as hard."
Yet it paid off. Jax became an ambassador for Smeg appliances and Countdown supermarkets, which helped finance a new car, and she landed her own book deal, something she rates as her greatest achievement.
She explains, "Growing up as a poor black girl in East London, my father was a violent man. I spent a lot of my childhood at the library, escaping into books. Fast-forward 40 years and I'm walking into my publishers to see the first-ever copy of Jax Cooks. Spiritually, it was very deep – even beyond having my children."
Now the cheeky Cockney-accented cook has put all of her savings into her next venture, Jax Food Hax, a series of short online videos where she shares her tips and tricks for "quick, easy, delicious meals with personality".
"When I was a working mum with two teenage boys, I created all these time-saving hacks, so I could come home, cook some good food and carry on with my day knowing my children were eating well," she says. "Some of the hints are slap-your-forehead simple, but they can really save your bacon."
Jax's favourite hack is her basic recipe for flavoured butter, a condiment she carries in her handbag whenever she goes to barbecues or dinner parties.
She laughs, "If I'm at a pot-luck dinner and the chicken looks a bit dry, I'll pull out my butter and sort that out. My friends expect me to mess about with their food – I mean, it's my job! If there was a doctor at a party and I had a boil on my arm, I'd show her."
When Woman's Day last caught up with Jax in 2011, she was in a relationship with a woman, but seven years later, she is now dating a man.
She tells us, "I was single for four years because I needed to do a lot of work on myself. I wasn't prepared for it, but he's a foodie and he can play the guitar beautifully, which is the most precious gift because I was teaching myself to play at the time. We've been together for a year now.
"When it comes to love, it's not about what or who they are, but how they make you feel. If one of my boys came home with a giraffe and said, 'Mum, this is John and I love him,' I'd get out some hay and ask him what he wants to drink. I'm all about love!"
Jax's eldest son Jack is now 24 and working in retail, while her youngest Tom, who turns 21 next week, moved out of the family home last Easter, making her an empty-nester.
"I thought I was ready for it, but it was horrific," Jax confesses. "Tom moved out on Good Friday – which I now call 'Bad Friday' – and his new place is just around the corner, but I really felt those apron strings being cut. Your relationship changes.
"But what's been an absolute treasure is seeing them as adults and realising that we've got the same values. The choices they make, the friends they have and the way they navigate the world are all exactly as I'd hoped. They're amazing people – the greatest legacy I could ever leave."
Jax is especially proud that Tom will soon move to London to pursue a career as a music producer.
She smiles, "I've always played instruments. I play the clarinet, I'm a genius on the recorder and I'm still learning the guitar. I'm very musical. If I was forced to choose between food or music, there'd be no hesitation – I'd give up food in a second.
"But I love to combine the two – the best combination is developing amazing recipes in my kitchen while music is playing. Heaven!"
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