Profile: The musician making food sing in his new online kitchen

Jonny Ross may well have just experienced the most productive 18 months of his life. During the first Covid lockdown in spring 2020 many of us thought about using our extra time to learn a new skill, and thousands were even moved to action.

Jonny Ross, founder of Harrogate-based cookery skills business mychefskills.com.

Harrogate-based Ross was one of them, teaching himself the piano to an impressively high standard. But he also went further, setting up a new company and altering his career trajectory entirely. He also became a father for a second time.

“I do have a lot of energy and I don’t like to waste my day,” he says, with understatement.

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Pre-pandemic he ran his own music management company, Jonny Ross Music, and over 10 years had built it into a thriving business in the teeth of some scepticism.

“When I started it, I remember family members saying ‘you’ll never make any money doing that’, but that was one of the best things anyone ever said to me,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“They reckoned there wasn’t a business in it, but I said ‘I’ll tell you there is, I know there is’, and then we built it into a business with over 1,200 events a year. That just came from hard work and believing in it, and enjoyment.”

He had 52 musicians on the books, with gigs all over the country and much further afield. He even regularly sent acts to Tahiti and gigged there himself three or four times a year.

That all changed in March last year, when the first lockdown was announced, putting an end to all live performances.

“We had people driving to weddings and bar gigs and we literally had to turn them around, because they weren’t allowed to be there,” he says. “I felt more sorry for our customers than I did for our musicians or for ourselves, because we can gig another day, but they can’t have their wedding another day, can they? But they weren’t angry with us – they were very understanding.

“Almost as soon as the announcement came in, that’s when our business started falling by the wayside.”

Out of 1,200 events planned for 2020 – “it would have been our most successful year by a country mile,” says Ross – the company managed to play just eight. He realised he needed a plan B, so he set into motion a pipe-dream he’d been nurturing for six months.

“I’m a big believer in taking personal responsibility and not just sitting around doing nothing,” says Ross. “So I thought ‘I’ve got time on my hands to go with an idea, so let’s do it and use the time wisely’.”

His new venture, mychefskills.com, is an online portal designed to develop and improve cooking skills, helping hands-on foodies attempt dishes devised and demonstrated by top chefs, including double-Michelin starred Nathan Outlaw, The Great British Menu’s Andrew Sheridan and Masterchef, the Professionals finalists Matt Healy and Philli Armitage-Mattin. Healy has called it “the Netflix of learning to cook”.

“We were sick of the stop-start, stop-start of lockdown, as was the case for our industry,” says Ross.

“When they announced the next lockdown in November, it freed up my diary considerably. I was really passionate about the idea; I thought it was something that was really missing in the market, and just went for it.”

So far, there are 22 hours of content for subscribers to watch on mychefskills.com, with 75 classes filmed by eight professional chefs. But Ross and his cameraman, Barney Shortman, have already filmed 22 chefs in total and there’ll be well over 200 hours of content by the end of the year.

Ross has cooked every single recipe demonstrated by the chefs, to expand his knowledge and make sure the instructions are clear. Amazingly, he only gained half a stone during filming, despite spending months eating some of the finest food known to man. The secret, he says, is that he was running 70km a week. He wasn’t joking when he said he had energy.

“We’re going to release things seasonally, so we’ve got game and country ones coming out in October, then we’ve got our Christmas ones,” he says.

“As we get more requests from our customers about the cuisines they’d like to see, we’ll take them on board and we’ll try and film them as well.

“Our target audience is serial hobbyists like me – people aged 30 to 50, male, who are really into hobbies, and also women around 45 to 60 who like entertaining and have got a passion for cooking.

“I think the market is bigger now than it’s ever been, because a lot of people during lockdown got really into cooking as it was one of the only things that you could do from home that was still really enjoyable.”

Sixty per cent of the content has been filmed at The Cook’s Place, a cookery school in Malton, North Yorkshire, and other shoots have taken place in London and Cornwall. For one show they even used Ross’s parents’ house.

“They’ve got a very nice kitchen and we needed a different look, so we turfed them out for a week,” he says.

The beauty of the business model, he says, is its almost limitless potential. A week after launch the site had over 800 subscribers – “that blew us away” – and the business is well on track to hit its target of 5,000 subscribers by the end of the year, all paying a monthly fee of £12.50. So far, 70 per cent of them are in the UK, but there are others in the US, Australia and even India.

“With my other business there are obviously only so many nights that we can perform in a year. With this, it’s scalable – we can take it worldwide.

“We can market it in the USA or any English-speaking country, and hopefully eventually we’ll translate it into different languages so we can do it globally. As long as we get the marketing right, I think it could be a fairly big business, and hopefully comparable to Peloton [the internet-connected exercise equipment company] or something of that nature, where it’s the ‘go to’ place to learn to cook.

“When I used to watch Masterchef I used to think ‘I’d love to know how to do that’, and that’s a gap that we fill. It’s about getting those kitchen secrets – it’s not rocket science, you just need to know how to do it. It’s the same with music – it’s just about repetition and understanding.”

Repetition and understanding – they could well end up taking Jonny Ross a long way. That, and a kitchenful of energy.