It should have been the year of her dreams. Crowned winner of the BBC's Best Home Cook back in February, Lisburn mum Suzie Lee was talking book deals, trips to London for appearances on everything from The One Show and This Morning to personal appearances with food fans right across Northern Ireland.
But then came coronavirus.
And while the star cook, who also works as an accountant, knows she's in a lucky position, she's open about the frustrations she felt, along with the rest of us, during lockdown.
"It's been hard," says Suzie, who was known by her married name, Suzie Arbuthnot, during her time on the primetime show. "The start of the year had seemed really hopeful, but then in March it all changed so suddenly."
As well the pause button being pressed abruptly on Suzie's cooking career, the bread and butter income from her accountancy dried up too.
"That was a real shock," says Suzie, mum to five-year-old son Zander and daughter Odelia (2). "Until then the accountancy work was my day to day. I'd be out at the gym, I'd be out for work, I'd be busy with the kids and I had everything going on with the cooking.
"I went from 100 miles an hour to zero and with everyone home I found it quite suffocating. Without that structure I was used to I didn't know what day it was or what time it was.
"I'm fine to admit it now, but I don't think I did cope very well. Ask my husband and he'd probably say I was horrific.
"There had been chat about The One Show and maybe This Morning. I had a book proposal out, and there were lovely events locally that were cancelled.
"After all the excitement of the start of the year, I found the whole experience really restrictive and disheartening. I'm sure loads of people did.
"But it is what it is, and I know given what so many other people have been going through I'm really fortunate. I have a roof over my head, two lovely children, and my husband Stevie is a teacher so his wage kept coming in so we've got through it."
And while not all of the 36-year-old's plans have come to pass just yet, one project has taken off - with her very own series, Suzie Lee's Home Cook Heroes beginning on BBC One Northern Ireland next Thursday night.
The show sees the star take one key ingredient per episode - whole chicken, rump steak and eggs - demonstrating a range of simple techniques, short cuts and money-saving tips to help families make the most of what's in their kitchens.
Each episode features a different family from across Northern Ireland turning out their cupboards and fridges to provide the cook with inspiration for her creations.
"I actually really enjoyed it," laughs Suzie, who did online 'cook-alongs' on social media with famous NI faces during lockdown, from Carl Frampton and Holly Hamilton, to Pete Snodden and Jacob Stockdale. "We filmed across six days - all socially-distanced - and I didn't know what to expect at all. It was very different from the format of Best Home Cook, and right at the start I was completely raw.
"I think maybe by the 100th take, I was okay because I'm not a very serious person and it took me a while to get that sort of glossy format figured out, but I loved it in the end.
"We filmed in a fancy show house in Cultra, so it was completely Covid-friendly and there were markings done out for the crew so everyone knew where to go.
"It was a bit weird and there were some shots of the food where I'd think, you need to get this bit, and I'd have to step back to let the cameramen reset. It was hilarious. It was one of those things, that never in a million years would you think your life was going to change into this super red-tape environment. It's very strange."
And while Suzie might be fronting the programme, she's not the only member of the household delighted to be back on the small screen.
"The kids are part of it again," she says. "And when they saw the rough cut, my son was all, 'Yes I'm on TV again, I'm going to tell my friends'.
"It's just really lovely that they've got this as a memento. If this is it, then I'm going out with a bang! I'm really happy with it, and I hope people like it and find it useful, because that's what it's about.
"I've got so many ideas about the things I'd like to do, but when people say to me, I've been making scones for years, but they've never tasted like this until I followed what you said, well that's really nice to hear.
"I want to show people the little tricks and ways to fix things if something goes wrong. I want to give them alternatives if they don't have a specific thing in the cupboard that day."
Bringing a touch of her own heritage into the show, Suzie, whose Hong Kong-born parents moved to Northern Ireland in 1980, will show viewers how to cook three classic Chinese dishes, one featuring in each episode.
Her dad Peter and late mum Celia, who passed away 20 years ago, opened a Chinese takeaway in Lisburn, where Suzie helped out through much of her youth.
"I think people often think Chinese food is harder to cook than it is," she says. "You can get everything you need for the stuff I make on the show in the supermarket, and there are always easy substitutes for things.
"I've gone for three really simple recipes - Sweet and Sour Chicken Cantonese style, which is delicious and is actually from my mum and dad's takeaway - as well as Beef Ho Fan Noodles and Egg Fried Rice.
"I thought I should share these things, because that's my heritage. My mum was such a great cook, and my auntie still is, so I've almost felt sometimes like I can't match their cooking, but I think it's definitely worth doing. It's fun, and it's good to share."
And having had six days out of the house in June for socially-distanced filming, as well as two days in a studio perfecting her voice-over technique, like the rest of us Suzie is feeling life easing its way gradually back to some sort of normal.
She's back at the gym, her kids are in childcare one day a week, and her accountancy work is picking up, slowly but surely. "I guess we need to be realistic about this, because we're not out of it yet, and we don't know what's coming next," says Suzie.
"But I guess we've got to just roll with it. I've had some super lows over the past few months like everyone, as everything just nosedived, but there are things to look forward to as well.
"The kids were back in childcare for a day last week, which was super and I was able to get so much done. I've been back at my exercise classes and for me, that's a real mental benefit.
"I feel like I need to go maybe three or four times a week just to get all my energy out. I'm such a hyper person that without it over those months, my emotions were up and down a lot.
"I signed on to do some online classes, but when you've got two children in the middle of it saying, 'mummy, I'll just sit on you while you're doing this', it's not great.
"I was like the mummy elephant in this kids' book about getting five minutes' peace. I think in the end she settles for one minute and 38 seconds, and that's all I managed a lot of days."
Now with the first episode of her new series just days away, Suzie says living in Northern Ireland has been a huge boost for her career.
"My agent is in London, and she was so right when she told me back at the start of the year that people here really look after their own," Suzie says. "She told me I was lucky to be here, and I know she was right. Whatever comes up in the future, great, but I've really enjoyed every opportunity that has come my way so far.
"Northern Ireland is genuinely a big enough pond for me. The way I see it is, I'm an accountant who won a show and who likes to cook, so if I can carry on working, if people can enjoy my food and learn a few tricks along the way, then I'll be more than happy."
Suzie Lee's Home Cook Heroes starts on Thursday, August 6, on BBC One Northern Ireland at 7.30pm. Also available on iPlayer
Two of Suzie’s recipes to try...
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
Beef mince — 400g
Pork mince — 400g
1 egg beaten
1 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried parsley
1 slice of bread — blitz to breadcrumbs soaked in 2 tbsp of milk
Salt and pepper
1 pack of streaky bacon — cooked on BBQ
300g cheddar — sliced
Brioche burger baps
Beef tomato, sliced
Round lettuce leaves
Pickled red onions
1 large red onion finely sliced into rings
200ml white wine vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Homemade burger mayo sauce
8 tbsp mayo
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp of sweet relish/chutney
In a bowl mix all the ingredients together and season well. Using your hands bring it together and form into 6 balls and then flatten between 2 sheets of parchment paper to form round discs. Heat up your BBQ.
On white coals, cook the burgers for about 4-5 mins on each side. Don’t overcook as you want them to be still juicy. On the last couple of minutes add slices of cheddar on top so it melts with the heat. Fry off the bacon. Mix the mayo, and ketchup and relish/chutney and taste to season. Assemble as desired — baps, lettuce, tomato, bacon, pickled onions.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
300g pitted chopped dates
1 tsp baking soda
1½ cups of boiling water
125g of butter, softened
1 cup of soft dark brown sugar
1 tsp of vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1¾ cups self-raising flour, sieved
½ tsp baking powder, sieved
Toffee sauce — made in advance
½ cup of salted butter
1 cup of soft brown sugar
2 cups of double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Easy ice-cream — made in advance
600ml of whipping cream
1 tin of condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven 180C.
Make the easy ice cream — whisk the cream to soft peaks and then fold in the condensed milk and vanilla. If it has loosened the mixture, whisk again to soft peaks — be careful not to curdle the cream. Then place in a large Tupperware box and freeze for at least 4 hours. This can be made a couple of days before. Place dates and baking soda and water into a saucepan — bring to boil for about 5 min. Then blitz with hand blender to a smooth liquid. Let it cool for a couple of minutes.
Cream the butter, sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla and baking powder. Then put the liquid to the batter to make a thinner batter.
Place into greased and large tin — bake for about 30 min till skewer comes out clean, wait 5 min in tin and put onto cooling rack. Make the toffee sauce with putting all ingredients into a pot till bubbling for a couple of minutes, put into a jug. Pour some of the toffee sauce on top of the pudding and put back into the oven for 5-10 min until bubbling. Serve with the ice cream and more sauce.