Great tastes begin in this Cartwright kitchen

TV producer Donalee Jones tweaks and tests every Great Tastes of Manitoba recipe before the cameras roll


The latest episode of a popular Manitoban cooking show is set to air this Saturday, gifting home chefs with a whole new set of great recipes to try this winter.

But it may come as a surprise that a local woman – Donalee Jones of Cartwright – is at the helm of the highly rated ‘Great Tastes of Manitoba’, which airs on Saturday evening, February 1, on CTV.

“I am the producer of the show, and 90 per cent of the work I do is done from my home near Cartwright,” said Jones. “We actually shoot all 15 episodes of each season during just one intensive week in July, at the Grand Park Liquor Mart. I stay in Winnipeg for that week, and the rest of the time I am mostly working from home.”

A big part of Jones’ responsibility is test-driving the recipes that will eventually appear on the show inside her spacious farmhouse kitchen, with her husband and three young children often providing vocal feedback from the tabletop.  

And her palate and instincts seem to be striking the right chord with the show’s avid audience.

“Food experts with Great Tastes of Manitoba submit recipes to me, usually around 50 of them, and I test them and tweak them, and that’s what goes out,” said Jones. “We do 45 recipes each season, that’s three of them in each of the 15 episodes. And we are actually the most-watched cooking show in Manitoba. We beat Ellen DeGeneres and the Juno Awards last spring. Our average viewership is 27,000 Manitobans that watch it on CTV. But you can also watch full episodes on YouTube, and the Great Tastes of Manitoba website too. ”

Jones studied Media Production at ACC in Brandon back in 2002, and began her career in broadcasting as a production assistant, she said. She worked in Winnipeg and Saskatoon for a decade, shooting documentaries and working on other projects, and eventually returned to the Cartwright area with her husband Scott Mowbray.

Jones joined the team of Great Tastes of Manitoba in 2015, and found it proved to be a great fit into her world as both a farmer and a busy mother.

“It works into my life,” said Jones. “I grain farm with Scott. It’s a family farm, and we farm with Scott’s parents here, on 2,000 acres. We grow canola, wheat, winter wheat, beans, and peas. I do some spring seeding with the drill; I run errands in the fall; and I haul grain and drive the grain cart.” 

The interest in both farming and cooking came together for Jones at an early age, she said.

“I grew up in the Baldur area, and my parents were often out farming,” said Jones. “My mom always tried different things in the kitchen. And as a kid it would be my job, and my grandma and my aunt’s, to make the food, and take it to the field. 

More of a cook than a baker, Jones likes to make a recipe her own, she said.

“I have trouble following a recipe,” she said. “I have a hard time stopping myself from correcting a recipe. It kills me to follow the directions exactly. Baking is more precise, which is why I like cooking more. But I’m not a chef. And you don’t have to be a chef to make these recipes. You just have to follow the steps.”

Great Tastes of Manitoba is now celebrating its 30th season – quite a remarkable feat in the competitive world of television – and Jones attributes part of its success to both adapting to cultural changes, and by also including the people who produce our food in Manitoba.

“The show was all about the food back in the ‘90s,” she said. “People didn’t talk about where the food came from. We have seen a shift in recent years, and the focus now is about farm-to-table. In Season 30, to celebrate our anniversary in a digital way, we have produced six farmer profile videos for our website, filmed all over the province. They are about five minutes long, and you can watch them on our website. And our flavours have changed. There are people in Manitoba from all over the world. We have to find ways to introduce our local ingredients into international cuisine.”

And episode one, coming up on Saturday, February 1, at 6:30 p.m. on CTV Winnipeg, includes a wonderful, aromatic, mouth-watering recipe that ticks all the boxes.

“It’s a Thai recipe, that uses ingredients like Manitoban chicken, our Peak of the Market carrots, or local carrots, hothouse tomatoes, which I found from Alberta, and Loveday mushrooms from Manitoba,” said Jones, who was busy sautéing chopped onions at home in her kitchen, and filling the room with a delicious aroma. Prepped vegetables, chicken stock, and fresh ginger were ready and waiting their turn on the nearby countertop. 

“I’ve only made it a couple of times, and I do really like this recipe,” she said. “It’s Chicken Coconut Curry Soup; it’s part of our Local Chicken/Global Flavour episode with the chicken farmers. This one rates quite high on my checklist, probably a nine. 
It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s accessible for ingredients, and it tastes wonderful – even if my kids won’t eat it!”

Besides recipe testing, Jones is also responsible for soliciting ads for the show, arranging product placement in the show, and even making application for Great Tastes of Manitoba’s CRTC licensing for Canadian Content.

“The recipes are mostly based on commodities, like canola oil, pork, or chicken, but we have expanded to include smaller producers and food processors,” said Jones. “We are kind of built around farmers, and we wanted to include other, smaller food producers. But we have to include and use products that are available on retail shelf space so our viewers can always find the recipe ingredients. We once did a recipe that required Granny’s Cranberry Chipotle Turkey Sausage, and people couldn’t find the sausage. It turned out that it was only available in select Sobeys. In the end, Granny’s gave those people, I think it was around six people who contacted us, the sausage.”

Moving through the farming season, the school year, and her multi-faceted role as a TV producer, Jones is always busy, and very organized.

“Balance is sometimes a challenge for a working mom,” she said. “I love farming, I love cooking, and I love craft beer. I love international foods, especially Indian and Thai. At the end of every show we pair a meal with a drink. It could be a beer, a wine, or cocktails, which is handy, because we shoot it all in the Manitoba liquor store studio kitchen.”

LOCAL CHICKEN/GLOBAL FLAVOUR – Donalee Jones adds the finishing touches to her Chicken Coconut Curry Soup, which takes just 30 to 45 minutes to prepare at home. The result is an amazing Thai-style delight – bringing a happy fusion of local ingredients with international flavours. Watch ‘Great Tastes of Manitoba’ on CTV starting Saturday, February 1, or go to their website to see the episodes and also find the great recipes.

COMING UP ON GREAT TASTES OF MANITOBA – An outstanding and fragrant Chicken Coconut Curry Soup (pictured) is just one of three recipes coming up on CTV Winnipeg’s highly popular ‘Great Tastes of Manitoba’, which airs at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 1. Above, producer of the long-running show, Donalee Jones of Cartwright, sits down to enjoy the Thai-inspired dish – made with many Manitoba-grown ingredients, and prepared in her farm kitchen. 

Great Tastes of Manitoba, owned by Frank Digital, airs on CTV Winnipeg on Saturday evenings at 6:30 p.m., beginning February 1, 2020. 

This is their 30th season, and the 15 episodes, which were filmed last summer, first aired last fall, and are now being broadcast for a second running.

You can also enjoy all the full episodes of the program on Great Tastes of Manitoba’s website, and find all the recipes, at 

The program’s aim is to “showcase nutritious, affordable, delicious foods grown by Manitoba’s farmers,” according to the website.

“Each week local experts representing Manitoba Farmers join our host Dez Daniels in the kitchen,” they said. “They cook and share stories about how food is produced in Manitoba, and tips for choosing and preparing these locally grown ingredients. Each recipe prepared on the show is paired with a beverage selected by the experts from Manitoba Liquor Mart.”