‘I Didn’t Anticipate That Kind Of Reaction’: Melanie Persson Eliminated After Facing A Pressure Test She Couldn’t Taste

Coming into the MasterChef kitchen to show off the riches of gluten free cooking, Melanie was at a slight disadvantage on Tuesday.

Facing a pressure test set by renown chef Josh Inland, Melanie had to try and recreate his Tuna Wellington as perfectly as she could without ever tasting the whole dish.

“I always dreaded a pressure test to be quite honest,” Melanie told 10 play following her elimination. “I don’t like following recipes and… obviously there’s the added pressure of knowing it was quite likely something would be glutenous in the challenge and I wouldn’t be able to eat it.

“It was definitely very daunting to go into that challenge and cook against some amazing cooks,” she added.

About five years ago Melanie was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease where ingesting gluten can damage the small intestine. For Melanie, food had always been a massive part of her life growing up, but receiving her diagnosis was overwhelming to say the least.

“When you’re celiac you have to be really, really careful because even trace amounts [of gluten] can do damage internally, even if you don’t feel the symptoms,” she explained.

“It completely took away the joy of cooking and even eating for a good year or two but eventually I realised that if the food wasn’t available commercially, or even in restaurants for me to get, then I’d have to find another way to do it and that meant a lot of experimenting and trialling at home.”

Going into the pressure test, Melanie had been well aware that not being able to taste the dish was a reality she would eventually have to face.

“I never really thought of it as unfair to be honest… I know they can’t change the entire format of the show for me,” she said, laughing. “I knew what I was getting into, and I was prepared for it mentally. Being prepared for it and then actually doing the challenge are two very different concepts.”

On top of the gluten in parts of the recipe, Melanie admitted that seafood is not her forte. “I was standing there praying for a dessert challenge because that’s at least where my happiness is in cooking, that’s what I really love to do.”

Nearing the end of the marathon challenge, even after “multiple meltdowns”, Melanie began plating up her dish. Noting that her pastry wasn’t perfect, the two middle slices of her Tuna Wellington seemed near perfect.

“As soon as I cut the end pieces my heart just dropped. I could see the tuna was overcooked,” she said.

“I think I got so bogged down in the need for me to follow the recipe to a T that it was really jarring to try and go from that on one end to use my instincts in the elements I could taste… I made mistakes I would have never made on a normal cook without the pressure, but that’s the point of a pressure test, isn’t it?”

While waiting for the verdict, Melanie admitted she had made her peace with the fact that it was a very real possibility her time in the kitchen would be coming to an end. When the judges revealed she had been eliminated, she was “surprisingly upbeat”.

“I had given it everything I could, I knew I was absolutely spent after that challenge and, at the end of the day, if you do your absolute best and it’s not good enough, at least you know there was nothing else in the tank,” she said.

“If you give it all you’ve got and it’s still not good enough, sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.”

Having left the kitchen, since the season began airing Melanie has been inundated with support from the broader gluten free community. People of all ages have been reaching out, sharing that seeing her in the MasterChef kitchen has inspired them to get back into the kitchen themselves.

“I didn’t anticipate that kind of reaction, and that’s been really overwhelming in a very positive way,” she admitted. “I’ve had so many wonderful messages saying thanks for championing this on a scale like this.

“It really has made me realise that there’s a lot more to it that, perhaps I didn’t realise to begin with. I was representing a massive group of people who feel like they haven’t been represented on a scale like this before.”

Initially, competing on MasterChef was all about proving that gluten free food could be deemed ‘MasterChef worthy’, but as she got further in the competition, and now seeing the response, Melanie’s time in the competition has made her realise the importance of the food she has been championing.

During the series, fans began to beg Melanie to release a cookbook of her recipes she’s been experimenting with for years.

“It’s been really, really amazing and lovely to see,” she said of the overwhelming response, “and I can say now I have a publishing contract. I am working on a gluten free cookbook and that book is the culmination of not only my MasterChef experience but the years of trialing and testing.

“This has really been in the works for a while but my being on MasterChef has really been the push off the edge I needed to sit down and write. It’s been really amazing to know that hopefully there’ll be a really positive response from the gluten free community.”

MasterChef Australia Fans & Favourites airs Sunday - Thursday at 7.30pm on 10 and 10 play on demand