‘I Feel Like A Totally Different Person’: Keyma Vasquez Montero Narrowly Misses Out On Top 3

On Sunday night, Keyma faced her very first elimination Pressure Test in the MasterChef kitchen.

Throughout the entire competition thus far, Keyma had only ever faced one Pressure Test, the Marco Pierre White challenge where she won immunity. This time, in a devious task set by Peter Gilmore, Keyma faced her first elimination Pressure Test, with no idea what to expect.

“I didn’t have the experience from a long Pressure Test,” Keyma told 10 play after her elimination, “I witnessed some of the toughest Pressure Tests from the gantry, they looked pretty scary and difficult to go through.

“Especially when they’re so long, you can see the contestants break down halfway through… Everything shuts down and you’re just concentrating on the task, it was pretty scary not having that experience.”

With Billie immune from the Pressure Test, Keyma stood alongside Sarah and Daniel as Peter Gilmore revealed not one but two dishes they had to recreate in two and a half hours. On top of that, one was a savoury dish and one was a dessert.

“Like all his dishes, they were just amazing, and then we tasted them, they were beautiful dishes. They just represent all that Peter Gilmore is,” Keyma continued. “But when they told us we had to do both of them at the same time it was pretty daunting.”

Having to work on two different ends of the bench to reduce any risk of cross-contamination, Keyma said at one point she had to resort to sniffing her utensils just to make sure she wasn’t using a fishy whisk in her dessert elements.

But the most unlikely pressure point came when the chefs had to peel walnuts one at a time.

“Peeling walnuts is the WORST,” Keyma said, laughing. “They’re so delicate, while you’re peeling them they just crumble. But it was such a important part of the dish.”

Eventually, spending 15 minutes peeling one walnut at a time, Keyma decided to only use one rather than the required two, to save on time. “It’s those little decisions you have to make along the way that make or break Pressure Tests.”

At the end of the tough challenge, despite some minor differences in how dishes looked compared to the originals, Keyma couldn’t have been happier with what she had achieved.

“I was so proud, in the beginning I didn’t think I’d finish the dish. I was really, really doubtful of my skills in a Pressure Test and to be able to put up two different courses in that amount of time, I was like this is impossible,” she said. “To look at those finished dishes, I was over the moon.”

A longtime fan of MasterChef, Keyma said that it took her several years to work up the courage to apply for the show, feeling like she didn’t have the skills to compete.

“Then my kids started to push me, and I decided to apply… it has always been in the back of my mind, but I guess it took me a while to get the courage to do it,” she added.

And after she finally had applied, she found out that she’d be also cooking alongside 12 returning chefs. “I was like ‘OH NO why did I wait so long?’” Keyma laughed.

But thinking more about it, she realised that she wouldn’t have made it onto the show if people didn’t believe she had something in her to go up against legends of past seasons. As it turned out, competing against returning Favourites was exactly what Keyma needed to push her to succeed.

“I was pretty scared, but you push yourself a lot harder because you’re competing against people that are already in the industry,” she explained. “I decided to push myself a lot harder than I think I would in a ‘normal’ season.”

Thinking she wouldn’t even make it past the first week, Keyma saw herself not only survive but thrive in the competition.

“I think after that week I just decided to take it, not expecting anything from this experience other than growing and enjoying it. I changed my mindset in the way I was approaching the experience, I was just openhearted, open to learn, and whatever it is, it is!”

Watching the show back, Keyma finally has been able to show her family all the highs and lows she experienced throughout the competition.

“I often say, it hasn’t been just about cooking, it’s been a really personal experience. It touched me pretty profoundly, and that’s something I’ll take with me forever.”

During Finals Week in Tasmania, a tearful Keyma came to the realisation that she was in the competition for herself and herself alone. Wanting to finally strike out and once again follow her passions and her dreams.

“I feel like a totally different person,” she said looking back on who she was when she first walked through the MasterChef kitchen doors.

“When I entered the show, I didn’t have that ambition. I entered because I liked the show, I liked the competition and I was such a fan. I loved cooking and I wanted to prove myself in that environment,” she said.

“But throughout the show, I realised that it was my true passion and I was doing this to actually release the person who was a little bit incarcerated in that mum/wife role. We forget about ourselves as people that actually pursue dreams… mums have a tough job in nurturing that true self.”

Despite making it so close to the final, Keyma couldn’t have been happier with her time in the competition.

“Because I was going through with no expectations everything was a win,” she said. “Reaching Top 4 was such an achievement to me… it was completely a win, I don’t feel regret at all.”

Now, back in the real world, Keyma is looking to strike a work/life balance where she can pursue her dreams of a career in food, while still having her family as the centre of her life.

“I’m trying to reach out to some Latin restaurants to collaborate with them and do pop-ups so I can continue giving this message in Australia that Venezuelan and Latin cuisine is underrepresented in the country,” she said.

“It’s so diverse, it’s a lot more than you saw over the show and the dishes I was able to put out. I would like to explore those hyper-local dishes that are in different regions of Latin America and the Caribbean and showcase that in different ways.”

The MasterChef Australia Fans & Favourites final episodes are here, Monday and Tuesday at 7.30pm on 10 and 10 play on demand