Having won her way back into the competition several weeks earlier, Minoli fought her way into the Top 10, with a renewed energy and approach in the kitchen.
“I was so intimidated the first time and, when I got eliminated it was almost a shock to my system that I had gotten myself out,” she told 10 play over the phone.
“Then I spoke to my mum and my family — I got something special that a lot of the other contestants didn’t get, family time — mum talked some sense into me, like, cook what you love doing, don’t worry about anyone else. And that’s what I did.”
With a renewed passion for cooking Sri Lankan cuisine, Minoli said watching the show she could see she had a completely different energy after her return to the competition. Any chance she got, Minoli would find inspiration to highlight Sri Lankan dishes and flavours in her food.
“I just said I needed to showcase how beautiful this cuisine is and, I know some people may not understand why people cook the same cuisine over and over again, but if I cooked pasta, it just wouldn’t make sense,” she explained.
“There are so many people that can cook great pasta and everyone can cook lots of different cuisines, but it was my time to showcase how beautiful Sri Lankan cooking was. Every time I was like, I’m doing Sri Lankan food again, and I’m so happy I did that.”
Coming back into the competition, Minoli said her main goal was to make it to the top 12, so reaching the top 10 was an added milestone she went into with a sense of relief.
“I felt my body literally just relax as soon as I got into the top ten… whatever happened, happened.”
After a week of no eliminations, the top 10 contestants faced a massive double elimination over two rounds. With the choice of a Mystery Box or a mystery cloche, the contestants plated up some incredible dishes, forcing the judges to begin to nitpick when it came to who would be in the bottom.
“It’s just the small details that will bring you down or be your undoing,” Minoli added. “I was really proud of myself but everyone was cooking top quality food. It’s exceptional.”
All week the standard of dishes the contestants were serving the judges was on another level. In the challenge, Minoli decided to substitute green mango for noodles, which was the one detail the judges felt let her dish down.
“There were just so many things in my head that I could have done,” Minoli said, “but I feel like I wasn’t really myself.
“I realised there was this one conversation I had the night before and it was, you just have to not be in the bottom,” she continued. “Like, you just have to not be the bottom person out of ten people and you can totally do that.
“I realised how much that impacted the way I acted that day because I was cooking a really safe dish that I thought would keep me out of the bottom.”
Thinking back to her first elimination, Minoli said that’s exactly what she did then too. Instead of cooking a dish she felt confidently represented her perspective, she cooked from “defensiveness”, when the whole time she had been back in the competition she felt like she was more on the front foot.
“It was so heartbreaking, I really believed I could go all the way,” Minoli said, adding, “I can honestly say that it broke my heart to be eliminated that day.
“The first time I was eliminated I think I was like, yep… cool. This time, I had gotten to know the judges a lot better — they’re amazing — and the contestants are my family now. They’re another family that I’ve got.
“It was an experience I gave everything to. It was almost happy tears, but I was also so shattered.”
Follow Minoli on Instagram @minoli.desilva
Watch the new season of MasterChef Australia, Sunday to Thursday at 7.30 on 10 or watch on demand on 10 play