‘I Was Determined Not To Cook A White Chocolate Veloute’: Jess Hodge Eliminated From MasterChef Australia

It was the return of the dreaded relay challenge that put two teams to the ultimate pressure test.

Having lost their rounds of Beat the Brigades, the green team and the turquoise team went into Sunday night’s elimination ready to face one of MasterChef’s biggest challenges: the relay.

Renowned in MasterChef lore as one of the most intense challenges, the teams knew what they were up against.

Jess, Scott, Dan, and Tommy made up the green team and were up against Sabina, Amir, Pete, and Justin from turquoise. The teams would have 80 minutes to cook a dish featuring apples as the hero ingredient, but each member of the team only had 20 minutes with a 30-second handover in between.

Whichever team had the least impressive dish would go into a second round where they would need to once again use apples in a solo cook.

“The relay is one of the MasterChef institutions,” Jess told 10 play, “You know it’s going to come - you don’t know when - and then all of a sudden it was there.

“In a way, I felt a buzz of excitement that I got to do it but at the same time, I’ve got memories of all the past fails that people have done… I was determined not to go down in MasterChef folklore and cook a white chocolate veloute or something,” she joked, referring to perhaps the most infamous relay dish in MasterChef history.

A landscape architect by trade, Jess said she found herself drawn to cooking of late, especially during lockdown. What began as an act of mindfulness soon became more of a challenge to herself to execute complex recipes that tasted delicious and impressed her partner.

“I have three-year-old twin boys and I found myself working very long hours and not spending enough time at home with my family… I got really into cooking and watching MasterChef on TV and, on a whim, I thought I’m going to apply,” Jess said. “Next thing you know I’ve made it through auditions and ended up with an apron.”

With her background in landscape architecture, Jess became more and more interested in native Australian ingredients and sustainability in her cooking.

“I felt like it was an obvious path for me, I was very interested in knowing what grows here in our country and being able to utilise that for food. It’s still not extremely accessible and I’d love more people to be using native ingredients,” she added. “I think it’s really important for us as Australians to be using it in our cooking.”

As a leader in her career, Jess felt like the natural fit to lead the green team against Frank Camorra and his team at MoVida earlier in the week.

The team had arguably one of the tougher challenges of the week, tasked with making lemongrass, Jerusalem artichokes and cumquats the hero ingredients of their entree, main, and dessert respectively. There was an added pressure of most of the team being unfamiliar with Jerusalem artichokes, which saw them struggle to make it stand out enough to save them from Sunday’s elimination cook.

“I feel like I am [an expert] now,” Jess said of the root veg. “I used them a few times since because I was like, no, we’re going to conquer this… and I probably won’t ever touch it again,” she said, laughing.

Having led the team in MoVida service challenge, Jess said it wasn’t actually her first choice to kick off the relay challenge but rather she was just “the slowest person to put my finger on my nose”.

Heading into the second challenge, Jess said she was exhausted and struggled to come up with a concept for a dish. Ultimately she settled on her German grandmother’s apple strudel cake with a roasted apple ice cream. When plating, Jess also added an apple and walnut crumb, apple chips and fresh apple cubes.

“I was quite proud that I managed to plate up that dessert,” she said, adding, “The cake itself had quite a lot of meaning to me.

“It was a cake that reminds me a lot of my grandma who I lost when I was a teenager and I never really got to learn a lot from her. But I do remember the beautiful German sweets that she would cook.”

The cake and ice cream turned out great, but Jess admitted that the additions she made were unnecessary and detracted from what could have otherwise been winners.

“The comment from round one of missing the brief because there wasn’t enough apple in it, I think I was trying to compensate in the second cook by putting as much apple as I possibly could in that dish,” she explained.

“I think it would have really benefitted from some editing and simplification.”

Now, taking some time to spend with her family, Jess and her partner plan to travel around Australia with the twins in a caravan, hoping to meet up with suppliers of native ingredients across the country.

“Ultimately I’d love to have a venue or restaurant or something that really does focus on native ingredients and really bringing awareness to what they offer,” she added.

As for the twins, Jess said she’s sat down and watched a few episodes of the series with her, especially the Bento Box challenge which saw her place in the top four of that week.

“They absolutely love it. They understand that I was away and cooking, and that I was away for a long time. I think it all makes sense and they understand why I was away when they see the show.

“They’ve actually started pretending to cook a lot now as well, so I think that something has resonated with them and they’re excited about it.”

Follow Jess on Instagram @_made_by_jess

Watch the new season of MasterChef Australia, Sunday to Thursday at 7.30 on 10 or watch on demand on 10 play