'I Was So Pleased With The Dish': James Holmes Reflects On His Time In The MasterChef Kitchen

On Sunday night we said farewell to our first MasterChef contestant after James' food dream-inspired dish turned into a nightmare.

For the very first elimination challenge of Season 16, the chefs had to try and create a dish that represented their food dreams. For James, who has been eying a waterside café in South Yunderup where he'd celebrate local produce, he also wanted to celebrate his travels and meals he's experienced around the world.

"You want to show your best, and there were parts of me that thought maybe I'll draw on my many Greek holidays and do a whole mezze, have lots and lots of different dishes," James told 10 Play.

"But I was trying to think about what the judges had said to contestants throughout the week about being intentional with your food, purposeful, and not feeling like you need to put a million things out there.

"In the end, I tried to go for something I thought was vibrant, interesting and stood out. Unfortunately, it stood out for the wrong reasons."

Deciding to make a squid, stuffed with feta and green peppers, laying on a bed of parsley and tahini sauce and served with a wattleseed pita bread, James was reminded several times not to overcook the squid as it can result in a rubbery texture. But the pressure of the cook meant that James took it the other way, and only after serving the dish to the judges was the squid revealed to be raw.

"It's a funny old thing to look back at because I was feeling great," James said with a laugh. "I was so pleased with the dish, maybe I was more pleased with the completion of it and the enjoyment of being there.

"I thought it looked vibrant, I thought it had some different elements... it very much linked to my original memory of tasting squid like that," James continued.

Heading into the challenge, James said that after spending two days on the gantry, he wasn't too concerned with putting on the black apron for the first time.

"I had made a mental decision that morning to enjoy it no matter what," he explained. "I was able to put the black apron to one side in my mind and just go and enjoy it. While I loved cheering the others on from the gantry, I was gutted to not be cooking in those two days.

"Maybe that would have helped me a wee bit in learning in those times to pause and think, okay is this really what I want to plate? Or have I been swept up in the moment?"

Despite his experience ending a bit earlier than he had hoped, James still said he couldn't fault his time in the MasterChef kitchen. "I think people may have expected me to be down on the whole thing but you can't... it was a wonderful experience!"

Originally from England, James and his wife would watch MasterChef Australia while in the UK. "The English [version of MasterChef] is kind of dry and formal and I think the Australian one has so much life," James added. "We always used to watch it and it was one of those things of, 'I wonder if I could give that a go, I wonder what it would be like?'"

Watching last season, James was considering applying to TAFE to do a culinary arts or commercial cookery course but instead thought he would first try his luck and apply for MasterChef.

"I didn't want to have that 'what if' in the back of my mind so I just thought I'd give it a go, and it all snowballed from there. I'm so glad that I did it, and I'd definitely say to anyone who has that little food itch to just give it a go," he said.

Inspired by a constant culinary curiosity, James said that before he and his wife had their two kids, they went on a year-long trip around the world. "[In] lots of places we weren't able to read the menu or necessarily know what we were getting, so we'd just go for it and ask the people there what they would recommend, so you can always be surprised. That always goes into my cooking."

Surrounded by foodies growing up, James said both his parents are great cooks, and his aunt and uncle have a restaurant in the South of France. Family holidays were anchored around two questions: where were they going to eat lunch, and where were they going to eat dinner?

"I worked out quite early on, if you want to eat good food it helps to be able to cook it too," James said.

While James' time may have been cut short, his experience in the MasterChef kitchen has propelled him to keep chasing his food dreams.

"It really has confirmed to me that food is something I love and that I want to continue," he said. Since leaving the competition, on the days when he's not teaching, James has been working at a kitchen down the road from home learning techniques and working as part of a team.

"I went in there with no delusions of grandeur, so if I have to peel peppers for ages or chop onions, that's what needs to be done! It's still really enjoyable and definitely something I want to keep going at."

MasterChef Australia continues Sunday - Wednesday at 7.30 on 10 and 10 Play