Welcoming Tipo 00’s Andreas Papadakis back to the kitchen, the judges revealed to Steph, Alvin, Billie and Montana that they would be recreating his ‘Tipomisu’ without ever seeing a recipe. Instead, the four chefs would have to replicate the dish as best as they could, only using a review written by Melissa Leong herself.
When Steph saw Andreas walk through the doors, immediately her heart sank as she attempted to remember how many eggs she uses for her pasta recipe, recalling the late-night conversations she had with other contestants about the differences between egg noodles and pasta.
“When they told us it was a dessert and we wouldn’t get to taste it and we had to read the review I was slightly terrified,” Steph told 10 play. “When it comes to cooking on the fly and recipes, I tend to just wing it which is not great in a pressure test!
“I just go by instinct and wing whatever I’m supposed to cook, and hope that it comes out like it’s supposed to come out.”
Taking her time to make sure she understood the clues within Mel’s review, Steph got started on the Tipomisu but, nearing the end of the cook, she realised she had forgotten to add the vanilla bean to her brownie.
“It was such a small mistake,” she said, adding that when she had tasted the brownie it still seemed fine enough. “When I think about how brownie recipes are written, vanilla is usually optional so I’m like eh, it wouldn’t be too bad!
“I was happy with how [the dish] looked, I did take a little bit of artistic flair and interpretation on some bits and I completely forgot that I was supposed to replicate and not recreate or do my own spin on it.”
Going with her gut, Steph said she plated it how she would have wanted, rather than following the exact instructions, but the missing vanilla and the slight changes to the plating were enough to make her dish stand out during the tasting.
When it came time for the judges to reveal that she would be leaving the kitchen, Steph admitted that she wasn’t surprised whatsoever.
“I didn’t think anyone made mistakes so, to forget something I knew was going to put me in trouble, even if it was a minor thing.
“I’ve seen people go home when they’ve forgotten a small element, so I wasn’t surprised, especially when everyone else had pretty smooth cooks on the day as well.”
Having reached the Top 12, it’s clear the judges are being forced to split hairs when it comes to dishes now that the standard in the kitchen is so high.
“Everyone is incredibly good,” Steph agreed, “it’s crazy how good everyone is and how everyone has progressed! So I knew a small flaw was going to get me into trouble.
“The smallest things are sending people home at this point in the competition.”
Earning herself the title of Cake Queen this year, Steph’s love of desserts became a signature as others in the kitchen whipped up savoury dishes challenge after challenge, she was always trying to come up with creative ways to incorporate and show off her skills with sweets.
“I have grown up in a household where we love to cook, but mainly savoury, and I loved to eat sweets so I guess it was a necessity on my part,” she said. “I wanted to eat desserts but mum wouldn’t cook them for us, or I couldn’t find them outside so I was learning so that I could eat what I wanted to eat.”
Though she had considered applying for MasterChef in the past, she felt like she didn’t have the core skills to back her up like deboning a chicken or knowing how to fillet different types of fish. With more time on her hands during lockdowns, Steph began to practice.
“I was just watching a lot of YouTube videos… I was filleting a fish every week or so, cooking it but also just filleting it as well instead of getting the fishmonger to do it for me,” she said, laughing.
With her new arsenal of skills, she applied for MasterChef, curious to see where it would go. “I was surprised I got through… it’s been interesting to go from ‘this would be a fun experience’ to make it to the Top 12. I did not see that coming.
And while Steph had practised savoury dishes, her instincts would often lead her to lean into her dessert tendencies.
“It’s more methodical but, at the same time, there’s flexibility in terms of flavour combinations and trying different techniques,” she explained.
“Obviously within 75 minutes it’s a lot easier to cook something savoury but, I wanted to do more sweets and put it out there that you could do a couple of things quick,” Steph continued.
“I learned a couple of hacks to speed up some of my cooks, but there were times when I was like, ugh, I just need another hour where I can at least set something in the fridge!
“But you learn how to stabilise, you learn how to use the pantry to its full extent. There are things in there that will help with cooking sweets. I mean, there are so many strong savoury cooks it felt stupid not to do something sweet when it made me shine out a little bit, as something different.
“I just went for it and did what I love.”
Now out of the competition, Steph said her first priority is to take a breather and to appreciate the MasterChef experience as a whole.
“When you’re in the moment you don’t really reflect on it and take time… it was an experience where I chased the dream, and I can’t believe it happened. Now it’s figuring out the next thing.
“I’m testing the waters and planning for it, but I’m just going to have to go with the flow!”
MasterChef Australia Fans & Favourites airs Sunday - Thursday at 7.30pm on 10 and 10 play on demand