It’s super cool and exciting. It’s like a big family reunion; the crew get dressed up for me, trying to spike their hair up into a mohawk. I have never meet such a nice, sweet and encouraging crew.
How did it feel to be involved so early on in the process, during the Judges Auditions phase, and to meet so many aspiring cooks?
I’m excited to see how they go. It’s an honour to be straight in at the start when it’s all kicking off, and to see how excited their faces were when I walked in. I was pumped.
What did you enjoy most about your experience this season?
I enjoyed being able to create something completely new just for MasterChef; it’s a challenge for me to make something new and fresh, too. Having a contestant cry when I walked in meant a lot, as you don’t release how much of a positive and inspiring impact you have on others.
How did it compare with your first time on the show?
The first time I was on [in season seven] I was nervous as anything; I remember my hands shaking so badly that I couldn’t quenelle my sorbet and I was freaking out. I couldn’t sleep due to nervousness, but now I can’t sleep due to excitement.
This season, you once again host a Pressure Test where contestants have to replicate your incredible dessert, Firecracker; why did you choose this particular dish for the challenge?
I was asked to create something that reminded me of my childhood and I remembered playing with my cousin Steve. I was a tomboy, and when we were kids we could legally buy firecrackers. My grandfather also used to take us to the milk bar to buy candy; I remember Bliss Bombs, pop rocks, chocolate and other great treats.
So I thought of firecrackers and junk food and created something from there. I wanted to think outside the box. I didn’t want [the dessert] to explode as I didn’t want to send the wrong message; it’s a firecracker and not a bomb. It’s fun and exciting and gets everyone jumping away.
I also love the design on the outside. It’s pop art and super heroes as I was a comic fan and still am today.
It’s 76 steps so it’s not an easy challenge at all. It couldn’t be overly difficult as it’s only the first week of MasterChef, although in saying that I didn’t hold back on the techniques and skill required.
What inspires you to create these out-of-this-world desserts?
I’m inspired by so many things. For me, it’s about a reaction, a talking point. I have already planned my next challenge if I get invited back next season.
How (or when) did you know that your future was in food and cooking?
My mother is one of the best cooks, so I was made to cook from a young age. I was always helping her in the kitchen. We got fresh fish from my uncle, a fisherman, or just went into the garden. My family were all about food, bringing people together and loads of eating.
Who or what keeps you inspired in food and cooking in general?
I see cooking as a lifestyle, not a job. If I can get up every morning and do what I love, then I’m very lucky. A lot of people don’t get that opportunity. I work in a great company [Anna is the Executive Pastry Chef at the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney] that gives me the freedom to be creative.
If you were a contestant this season, what would be your signature dish and why?
It would have to be the Firecracker. The textures, colour, and let’s not forget the hidden surprise inside, would have everyone talking about it.
Do you have any advice for our contestants, or any aspiring chefs out there?
Surround yourself with like-minded people, people who will inspire and allow you to develop your skills and techniques. Take an opportunity on a great show like MasterChef to build the dream. Stay humble and be like a sponge and absorb as much information as possible.
Do you have any exciting new projects on the boil that you can share with us?
There’s always something happening. I’m the ambassador for Kenwood Kitchen Appliances, and I have a cookbook that will be out next April, fingers crossed. There’s talk about growing within the Shangri-La Hotel and going international with the Anna Polyviou brand. Everything else is a little secret, you’ll just have to wait and see.