Following her guest appearance on MasterChef in 2013 where she enchanted the judges and contestants alike with her whimsical dessert, Eve, Kirsten Tibballs has been known as the ‘queen of chocolate,’ and rightly so.
Having baked from an early age, Kirsten took a pastry apprenticeship at age 15 and never looked back. She has gone on to become one of the world’s most respected pastry chefs, with two cookbooks, a pastry school, several magazine columns and TV appearances under her belt.
Kirsten returns to MasterChef to kick off Sweet Week - celebrating sugar, spice and all things nice - with a Mystery Box unlike any other.
You’re no stranger to MasterChef, having appeared in season 5 and season 7. Can you describe how you felt about returning to the show this season?
I actually started with Junior MasterChef, which was fantastic. I love the platform that MasterChef gives and it was a pleasure to be involved once again. It’s amazing to watch truly talented people who are so passionate about food progress throughout the series.
What did you enjoy most about your experience this season?
I loved the challenge this season! Creating the Mystery Boxes and making a lifelike object that’s edible was really exciting. The element of surprise on the contestant’s faces was brilliant.
How did it compare with your first time on the show in 2013?
My first appearance on MasterChef was during 'Love Week' where I showcased a recipe from my book [Eve, pictured below]. The atmosphere is still exhilarating yet supportive, but there’s no doubt that the contestants’ skills have advanced.
Can you note any changes in the calibre of the contestants, or any other changes?
The contestants definitely have a broader knowledge of all cooking applications and are of a higher standard than I’ve seen before. For amateur chefs, the talent is really impressive.
Your decadent dessert Eve featured on the show in season 5. It’s visually spectacular, as are your other creations. How important do you think aesthetics are in this field?
Innovation and constantly testing recipes is key when creating products that people haven’t been seen before. We are attracted to patisserie products from the way they look but with a savoury dish we often order it from a menu without seeing it. We eat with our eyes first, so creativity and well executed products are essential.
Your interest in pastry began at a very early age; what or who got you started and why?
I was sick when I was a teenager and didn’t do much schooling but I adored cooking and creating my family’s favourite dishes. From there I became more focused on desserts and began decorating cakes. My parents always supported what I did and encouraged my passion in food.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by nature and French patisserie classics that I like to give a modern twist. I also work with very passionate pastry chefs at Savour [Kirsten's cooking school] and we inspire and encourage each other with new ideas.
Do you have any advice for our contestants or any aspiring chefs out there?
MasterChef is a great platform to launch your cooking career, it exposes you to such a variety of cuisines and a great deal of pressure. You must be passionate, hardworking and never stop learning - always be open to new techniques, styles and flavours or else you will never evolve or grow as a professional.
If you were a contestant this season, what would be your signature dish and why?
It would have to be my Midnight tart. It’s comprised of a coconut pastry base, an exposed layer of chocolate mousse, raspberry jelly and is covered with alternating strips of raspberries and marshmallow. Topped off with a shiny thin chocolate disc with holes to expose the raspberries and marshmallow underneath. This tart is very technical but is beautiful and of course contains chocolate which is one of my specialities.
Having travelled extensively for your career, how do you think Australia’s chocolate and pastry scene weighs in on an international scale?
There are so many exceptionally talented pastry chefs and chocolatiers in Australia. We are now recognised globally as one of the world leaders. We have certainly closed the gap that even up to 10 years ago was obvious that we were years behind.
How helpful were your skills as a teacher at Savour when you came to interact with the contestants?
They were certainly valuable but I find it challenging not to try and help the contestants more when I see them doing something wrong. I love giving them little tips and you can see instantly that they feel more confident about what they are doing.
We know you have a bit of a sweet tooth, but do you have any savoury dishes you particularly enjoy?
I love all the things that are not good for your waistline! George’s [Calombaris] Feta Chips with oregano, garlic and oil from Gazi restaurant are divine. Another favourite is Le soufflé Suissesse which is baked soufflé poached in cream and cheese. I also love making pasta with my 11 year old son Charlie, anything from gnocchi to ravioli.
More about Kirsten
The Melbourne-based chef has represented Australia in many overseas competitions including the World Pastry Championships in Las Vegas in 2004, where she was named world champion for her handmade chocolates. In the same year, Kirsten also won gold in the live patisserie competition at the Pastry Olympics in Germany.
As well as competing, Kirsten has judged a number of international competitions including the World Chocolate Masters in Paris, the Patisserie Grand Prix in Japan and the World Chocolate Masters National selections in London.
In 2002, Kirsten opened the Savour Chocolate and Patisserie School in Melbourne, where she’s both head chef and owner. At this state-of-the-art facility, everyone from experienced chefs to keen foodies can develop their skills and expand their repertoire under the guidance of expert Australian and international chefs.
Four years after opening, Savour School launched the Savour Patissier of the Year competition, attracting some of the world’s best patisserie competitors. The competition returns in 2017.
Kirsten’s debut cookbook, Chocolate To Savour, won Best Photography in the UK at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, and her second offering, Chocolate: Luscious recipes and expert know-how for biscuits, cakes, sweet treats and desserts, is just as exquisite.