Take us through the day you were crowned MasterChef 2016; what was going through your head? How did you celebrate?
I felt like my body was pumping with equal parts nerves and excitement. My mind was constantly racing; the end was in sight and I knew that, regardless of the outcome, I had done everything I possibly could.
I got flustered during my first cook and let the cheering and pressure of the situation get in the way of me having a really fun cook. After that, I had a few moments to gather myself, and I shook off all the negativity, nerves and fear. I felt like myself again in the main course dish and was having a blast.
Celebrating in that kitchen with the judges, Matt [Sinclair, MasterChef 2016 runner-up] and our families felt like [my win] was for everyone, [for] what we’d all learned, endured and experienced together.
What have you been up to since the big win?
I’m currently preparing for my website launch. It’s a hub for all my favourite food-related topics, styles, ingredients, philosophies; a place to connect with my dedicated audience and fellow food-lovers. I’ve also been working with Delicious magazine, which has been a tremendous learning experience.
I was honoured to cook for the King and Queen of The Netherlands for the Farm2Fork Summit in October last year, and I got engaged in November!
Can you describe how you felt about returning to the show as a guest chef this season?
I was delighted to meet [the new contestants], be inspired by them, see their bright, enthusiastic and nervous faces as they approached what I now know is a positively life-changing experience. They don’t know just how good they truly are yet, which I think is sometimes where the magic is created.
What did you enjoy most about your experience this season?
When you’re a contestant, you have no idea what [the other contestants are] doing; you’re so focused, as you should be, on your own cook. What was especially fascinating [as a guest chef] was [seeing] how each contestant approaches the same challenge so differently.
You’re hosting the season’s first Mystery Box where contestants had to cook with ingredients selected by you, including blue swimmer crab, macadamias and lemon myrtle; why did you choose these ingredients in particular?
I chose blue swimmer crab because I wanted to include a seafood, but perhaps one that is often underutilised. I love using nut meals as a gluten free option, but I thought ‘let’s make it extra Aussie’ and choose macadamias. Lemon myrtle is one of my favourite indigenous Australian ingredients; it’s super versatile and a somewhat comfortable introduction to native herbs and spices for those contestants who hadn’t tried any before.
Who or what keeps you inspired?
I have a small group of valued and trusted loved ones who encourage and support me, because embarking on a new career is scary, daunting and a massive learning curve.
Do you have any advice for the contestants, or any aspiring chefs out there?
You have to do what makes you happy. Surround yourself with people who support you and believe in you. Practice, repeat, practice, repeat… Be willing to work hard. And be grateful, always!