How important did food become to you when you were unwell?
I’ve always found joy in food and investigating food as medicine became no more important than during that time. I became very interested in understanding food beyond flavour and texture. I explored the very crucial emotional and health implications of food then because there was a time where I’d have to psyche myself up for days just to walk to the end of my street to buy groceries, which was not a very good state of affairs at all, to be honest with you.
But through a correct diagnosis, supplements and good nutrition, I was able to slowly get better. But that time was a great exercise in patience for me because, as I’d lived my life at full throttle previously, I hadn’t been very good at patience. I had to slow down, I was forced to, but it was a good lesson to learn.
Did exercise become important to you too?
Yes, Pilates especially is my go-to. I’ve really missed my Reformer Pilates sessions during lockdown because I’m someone who likes to workout with a lot of toys! But since I’ve been spending more time at home I’ve really embraced mat Pilates.
It’s amazing that you can use your own bodyweight to exercise, and it’s something everyone can do with no need for a huge budget. But being able to go back to a Pilates studio has been a real joy for me too.
How gratifying is MasterChef’s current success for you?
I am so grateful. It feels really good to be in this position. When I do run in to people who love the show, they’ll most commonly say ‘thank you for not stuffing it up’ to myself, Jock [Zonfrillo] and Andy [Allen]. It’s incredibly flattering.
How do you handle negative criticisms or online trolling?
My strategy in regards to being in this very public space is to just focus on what I do well, be grateful for the positive aspects and to just own who I am. I’ve spent a very long time learning how to be comfortable in my skin and that’s the best I can do. Not everybody is going to like what you do. Nobody is universally loved and I think when you can accept that you can focus on being the best version of yourself you can be. As for trolls and the like, I don’t want to let any of that noise weigh me down so I’m not paying attention to any of it at all.
Will we be seeing you, Jock and Andy back for Season 13 in 2021?
I am very open-minded to the possibility of doing MasterChef Season 13. We’ve had an incredibly successful season – which is still ongoing – so in due course what comes next will be revealed. I guess if COVID has taught us anything, it’s to be grateful for what we’ve got.
Where did your passion for food come from?
My parents are from Singapore, they’re Singapore-Chinese, and food is part of their DNA. My mother especially is a tremendous cook and my brother, who’s five years younger than me and about to graduate as a doctor, and I were always in the kitchen. I was born in Australia and grew up in south Sydney, but I was always the kid who brought weird lunches to school.
Weird lunches that the other kids wanted to try or that you were made fun of for?
No, I was lucky. I absolutely loved being able to take yum cha to school for lunch but if I asked my Mum for a ham and cheese roll, she’d make me a totally extra ham and cheese roll too. It would be on the most amazing sourdough roll, with seeded mustard and double smoked ham. So other kids would then want to swap their Vegemite sandwich with me. I also craved what the other kids had so it was a win-win situation for me.
That food FOMO thing has carried on. When my friend goes for dinner with his husband, he makes him order the other thing on the menu that he wants. I can totally relate!
How have you and your husband Joe handled the way life has changed for you since MasterChef?
Not much has changed for us really. The pandemic has been more impactful. Everyone knows hospitality industries have really suffered lately but Joe was lucky in that the bar he co-owns was well prepared for the shut-down and it’s actually been really nice to be able to spend time at home with him. Anybody who’s married to anyone in hospitality knows that you don’t really get to see them in the evening so that’s been really nice.
What’s downtime like for you two?
We’ve been reading a lot of books and playing a lot of music because Joe’s a musician too. We’ve also gone down a bit of a rabbit hole in watching old films. We’ve just done the Godfather trilogy again. I think we’ve both been falling [in] love with all the classics and embracing things that stand the test of time, be that making sourdough or finding the time to read F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Your cat Ghost has also become quite the internet sensation, hasn’t he?
Yes, I find it absolutely hilarious that the internet has decided that they like my cats – we also have Ghoul, who doesn’t like being photographed! I absolutely love my cats but I’m not one of those cat people who expects everyone else to love my cats. They’re our two little buddies though and they bring Joe and me so much joy.
MasterChef is aired worldwide – are you prepared for international fame and recognition when we can travel again?
I’m aware that the show is huge in places like India, South Africa and the UK but I’m not dwelling on that. I do feel like I’ve landed the job of a lifetime, even amid all the current insanity. I’m very lucky.