We see everything happening at lightening-quick speed. Are you allowed some time to plan out what you're going to make and brainstorm recipes?
They’ve got to give us a safety briefing basically and even though it’s repetitive every single time, especially during COVID we need to make sure that there’s distance between everyone and they reiterate that with washing hands, sanitising before you start cooking. So we have about five, 10 minutes max while we get everything prepped and ready to go to just have a bit of a think and you think that I would’ve changed my mind over that thinking period but I didn’t and I stuck with my broccoli dish!
And then they do that thing where they plant the seed of doubt in your mind – they did that with Poh with the pie. If you had half an hour and they plant the seed of doubt in your mind, it literally feels like you have 10 minutes to go, the whole cook. Because I haven’t had any professional training through kitchens, people saying that I may have done something wrong that you could fix like Jock and Andy who have hatted restaurants I would listen to them because I don’t have any background knowledge to say otherwise so that is even more pressure.
How do the new judges compare to Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston? A lot of contestants have said they're just different.
I think that’s it, they’re quite different is a really good way of saying it because they are and they’re absolutely perfect for the role. Who’d have thought six people could be perfect for this role? Three people who really set the foundations for MasterChef Australia globally and then you think they’d be really hard shoes to fill but they absolutely nailed it.
Mel speaks beautifully, she knows her food and she’s fantastic, Andy’s a more grounded human being and Jock is the hatted restaurant guy who has the technique as well. As a team they mould beautifully and really get along well which makes our job that much easier.
Is Jock scary? He seems like he is the most intimidating.
He either loves it or he looks at you going ‘You’re an idiot.’ [Laughs] He’s absolutely right – the guy has so many years of experience under his belt and you can’t argue with someone with that level of knowledge.
You just missed out on top 10 but as we get closer to the end, which remaining contestant do you reckon is the biggest dark horse?
I don’t know whether Callum counts as a dark horse because he’s always in all the ads but I still think he’s that quiet achiever. And then there are the beautiful people like Brendan and Emelia – people who are kind-hearted, they’re not there for the limelight but just doing great work and cooking beautiful food all the time so fingers crossed!
You and Callum seem very close, was he your MasterChef bestie?
He was my roomie in the hotel. We got along so well, we actually miss them dearly because my partner and I, Callum, Callum’s wife and the baby were all in the room together and we cooked dinner together every single night. We can’t wait for these restrictions to lift because we’re going straight to Adelaide to see them.
And what's he like as a new dad?
Oh my gosh he is the best, he’s so good! Crystal [Callum’s wife] puts so much beautiful effort into it as well, she’s in there day in day out with him. It’s more than a full-time job as anyone can understand and they have a business as well so it’s super important that they work well together. Ella’s just a shining light between them, she’s fantastic.
What's next for you now MasterChef is over?
We’re running a Sustainable Earth Network which is something I launched between season 11 and season 12. We did our first season which is on YouTube but basically my primary focus is to explore the spectrum of sustainability through thought-provoking content about humanity and how we eat and our culture. We really want to be the ambassadors towards food sustainability, fighting food waste, zero plastic and things like that so we’re working on our second season now.
How has COVID-19 impacted you?
I’ll be opening a couple of smokehouses in India – it was meant to be this year but that’s been pushed to early/mid next year when the borders open. But what it’s done is got me to sit on my ass and do the stuff that I hate doing which is computer work – proposal writing, emailing.
People think once you’ve finished TV or MasterChef you walk into this world of fame and money and it’s just not that true. You literally walk into unemployment and no income – you’ve got to work hard, there’s no ifs or buts about it. Even when you do sometimes that just doesn’t work out.
If you look back through all the seasons especially the ones I’m in, there’s only a few that stick around in the food industry and can sustain themselves because it’s a tough industry to work in and people aren’t interested after a while. You kind of have this one year time and then next year starts and you become old news so in reality you’ve got to really solidify a concept for an idea and keep working at it. But if you find yourself dilly dallying and not focusing on one concept or one idea and making it brilliant, then you will just end up falling by the wayside and find yourself not getting to the food world that MasterChef gave you.