MasterChef Australia season 12 winner Emelia Jackson on her win, upcoming projects and love for Indian food
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Emelia Jackson spoke about her journey on MasterChef Australia: Back to Win and what lies ahead
MasterChef Australia’s 12th chapter, Back to Win, featured some of the show’s best participants from previous editions. From 'MasterChef royalty' Poh Ling Yeow (season 1 runner-up) and Callum Hann (season 2 runner-up) to Tessa Boersma and Simon Toohey from the last season, Back to Win raised the stakes — and the temperature in the kitchen — pretty high.
But it was Melbourne-born psychology and management graduate Emelia Jackson who took home the coveted trophy along with $250,000 in award money. Jackson had first appeared on the show in 2014 (season 6) where she was eliminated during the semi-finale round, having attained the third position in the competition. Her close friend Laura Sharrad, who finished second in season 6, competed with her for the Back to Win title in the final round. Jackson's journey in this season was among its biggest highlights: from being an underdog who was intimidated by the who's who of the MasterChef family, to emerging as a force to reckon with.
In an email interview with Firstpost, Jackson spoke about her journey on MasterChef Australia: Back to Win, and what lies ahead for her. Edited excerpts:
Has it sunk in that you came back to MasterChef to win, and did? What have been the biggest changes in your life since you bagged the trophy?
The feeling is slowly sinking in. I don't know if winning something so huge ever really sinks in though. I am definitely still pinching myself. I launched my packet mix of financiers on the night of the finale and I have been so busy trying to get them all posted out in the midst of this pandemic, so that has definitely been my number one change so far.
If you were to rewind back to the day when you were approached to participate in this season's competition, what made you say yes? What did this opportunity mean to you then?
It's quite ironic because originally, I wasn't doing it. I was asked again in December (we started filming three weeks later) and I am so glad I said yes! It's such a special experience, MasterChef, so I had to go back.
Coming back on this season with some of the most well-known faces of the MasterChef family, were there any apprehensions as such? Was there any added pressure to compete with the best of the best?
I was so nervous. On day one, I looked around the room of contestants and I thought — well I don't stand a chance here. So I decided to just make it the best experience I could, and not worry about making it to the finish line at all.
What major changes did you notice or feel in this season as compared to season 6 — in terms of the complexity of the competition, the judges, the overall response?
There were so many changes. Firstly, in season 6, we all lived in a house together for six months. We didn't have our phones or internet so were in a way, cut off from the real world. This time around, we were in our own hotel rooms, could come and go on weekends as we pleased, had access to our phones, internet and real lives. So in that regard, it was very different.
The new judges brought a breath of fresh air to the competition. They were light-hearted, fun, well-spoken, knowledgeable and represented diversity. It was incredible to get to know them.
And the response of the show was massive. I think when COVID-19 hit Australia, people were searching for positive distractions, and MasterChef proved to be that.
Unlike most of the contestants who have had a professional kitchen/servicing experience in the past, you were presented as more of an expert in patisserie and desserts. How did your experience and mastery in patisserie help you in devising and plating up savoury dishes?
Professionally, I focus purely on baking/desserts. But in my personal life, I am obsessed with savoury cooking. I love experimenting with new cuisines, cooking techniques and flavour combinations. So while I had the least amount of kitchen experience of the group, that didn't mean I had the least amount of savoury cooking knowledge. Being able to master patisserie is a skill laced with science, attention to detail and perfectionism. So it definitely helps me be a better all-round cook.
What according to you was your toughest cook in the competition and what was the most enjoyable one?
The toughest was the Paris Brest elimination where Khanh went home. The four of us in that elimination were great friends so it was very emotionally charged.
My favourite cook? The semi-final with Martin Benns' apple. I just felt so in my element, so confident and in control, I had the best time doing that pressure tests. Plus, I love pressure tests — they're my favourite challenge because they are a great equaliser of skill sets. Everyone can excel at the food that they cook all the time, but are you adaptable enough to excel at someone else's food?
In his congratulatory note on your win, Callum wrote: "My favourite thing about you Emelia is your dry humour and quick wit, which in the stress of MasterChef challenges is worth than some snazzy recipe." Throughout this competition, even during the finale, we never saw you rattled, there was always this calm and composed demeanour with which you approached all your cooks. What is the secret? Are your witty quips some sort of defence mechanism amid all the stress?
Haha... I don't really feel stressed by much in my day to day life. I have the ability to internalise any stress I am feeling and turn it into focus, which is a great thing to be able to do. But overall, any anxiety or stress I felt in the MasterChef kitchen I always saw as a positive. Most people work best under some type of pressure. And the witty quips? They just can't help but escape!
As compared to season 6 when you'd come into the MasterChef kitchen as an amateur, what have been your major takeaways/learning from this season, in terms of culinary skillsets, industry knowledge and life skills in general?
I think coming into the competition at 30, rather than 24, was a completely different experience for me. I am so much more confident now than I was back then. I am so much happier with my life — I have a great business, an amazing partner, I own my own home and am just generally in a great stage in my life. I think this really helped me approach MasterChef with positivity and gratitude for the experience, which in turn, kept me in the headspace needed to take out the trophy.
The biggest thing I am walking away with from my win is that your attitude to experiences is everything and can ultimately, make or break you.
What's next for Emelia Jackson post the MasterChef title? ?
There's so much happening... I am currently working on my product lines so that everyone can bake delicious and easy cakes and desserts at home without the stress. Beyond that, I am working on a cookbook — a baking Bible! And I am also in chats for my own TV series.
We know that you've been to India before. What is your take on Indian flavours and what are your favourite Indian dishes? And if Emelia Jackson had to "pimp up" any Indian dishes, which one would it be and what will your version be like?
Indian food is the best. I love coming to India because the food there is so different to what we get in Australia. The regional cuisines are all so diverse and interesting and I can't wait to bring my partner back to India so he can discover this too. He loves food maybe more than I do.
I am actually making a lot of Indian food at home during this lockdown. I've rediscovered how amazing it is, now I just need to get myself a tandoor so I can make real naan!
I wouldn't pimp a thing about Indian food or flavours. They are magic.
All images via Facebook/Emelia Jackson
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