With over 2.5 million people watching, Kate Bracks from Orange was recently crowned the MasterChef Winner after a blockbuster finale against Adelaide’s Michael Weldon.
Spending seven months in lockdown, then to be thrust into the spotlight of a nation has been daunting for Kate Bracks, but she’s doing it with a smile. On the first day as the winner, Kate did no less than forty-four interviews for the press as the MasterChef juggernaut hit overdrive.
“I’m running on pure adrenalin at the moment,” she said. “I did over forty interviews yesterday, but today I went on ‘The Circle’ which was a heap of fun. Yes, its very surreal, but I recognise that this is a whole world of opportunity and experiences…so I’m just enjoying it.”
Dedicating her win to her family – husband Luke and children Erin, 8, Liam, 6, Maya, 4 - who were by her side during the announcement, Kate says their influence on her cooking was “enormous”.
“My family has been an incredible support and influence, particularly Luke,” she said. “To see him to be so willing to take on all the parenting responsibility and to keep spurring me on has been incredible. Luke is the reason I’m still here because I don’t think I could have done it without him.”
Kate is the second mum to win the contest after Julie Goodwin took out the first title in 2009, which begs the question as to why mothers make such good cooks.
“Mums get lots of practice, and with cooking its something that whether you feel like it or not, you have to do it every day, so I try to enjoy it.
“I’ve always loved cooking so if I had a bit of time to spare I would put some extra creativity into it.”
Known as the ‘Dessert Queen’, the thirty six year old from Orange knew that she’d be cooking outside of her comfort zone to progress through the competition.
“I think because I’ve always been more comfortable with desserts that I knew that I could cook in a calm fashion, and when I’m in my comfort zone it means I can enjoy it more. When I can relax and enjoy my cooking I think that’s when I bring out my best dishes.
“Michael made such an improvement in his cooking over the competition, especially his desserts so I knew I couldn’t rest on my laurels and at that point of the contest, one slip up could cost you dearly so I never at any stage thought it was in the bag.
“As time went on I got a lot more confident about mixing flavours, and finding out what worked, which freed me up.
“When I came in I just didn’t understand so much about the balance of flavours in dishes, I would just always throw together food that I liked. I learnt that dishes need to have a mix of textures, not just a bunch of flavours.”
Having three children under nine years old, it was tough on Kate, but thankfully the makers of the show were sympathetic to her needs.
“It was about seven months in total that I was away from home, that was easily the hardest part of it for me, as you never take the ‘Mum’ hat off.
“The producers were very sensitive to the needs of a parent during production. There were Skype calls on weekends and there were times when the family would come and visit so I could get an hour or so with the family. The makers understood that the children have needs too, especially with them being so young. They need physical contact with me, and I don’t know that I could have kept going if there was no contact with them.
“I think it got easier for them seeing mum on TV when the show started going to air. But from January to May they didn’t see me on TV at all, and I had already been in so long by that stage. I thought I’d be there only for a couple of weeks but after a month or so I started to wonder how long it would go on.
“It has prepared them for any travel I’ll do in the future, but the beauty now is that I can base myself at home and they know that when I’m away it will only be a couple of days before I’m home, so it will be easier on them now.”
For now, Kate is looking forward to returning to Orange, and start work on her cookbook.
“My plan is to try and teach basic skills for desserts, then take that to the next level. For example, making a meringue, then going up to make a Lime Meringue Pie or Chocolate Hazelnut Torte. So it will be a book about teaching, then creating. Desserts are so yummy, and easy to make. It will be good for people who want to try something new and different.
“Desserts need to be eaten in moderation, I teach my kids it’s a ‘sometimes’ food, but you still need to be able to eat them sometimes…just twice a week maybe?”
For now, Kate is looking forward to just two things when she returns home.
“I’m just looking forward to a good nights sleep, and lots of cuddles with the kids…just to hug them whenever I want will be great.”
Finishing second in any MasterChef series has not stopped new careers taking off, and Michael Weldon from Adelaide is well aware of that.
Previous winners, runners up and contestants have all gone on to have their own TV shows, write books, and even have a range of foods on the supermarket shelves.
Being from the South Australian capital, its something that isn’t lost on the twenty five year old who is embarking on a new career.
“We’ve had three runners up and a winner from Adelaide. I am biased, but there is so much great produce in this area. I live just twenty minutes from the beach. I can chuck a line in anytime to catch some great fish, and there’s your dinner.
“George always says to me that the Central Markets in Adelaide are the best in Australia for produce, and I tend to agree, and we have great wine areas too. What we lack from Sydney and Melbourne in dining, we make up for in produce.”
It’s well known that Michael got his application in just fifteen minutes before the deadline, and only did it because his housemate said that if he did it there would be some beers in it as a reward.
“I can’t believe it that something that started as a joke, that we laughed about, has now turned into this, and its been the best six months of my life. Its more than a TV show for me, its made me realise what I want to do. It’s changed my life.
“I was pretty lucky compared to some of the other contestants. I was working part time as a projectionist at a cinema and they said ‘take as long as you want - if you want to come back that’s fine, but if you want to make a career out of this go for it’, so they were really supportive. I can always go back and watch free movies which is a bonus.”
Being a guy in his mid twenties and having his phone, internet and computer taken away from him for months on end turned out to be an uplifting experience for Michael.
“I actually loved not having a phone…you can get so much stuff done. I could just cook without interruptions and I liked it. I don’t mind having some of our freedoms taken away, as it allowed me to concentrate on cooking, and all I did was focus on food. It was so nice to be in that ‘food bubble’. I had a couple of fiction novels if I needed a break, and we had access to some sports channels so I could stay in touch.”
Michael never thought he would get as far as he did, thinking that two other housemates were going to go all the way.
“I thought from the start Billy or Hayden would win it. Hayden just had his confidence about him. I was there with him so many times in a panic and he was just so cool about everything. Billy was also amazing, especially with his desserts, he just blew me away.
“Every single challenge that came up I would just think ‘I can’t do this’. When I had to cook for the Dalai Lama I had absolutely no idea what to cook. One challenge I’m glad I didn’t do was Adriano Zumbo’s Gingerbread House…that was just mental, I was so glad I missed that one.”
Michael’s jump for joy when he was told he had made the final has been called the most real moment of this year’s series.
“I can promise you that jump was as real as it gets, I would do it again. I was just so shocked and so happy. I was so chuffed to make the final.
“Yes, it’s scary how much stuff I have to do in the next few weeks, and I feel like I could sleep for a week. But the best thing is that these opportunities are popping up that I would never have had before, so I just want to get involved.“