Palate Experts

Masterchef Australia Season 6 contestants Emelia (second runner-up) and Ranae talk about their passion for food.

Renae Smith (left) with Emelia Jackson Renae Smith (left) with Emelia Jackson

Q. For invention tests, would you go with the flow or fall back on techniques you have perfected? Could you narrate a particularly challenging episode while appearing on Master Chef Australia?

Emilia: I loved the mystery box challenge. My strength was in staying calm and organised. Mystery boxes generally gave us a chance to cook with ingredients that we were not familiar with, pushing us to invent and use our imagination to the maximum. I remember I had cooked one of my grandma's recipes and then I got emotional and lost a lot of time.

Q. What are your favorite cuisines when it comes to cooking and eating? Also, favourite dishes that you can whip up in an hour or so.

A. I like Asian food a lot. Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai are some of my favourite cuisines. I enjoy Indian as well but have not tried cooking it as yet; but I do want to try my hand at it now. When it comes to cooking, I love making classic French recipes and owing to my soft corner for desserts, I enjoy using different techniques and styles.

Q. How did you reconcile your own interests and your parents' plans for you?

A. My father runs a large and successful business and wanted us to concentrate on our education, but he has always been open to our ideas and thoughts. My parents are my biggest supporters and I have always been open to suggestions from them.

Q. Which cuisine are you not familiar with but still like dabbling in?

A. Indian cuisine is something that I could not experiment with so far, so I would love to try cooking it. There are a few places in Australia that offer Indian cuisine but they aren't that good.

Q. What is your philosophy when cooking under pressure?

A. General philosophy that I always follow is, to be organized and calm in whatever I do. If one is organised and just plans the steps, it gets a lot easier and less messy while working. It keeps the pressure off you.

Q. Who would you say you received the best guidance from between George, Gary and Matt?

A. With George, I have had a close relationship during the whole show as he was there to guide and help. Matt was always there to make the toughest situations light and easy and Gary was like a father figure, always generous and loving. He used to push me around affectionately because I was quite the cocky one.

Q. What are the signature dishes you make at home that your family loves?

A. Coming from a Macedonian background, cheese pie is a favourite but when it comes to weekday dinners, we prefer light meals such as salads or salmon. However, on weekends we try and experiment with ingredients such as French lentils, roasted chicken and staples of European cusisne.

Q. How was your experience of cooking in HIGH Ultra Lounge Bangalore?

A. The experience at HIGH Ultra Lounge was great. The HIGH team and chefs have been very generous and helpful. They are open to ideas and we exchanged ideas on how to rustle up things in the kitchen. It's been a great learning experience. The sunset view is lovely from up here, I simply loved it.

Renae Smith  

Q. What, to you, defines comfort food? Are you particular about eating gluten free or dairy free foods? If yes, how do you tweak your dishes in accordance with a particular diet?

A. According to me, anything that makes you happy and warm is comfort food. It could be an ice-cream for someone and cheese for someone else. Being vegan, I avoid animal products; so my food diet excludes dairy products as well. I don't have eggs and that applies to desserts as well.

Q. To what would you attribute your eclectic cooking style and fondness for herbs?

A. Indian cuisine would be my favourite. I enjoy the food. I like it because of the strong flavours. I like adding coriander leaves, red chillies because it's like adding a pinch of life and colour. I have not experimented with Indian curries yet, but plan to try very soon.

Q. How do you envision your dream cafe (the one you plan to open some day.) from menu to decor?

A. My dream caf is going to be unique. Firstly, it wouldn't have a fixed menu. I would make four different dishes every morning and the customers get to choose from that. This way I'll be forced to push myself and it'll pique the diners' interest too. A close friend of mine, Mathew Woods, is in the hospitality business and works on sustainable designs. He is going to design my caf. I'm pretty sure my caf is going to be an eco-friendly one.

Q. In terms of being a very young mum, how did you cope with the daily stress? How did it reflect in your cooking? Was it an outlet of sorts for you?

A. My first full time job was at the age of 15. I picked up things quickly and was not too bad at time management. I became a mother while I was still quite young and have never regretted it. I was very focused when it came to making time for my kids. I didn't really party or get drunk. Cooking for children is quite a challenge; I cook for my children's health and wellbeing.

Q.  Which of the dishes you make are your daughters' favourites? Things that they'd eat any time of the day?

A.  My elder daughter Kyah is a vegetarian like me and loves eating Nigerian Kidney Bean Stew which is made of tomatoes, kidney beans and peanut butter. Kyah can eat this anytime. My younger daughter Paris has a sweet tooth and loves chocolates, cakes and is very fond of chicken nuggets.

Q. What are the Asian dishes you love making? What are the typical Asian ingredients that you like to incorporate into dishes across cuisines?

A. I love making Thai and Vietnamese dishes. I tend to use coriander leaves, red chillies, cumin, turmeric and chickpeas in dishes across cuisines.

Q.  What was a particularly stressful or challenging episode for you in Masterchef? How did you deal with it?

A. The most challenging episode was when Tracey gave me an eel to cook with. I got traumatised and panicky. I could not really handle the situation and just cried throughout.

Q. Who did you receive the best guidance from and why, between George, Gary and Matt?

A. I had a great time with Matt. He was really sweet and helpful and was always there.

Q. How was your experience of cooking in HIGH Ultra Lounge Bangalore?

A. HIGH Ultra Lounge is pretty amazing. The experience has been very interesting so far. The Executive Chef Zhang Hao at HIGH is very knowledgeable and I enjoyed working with him to create an exclusive dinner experience for the diners.

Gaurav Mehra, General Manager, HIGH Ultra Lounge

Q. What is the essence of the event at HIGH Ultra Lounge involving the contestants of Masterchef Australia?

A. The idea was to give a treat to the serious food enthusiasts of Bangalore. Both Emelia and Ranae are strong personalities with very different skill sets in the kitchen. We wanted to create an event with these celebrity chefs that was about innovation, at its peak and an experience that will stay with everyone who was part of this, for a lifetime.

Q. What sort of engagement with diners does the event represent? Could you delineate it along lines of popular culture (Masterchef Autralia being quite a hit) and cosmopolitan food trends?

A. The dinner was designed to ensure every guest got a chance to interact with the two chefs. Right from the ingredients, to the concept, to techniques the floor was open for discussions; for people to get a chance to find out about current global trends in food, plating /presentation styles. Food is a very hot topic at the moment, people want to watch it being made on TV, watch chefs participate in cook offs and follow celebrity chefs. This is keeping in mind the interest of people at the moment.