‘It still sinking in’: Billie McKay on winning MasterChef Australia, again

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MasterChef Australia Winner 2015 and 2022 Billie McKay is still trying to process her historic win. Seven years after first entering the MasterChef kitchen, the restaurant manager once again took the coveted trophy home after impressing the judges with her perfect finale dish, set by none other than Chef Heston Blumenthal.

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Well-known for her experimental desserts and the ability to effortlessly fuse diverse flavours to create smashing dishes — goats cheese cheesecake with roasted grapes and grape, thyme and Verjuice syrup; saffron mousse with a cherry sauce and some white chocolate crumbs; white chocolate stirred with garam masala dessert and so many more — Billie not only lived up to the title of being the ‘Dessert Queen’ on the show but also made pressure tests seem effortless, and mystery boxes extremely fun!

In an exclusive email interaction with indianexpress.com, Billie spoke about her experiences on the cooking show, the season she enjoyed more, her biggest competition, and so much more! Read to know more:

You have made history by winning MasterChef Australia twice; how does it feel?

It feels unbelievable. I think it’s still sinking, and I don’t quite believe it yet. But yes, it’s amazing.

How, and in what ways, was the latest season different from your first experience in 2015?

It was quite different in some ways, but the same in others. I think this time around, I was able to be a little more present and enjoy it a lot more than last time — I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a bit older, maybe. I think, this time, the challenges were harder. I guess, they had to be considering there were returning contestants and 12 of the best home cooks in Australia joining. So yes, different, but the same.

With a win in your kitty, did you ever feel you had an advantage over other contestants, especially the fans, this season?

When I was first asked to come back, I wondered how it would all work, considering that half of us had done the competition before and we may have a leg up in that sense. But getting back in the kitchen and seeing how the format and challenges were set, where we were against each other right from the start. I felt like they did a really good job of leveling the playing field for everyone. That kitchen is such an equalizer once you’re under time pressures and have ingredient restraint — it’s anyone’s game really. So, it’s sort of levelled out pretty quickly.

How did you feel when you got to know the round two finale dish is a dessert and that, too, by Heston Blumental?

It was a bit of Deja vu, I think, for a second, and then it quickly turned into fear and terror, knowing that I would be attempting one of these desserts again because I knew it was going to be a long challenge. In 2015, it was five and a half hours, and this year it was five hours and 15 minutes. So, that alone is tough, you know, being on your feet for that long, and you’re motoring the whole time. You get quite exhausted. But yes, it was scary seeing him walking through that door.

You prepared many dishes in the kitchen, which do you consider to be your best?

I really, really loved some of the desserts I did. In the semi-final, I did a Lamington dessert that was sort of inspired by my nan’s cooking. Anytime I cooked dishes that were stemmed from a memory, and if the judges loved them and it all worked out, it was such a great feeling. But certainly, a lot of the things that I did like ‘White chocolate stirred with garam masala dessert’ earlier on, I really loved that one too. So, yeah desserts.

How challenging was it be away from your daughter for so long? What kept you going?

It was so hard even to say ‘yes’ in the beginning to come back to MasterChef. I knew that I could potentially be away from her for up to six months, depending on how long I lasted there, so I definitely had to consider that. But, the support of my husband and my family really allowed me to do it again. That really helped me. While I was there, every few weeks, my husband would bring her down for a visit so that really helped me get through it all. But yeah, it was definitely pretty hard.

Who did you consider to be your biggest competitor, and why?

Oh, I’d have to say, Sarah (Todd). Throughout the competition, she cooked so well. And towards the end, she was unstoppable. Really.

What plans do you have now?

Definitely having a little rest and spending some quality time with my daughter, Ada. But yeah, following that, I want to open a little restaurant of my own and cook all sorts of food that I learned and really love on MasterChef. So, I want to continue doing that and hope that that all works out.

If you had to pick one out of the two seasons you participated it, which would you and why?

The latest one, season 14. It was just so enjoyable, and I met so many beautiful people. I think this time around, I enjoyed myself more and met a whole heap of beautiful people so yeah this year for sure.

Do you think working at the Fat Duck gave you an advantage in the finale round since you understand Heston and his creations a bit?

I don’t think so. The pressure tests are always going to be hard; it just doesn’t seem to matter which chef sets them. There were no ingredients in that (finale) dish that I was familiar with from the Fat Duck. Also, it was a dish from Dinner by Heston, his restaurant in London. I never actually worked there and didn’t get to see that dish at all. It was completely new to me so I thought I might feel a little more comfortable seeing Heston setting the final challenge. But in a way, I think I would probably be more scared because I know how insane his dishes could be. So, I certainly didn’t feel comfortable, I felt terrified, I think.

MasterChef Australia S14 streamed and is available on Disney+ Hotstar.

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