Out of all the contestants who came back for this year’s season of MasterChef: Fans & Favourites, Mindy Woods was probably the one who found it the most difficult to adjust to the new format.
Not only was she returning to the cooking competition 10 years after finishing in fourth place, but she was now being judged by the person who won her original season, Andy Allen.
Chatting with Yahoo Lifestyle about her experience on the show, the self-proclaimed Native Food Queen admits it was “definitely weird” walking into the kitchen and seeing her former co-star standing up the front.
“It was super weird. Like, there is no other way of describing it,” she shares. “But you kind of just have to find a groove. The judges are very much kept pretty separate from the contestants throughout the series and they’re there on set when we walk in.
“But in terms of the downtime, there's not a lot of time that you get with them outside of that so it's kept very professional and above board.”
She adds that it was “a lot of fun” reuniting with Andy on-set and she looks forward to catching up post-show where they can laugh about the experience.
“I think it was actually probably really difficult for Andy to have to judge people who are colleagues and friends of his, that’s a tough gig,” she shares.
“It's not easy to do and we definitely gave him a bit of a stir up and we were trying to stitch him up as much as we could just to have a bit of a laugh and take the heat out of it.
“Because obviously there is a serious aspect to the competition but when it comes to food, it's all about connection, community and sharing stories. So we wanted to make sure that we were all still enjoying that important part of food as well.”
“We had so much fun,” she remarks. “I mean, it's crazy to think that throughout that cook, Julie, Billie and I forgot we were actually in a competition and someone was going home.
“We just had this amazing energy and sisterhood pack where we just wanted everyone to do well and we wanted to make the judges’ decisions super hard. And when it comes down to tiny little technical things, especially when you're not a dessert queen, I was really proud of what we all did.
“It was so much fun to go out cooking against people that you love, respect and admire and just have a really good time with it. I know that sounds crazy being a pressure test, but fear and competitiveness didn't even come into the equation on that cook.”
Differences between season 4 and season 14
Mindy went on to describe her experience on season 14 as “completely different” to her first time on MasterChef for a number of reasons.
“We went from being in lockdown in a house with 23 other people for like six or seven months the first time, to now being put in a beautiful apartment having the freedoms of being out and about and having social media, which we didn't have last time,” she details.
“And then the format of the show was very different, and the judges were obviously different. Their likes and dislikes and what they enjoy in food was very different from Gary, George and Matt. So having that new experience and trying to take that old experience out of the mix was something that I had to do pretty early on in the competition.”
She also says one of the best parts of the experience was getting to mentor the Favourites “to get their food to the next level”.
“I loved being able to coach and guide the fans and we’ve got a great connection because of it,” she adds. “I absolutely loved it.”
While she didn’t end up winning MasterChef this time around, Mindy is keeping busy with her restaurant Karkalla in Byron Bay.
“We just revamped the menu and I'm back on the pans cooking and educating our guests on beautiful native food,” she says. “We've also got a program at the moment that we're getting up that is trying to put native food gardens in all the primary schools around Australia.
“I believe that the kids are the future and they are such a sponge for information and they love the idea that food isn't just an ingredient. It's got a connection, it’s got a history, it's got a culture, and they love finding out about First Nations culture through food.
“So it's a big thing on my bucket list to get native food gardens in all the schools around Australia and we'll be doing that as of this week, which is really exciting to be a part of.”
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