MasterChef winner Emelia Jackson reveals why she originally turned down season 12

MasterChef winner Emelia Jackson reveals why she originally turned down season 12.

Video transcript

EMELIA JACKSON: And I kind of took the pressure off and thought, I don't need to win it. I don't need to do well for anyone else. I don't need to beat my original position. I just was going in there saying, I'm just going to have fun, like this is just going to be an amazing experience.


I am from Melbourne, and I always had that dream of opening a Melbourne cafe. So that was my dream, and I wanted to be a chef forever. My parents said, yeah, you can absolutely be a chef as soon as you get your degree. So I finished high school, went to uni, got a marketing and psychology degree, and then got into a marketing job and thought, oh, maybe I don't want to go back and keep studying.

And then someone at my work actually said, oh, I saw applications for MasterChef were open, so you should apply. And in my mind, I was like, well, if I get on, that would be a great platform to open a cafe from, great sort of marketing platform, and exposure, and all of that type of thing, never thinking I would ever actually get on, or do well, or anything like that. So it was a real whirlwind when that happened.

Oh, the experience was incredible. I don't think I could have ever anticipated what that experience was going to be like. You know, you're living in a house with 24 strangers. You don't have your phone. You've got no access to the internet.

So it's kind of amazing, because you connect with people on this real, genuine level. Then you're all bonding over this common love for food, and because you don't have any of the distractions of the outside world, you form these really intense, fantastic friendships. So that's not something I ever considered when I was entering into MasterChef. I thought we'll just be cooking, and that would be fun.

So there's this whole other side to the series that people don't get to experience. It was really amazing, and it gave me a lot of confidence in my life to meet new people, and how to connect with new people, and that type of thing. So in that aspect, it was an amazing experience.

In terms of filming, it was so much fun, but the other thing you don't see is how much downtime there is during the day. So I thought you kind of rock up on set, you get straight into the kitchen, you cook for your hour, you get judged for an hour, and then you go home. It's not like that at all.

You rock up. You might wait around for two or three hours, while everything's happening. You cook for an hour. You might wait around for another two or three hours, while they're resetting the room and having lunch breaks. And then the tastings, where they taste everyone's dishes at the start, when there's 24 contestants, that goes for, like, eight hours. So you're standing in the kitchen like, oh, my god, I'm going to collapse.

So it was totally different to what I expected. The fun and the creativity is what I expected and definitely exceeded expectations for me, but just the reality of filming TV is very different. It was really tough, because I had no idea what it all looked like and what it all meant.

You go from these highest of highs of filming, and being creative every day, and immersing yourself in one subject and all of that. And you're back into your real world, where there's all these things that you have to start managing, again, and yeah, like I said, I jumped into restaurants. I think had I had gone from school and become a pastry chef, it would have been a different story to going for MasterChef and trying to become a qualified pastry chef. Because MasterChef, it's so different to the reality of the hospitality industry, I mean, especially as a pastry chef in a fine dining restaurant.

You are doing one dessert a day, you know? And that's all you're making. You might make the bread and that one dessert, and then you start the earliest, because you have to make the bread. And then you finish the latest, because it's the last course to go out. So I was doing 16, 17, 18 hour shifts, making one thing every day for months on end.

So that is just so far removed from what the experience of MasterChef is that it was kind of a big crashing down for me. It made me think I don't want to do this at all. This isn't at all what I was wanting to do.

And kind of around that time, I think, is when Instagram started really picking up, and there was a lot of cake creators on Instagram that started making their presence known, like Katherine Sabbath, Clifford Lu, Cakes by Cliff, Don't Tell Charles. All these amazing cake makers started sort of popping up and gaining a lot of popularity, and I've always loved baking. So I thought, OK, that's something I can do from home, while I navigate what the next permanent thing is for me.

Well, I actually originally wasn't going back. So it was a really, really hard call for me, because they were filming from January, until sort of June. And that was my peak wedding cake season, and I had built my business up to this really great business. And I thought, if I walk away, this is potentially going to end my business for me. I'm going to have to start from scratch, and I'm going to have to get new clients and work out all of that again.

It wasn't an easy decision for me just to say, yeah, I'm going to go back on. I didn't have a shopfront or anything like that, so it wasn't like I could just put someone else in charge, and walk away, and come back to the same business. So I wasn't going on originally, and I think we got the initial call to go back on in, like, June, July.

So August, it was like, no, you're not going back on. And I made peace with that decision, and I had taken on then a whole lot of wedding cake orders for that time. And then I got a call in, I want to say, December, late December, and it was like, we really want you on. Someone else has pulled out. Can you, please, come on? And they started filming, like, two or three weeks later.

And I just thought, all right, I'll go on. Like if I'm getting the call back, you know, the MasterChef gods are pulling me back into the kitchen, so I went back. Wild, and I had taken on all these cake orders. So I was at the beginning of filming. I was filming all week, and then I would race home and bake cakes at night.

A lot ended up getting canceled, because COVID hit in February of that year. So it was just for the January that I was baking every weekend, but I was like, this is too much. COVID Was a blessing in that regard.

I feel like, season 12, I was so much less competitive, because I think I was 24 in season six, and I was 30 in season 12. And I think just that sort of six years of maturity, I was able to see that. As an adult, you don't get many opportunities in your life for fun, for just completely no responsibility, fun. And I thought, this is just going to be a really fun experience for me, and I kind of took the pressure off and thought, I don't need to win it. I don't need to do well for anyone else. I don't need to beat my original position.

I just was going in there saying, I'm just going to have fun, like this is just going to be an amazing experience. So that was kind of my thought process, until I think around sort of top 10. And then I started thinking, well, this is a good opportunity. I should probably try to win this.

Definitely my cookbook, I started writing it when I had my daughter Addie, and I kind of thought like, oh, babies sleep all the time. This is fine. I'll write this book. And we had pitched it to my publisher as a baking bible, so I knew it was big.

But I'm a pretty sort of laissez faire person. I'm kind of like, it will all work out. We'll just make it all work, but it was such an enormous feat to get this book written in five months. Seeing it come to life, I don't think I've ever been more proud of anything in my career as my cookbook. So seeing it come to life, it far exceeded all my expectations of what we would produce, the team that worked on it, and the way it's been received has been so incredible.

I think I'm most grateful to MasterChef for the experience. I think MasterChef, both experiences really shaped me into the person I am today. I think it gave me so much more confidence within myself, and that's something I'm really grateful for.

Oh, I've had a second baby, so obviously, I'm writing a second cookbook just to really give myself a lot of anxiety and pressure. So that will be coming next Christmas. So that's the next sort of big 12 month project for me, and then I am diving back into the world of packet mixers. So that will be next year.