The chemical engineer-turned-chef has since travelled all over the world with her cooking and launched her restaurant Ella by Minoli in Darwin last year, and has now opened up to Yahoo Lifestyle about how the reality show completely changed her life.
Why did you apply for MasterChef?
“I had seen so many people like Marion [Grasby], Julie [Goodwin], Billie [McKay], Reece [Hignell], all these people that were just characters in my mind from the show, and I saw that they had just pivoted from their normal, everyday jobs to having a world of food at their doorstep,” she shares.
“I just thought, that could be so cool. And I didn't do it going in with the idea that that's where I would end up. I just told myself if this doesn't work out, I'm gonna go into culinary school and become a chef, that’s what I want to be.”
How did your experience on season 14 compare to season 13?
“It was very different,” she says. “I think in season 13, we all had a very strong bond. Everyone was on a level playing field, everyone was new to this, and no one knew what the TV world was like. It’s like walking into Disneyland if you're a food lover, it's crazy.
“Season 14 though, I felt strong coming back. I was like, I'm not worried about the cameras anymore, I’m here for me. It was a very different approach that I think is more sustainable in the real world when you know who you are as a cook and why you’re there. That was very clear the second time I went on.
“Also, in season 13 we weren’t allowed phones on set but in season 14 we were because everyone had businesses to run. I thought it was really good and I thought it was conducive to a really healthy competitive environment.”
What surprised you most about the show?
“The thing that surprised me the most was how quickly your mess can get cleaned up,” she remarks. “It's like a SWAT team comes in and within a minute your kitchen bench, everything is clean. It’s like, how did they do this?
“It's like a slick operation and still to this day I miss having someone else doing dishes. I hate doing dishes! That was a luxury that I will never, ever get to feel in my whole life ever again.”
How did you navigate life after the show?
“After the first season, you realise that it's all on you to do the hard work. No one's coming up to you saying, ‘Hey, do you want a TV show? Do you want me to clean your dishes? This seems like a good idea, why don't you do this?’. No one is saying anything,” she details.
“I realised I wanted to do lots of different things and the restaurant was just another challenge. And then going on MasterChef I was like, well if I'm opening the restaurant, I'm going to make sure that my mindset is not just to benefit me but to benefit whatever I plan to do in the restaurant. And every cook meant I wasn't just cooking for me, I was cooking for a much bigger thing.
“We hadn’t come up with a menu or anything, so a lot of the dishes that went on the menu were from MasterChef. And when I went into any challenge I was cooking exactly how I wanted because that's how I wanted to cook in the restaurant.”
What else is on your bucket list?
“I would love to do some kind of travel show and travel around Sri Lanka, that would be amazing,” she shares. “Because I feel like the newer generation of South Asian cooks cook differently. There are lots of people living all around the globe and Sri Lankan food has evolved from what it used to be.
“That would be my next venture if I could figure out a way to get someone to do my dishes again. That’s the dream!”
What are you most thankful to MasterChef for?
“I love that in my season I just met so many wonderful people,” she says. “I got exposed to different styles of cooking, different ways of thinking, and I think the mentality that I left MasterChef with - cooking for flavour rather than a particular type of cuisine - that’s something that can never be taken away now.
“That mindset shift of how I cooked before to how I cooked post-MasterChef is chalk and cheese and nothing is off limits anymore. There are no boundaries in my cooking repertoire, and I have MasterChef and everyone involved in MasterChef to thank for that.
“MasterChef is honestly the best thing I ever did in my life, there is literally nothing better.”
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