Hello my fellow foodies, fans, friends and aspiring chefs. You may have read my intro section on the website and you have probably seen me on MasterChef of course, but, I thought it would be nice for you to learn more about me – how I got here, what makes me tick, my inspirations, my mentors, my life, family and well, what makes me…. me. We are, after all, multi-layered and complex creatures made up of childhood memories, favourite times and places and most importantly dreams and aspirations. Where we find ourselves in life is largely shaped by our experiences, so how did I end up on your television screens doing what I love so dearly? Let’s go back to the start…….
I’m passionate about many things but two of my loves in life are art and cooking; they’ve both been there as long as I can remember. Both go hand in hand and have always provided a wonderful creative outlet for me. It is certainly safe to say that both these areas of my life have been heavily influenced and nurtured by my family. My maternal grandfather, my ‘Opa’ was Dutch and a photographic journalist with the Dutch army, he met my ‘Oma’ in Dutch Indonesia – they married and spent some time in the Netherlands before relocating to Australia. They finally settled in South Australia where my mother was born and grew up, working hard, helping tend to the fruit orchards on their property. Opa enjoyed work and took pleasure as a painter, was passionate about timber and made the most wonderful furniture and so many clocks. I feel that some of my love for all things visual and artistic must come from my Opa. After graduating university I spent some time as a freelance photographer and I feel very fortunate to have shared this passion with him, I still occasionally use one of his cameras from the 1930s.
My Dad’s dad, my Pop, along with my Nan owned a family butcher shop in Panania, I suppose you could say that this would be one of my first direct links with something food and produce related! It was not the life my father wanted however, he finished school and trialed nursing in Callan Park at 18 years of age (quite an experience and at least a whole chapter’s worth of stories in a book that I’ve encouraged him to write). In the late 1970’s my Nan relocated to Noosa. Having travelled around Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and Sydney, both my mother and father decided that Noosa was for them as well and established the family home in Tewantin in the early 80’s.
My parents founded a scuba diving business in Noosa and some of my earliest and happiest memories include swimming and playing with my sister and the river kids in the Noosa River just near where their shop was located. The business tended to both the local community and tourists – providing ocean exploration and scuba diving education courses. This kind of life style on, in, or near the water provided us with a wealth of fresh seafood which I was learning to cook with from a very young age, I think crayfish were amongst some of my most favoured ingredients. The Scuba diving business also introduced me to education – watching dad teach new divers and learning myself all about sustainability, respectful fishing and being mindful of our oceans and finite resources and beauty in general. Growing up here gave me such a passion for fresh, local produce; it gave me an underlying connection with seafood. It helped me appreciate how lucky I am to live in Australia – a place so abundant with such a variety of foods, a climate so majestically able to produce such nutrient rich fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices.
We were encouraged to try all foods a few times, even when we didn’t think we liked something. This instilled an openness, bravery and fearlessness when trying anything new, which I thoroughly appreciate. I was cooking whole family meals by the time I was 8-10 years old, though consuming them may have been out of politeness, I cannot verify their quality.
My Mum always wanted both my sister and I to spread our wings and see what was beyond our family home in Noosa. With my passion for visual arts always actively encouraged by my family, I relocated to Sydney at 17 and graduated from the Fine Arts College UNSW with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Photo media. Following this I took a foundation year in Science – Psychology at Macquarie University then completed my post-graduate degree in teaching from the University of Technology, I thought, for a little while, that a career in art therapy might have been for me as I place much value on creative expression as a method for self-healing and general approach to good health.
During all this learning, I took some time out and honored my desire for creativity – I became a freelance photographer – working weddings and events etc. and exhibited my fine art photographs. It was a wonderful time and I learned a lot about myself, my art and the industry. Interestingly, my aunt (my dad’s sister) was also a photographer and graduated from the same university as me, she even taught me in one subject during my first degree. I have incredibly fond memories of my aunt who, sadly, is no longer with us. She was enormously creative and I feel she had a huge influence on me, some of which I’m still learning about. I always looked forward to her birthday and Christmas gifts as a child as they would almost always be something ‘artsy’. I think my Dad wanted me to be a musician and encouraged guitar playing from a young age… I much preferred drawing and as soon as guitar practice started to hurt my fingers and impede on my drawing capabilities, I gave it up promptly! I think it is fair to say though that with all members of my immediate and extended family providing tremendously varied influences throughout my life in music, visual arts and cooking, I have a developed a deep appreciation for everything creative, I see all three vocations as a completely universal language – something we can all use to communicate regardless of our heritage, spoken language, place or time in the world.
Just before MasterChef I had been working for eight years at a High School northwest of Sydney. I was acting head teacher of Creative and Performing Arts and I absolutely loved my job. So much so, that a great deal of my work since MasterChef has continued to include teaching and educating. It is something rooted deep within me, a desire to educate and learn with and from others and to constantly grow and develop myself.