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It has been an awesomely busy 12 months absolutely chocka-block-full of rewarding work, tremendous opportunities, wonderful people, fascinating places and delicious food!

MasterChef has opened up so many doors for me, cemented my desire and love for creating and cooking and provided me with the platform I needed to share, educate and continue to learn about all that this industry and culinary passion has to offer.


I have taken great pleasure in continuing my work in education. It was bittersweet to have to leave my job at Galston High School when I entered the MasterChef house. There is a part of me so dedicated to teaching and educating that I feel wherever I end up, it will follow me, guide me and inevitably be at the heart of everything I do. I have been very fortunate to have run a number of cooking workshops and master classes for our aspiring young chefs, incredible young people, disadvantaged children in and around Sydney, teaching them all I have learned before, during and since MasterChef and sharing with them the joy, inspiration and serenity that can be found when we create and learn together. I see so much value in creating awareness about using our local produce, understanding where foods come from and how sustainability affects our world, how we can be more respectful of our ingredients and our farmers – support their industries, minimise our waste and cook with what is seasonal, local, organic and delicious! I have also been working with behavioural and special needs students teaching them leadership, hospitality skills, world cuisine, cooking techniques and home economics – they’re thriving; it is joyful and rewarding work.

Much of my day to day has been spent building this lovely new website – a hub for all my favourite food-related topics, styles, ingredients, philosophies; a place to connect with my dedicated audience, fans and fellow foodies – let’s build this community together. I also continue to take part in cooking demonstrations all over Australia, keynote talks to high school students and teachers and MC’ing at various foodie festivals. My continued work with charity is important to me too, this last year I have been an ambassador for FebFast, who help youth workers supporting disadvantaged youth – I gave up sugar and alcohol for all of February, which was very rewarding. I also supported BarbeCURE for Cancer and the Greatest Australian Morning Tea, all of which hold special places in my heart and I thoroughly support their on-going, vital work.

You will have also seen me in Delicious Magazine, of course, sharing with you some of my favourite seasonal recipes and a few Elena insights. Working with the great team at Delicious has helped me learn so much about another side of this industry, it is a very exciting and educational process, and they are so passionate about what they do. Before my work began with Delicious, I also wrote a few articles for local and national papers regarding seasonal produce (I think you may have gathered I hold high regard for good seasonal produce), tips, tricks and also some recipes.

There is almost too much to mention, but I’ll talk you through some of my absolute highlights both in and out of the limelight…..

October and November last year was a pretty busy and exciting time for me. My partner Eric and I got engaged which was an unbelievably special time for both of us – so as well as everything else, wedding plans have also been at the forefront of my very full mind! I had the honour of attending the RaboBank Farm2Fork Summit on Cockatoo Island. For those of you who don’t know, the Farm2Fork Summit is an absolutely enormous coming together of the international food and agriculture industry. The primary focus is on examining the challenges of global food security, future innovation for farmers and all produce-related businesses and a showcasing of groundbreaking concepts in food.

The 2016 summit also coincided with the 400 year anniversary of Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog landing on Australia’s west coast and so Dutch Royals King Willem – Alexander and Queen Maxima were invited to be the headline guests, pretty exciting for me with my Dutch heritage. I was asked to cook for them at the Summit, which was an utterly thrilling experience! It was a very proud moment indeed, to present the King and Queen with my semifinal dessert of
Apple, Bickies and Cheese inspired by my childhood snacks and Dutch spiced cookies. Luckily for the thousands of other punters, there was plenty to share – more than I had ever imagined creating!

Early June saw me jetting off to India for World on a Plate festival. I visited both Mumbai and Bangalore for a truly culturally rich and wonderfully educational experience, which was one of a kind. The festival is India’s biggest international food festival and celebrates the very best of local music, culture and of course food! I had the honour of joining some of the best in the business; providing cooking demonstrations, judging competitions and attending the all-important Q and A sessions along with Ranveer Brar, Janice Wong, Gary Mehigan and Adriano Zumbo. With over 7000 people in attendance at both Bangalore and Mumbai, the festival was busy, breathtaking and intimate insight into India’s way of life. I was made to feel so welcome and was immediately embraced by the truly gracious and kind people of both cities. Their pride in their culture and history was an unrivalled inspiration to me. My favourite part of the trip, aside from all the delicious food, was connecting with the people, meeting so many passionate food fans and gathering all sorts of recipe ideas and flavour techniques for my own cooking and for sharing with all of you of course. One of the hotels in which I had the pleasure of staying served an unbelievable ground lamb omelette which I may have to adapt, perhaps it will make a debut on my website, stay tuned. The festival worked closely with several local charities both utilising leftover food and benefiting underprivileged young people, and I was very grateful to be a part of this vital work while I was there.

Roll onto the beginning of August – I was invited by Janice Wong to attend and assist at the 20th anniversary of the Iron Chef Allstars at Sydney Opera House. To say I was excited is an understatement. For those who don’t know – The Iron Chef was a very popular Japanese TV show in the 90’s – a cook-off type show (a style of show of which I am very fond of, naturally), contestants would take on one of the resident Iron Chefs in a cooking battle with a themed ingredient. You could say that the show paved the way for MasterChef. This fantastic event was the 20th Anniversary of the show’s final broadcast in 1997 and was a celebration of the incredible chefs that featured on the show and their history. The evening featured a 6-course degustation menu designed by the all-star chefs and some truly exhilarating entertainment also provided by the chefs. I was privileged to assist the food prep and plating up with some of my biggest cooking inspirations – Rokusaburo Michiba, Hiroyuki Sakai, Kenichi Chen, Masahiko Kobe, Kentaro Chen and of course my friend and pastry guru Janice Wong. What’s more is the event was held all in aid of Opportunity International, a super charity providing families living in poverty some of the financial support they need to transform their lives.  

I have also spent some time at the William Angliss Institute – Australia’s largest centre for foods, tourism, hospitality and events training, and, where I actually auditioned for MasterChef. The institution offers a full certificate of degree programs and training. Education and being a part of educating is where my heart is, what I enjoy most. The biggest opportunity I see from my MasterChef success is this platform that it has provided for me on which I can teach and continue to learn myself. My work at the William Angliss Institute has included general mentoring of some of the students and the hosting of a delicious cook off competition which involved a lot of overindulging at an enormous buffet created by the students and then a bit of judging at the end.

Travel and food and connecting with community have been an incredible highlight through the last year.  I think I’ve seen more of Australia in the last year, while demonstrating, connecting with farmers, producers, locals, sampling local cuisine, regional produce and learning about speciality food products.  I continue to treat every activity and experience as an opportunity to learn and grow – I thrive when learning and absorbing from passionate experts in their field and I look forward to passing much of this knowledge and experience on to you.  

Most recently I have been working tirelessly to put together this foodie hub/cooking community for you all in the shape of my website. I did take three weeks off for a well-deserved break though. I visited America for my cousin’s wedding and did some travelling around with my fiancé and my family. I have seen so much, done so much and…..eaten so much! I look forward to filling you in on my USA adventures in a dedicated holiday blog…coming soon.

Elena

xox

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Doesn’t that sound familiar?!

It is such a heartbreakingly common statement that I know so many of us can relate to. I’ve gone through emotional and physical positivity, appreciation and gratitude, and then the extreme opposite; anger, fear, chronic pain, depression and anxiety when it comes to how I view my body, it’s capabilities, it’s limitations, it’s ever-changing shape, weight, texture and beauty.

I had done most of my growing by the time I was 12 years old. I was almost 6ft before I’d even reached high school. I was a giant, long-legged freak – I was torn between enjoying being treated like a grown up and just wanting to be like all of my friends. I wanted to play the girl role in my jazz dance class, not the boy, but still preferred the boys’ costume. I enjoyed being in the back row for class photos, but I was usually the only girl.  My size and presence were in a continuous battle with my image and understanding of femininity.

I was reasonably proud of my muscular legs that I’d earned through daily activity; snorkelling in the Noosa River and swimming in the ocean or pools… that is until one day I overheard one of the most desired and popular young men at the school comment that I had “nice legs but my skirts were way too short”, hilariously and ironically I was already wearing the largest size uniform available from the school. I had no choice otherwise I’d be ignoring school rules, and I just didn’t do that. I was excited to try out for the school Netball team that same year. I didn’t make the A-team because I’d, “…grown so much so quickly, and just didn’t know how to use my body,” with my limbs and height all over the place.

I was never particularly interested in designer fashion, not because I didn’t like pretty things, but because I got used to having to wear women’s clothes as a child to ensure they fit adequately, appropriately and practically. As an adult, even less exciting options were available in the curvy/ plus size sections and even today they often reflect asymmetrical patchwork quilts rather than flattering, age-appropriate, empowering ensembles. I’ve often found myself somewhere between the largest size in regular and then venturing into plus size clothing, a lot of which just isn’t flattering. I know that all you wonderfully curvy women out there hear me!

When my well trained, strong and healthy body lapped a young man several times in my year 12 class PDHPE 90 minute snorkelling challenge, and my gender-biased teacher immediately claimed my dishonesty (because how could that possibly have happened?!) I was definitely angered, upset and enormously frustrated because the truth, as witnessed by the whole class (including said lapped young man, now with very bruised ego) was let fall along the poolside.  My value as a female, my value in my healthy and capable body, was totally dismissed.

Along with various diagnoses including Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome in my early twenties and just this year, Endometriosis, came various prescribed medications. Some of which dulled some symptoms but created others, including significant weight fluctuations and changes in my shape. In truth the only time I have ever felt truly satisfied with my appearance was when I was running 10km a day and eating a very strict diet (we all know that is no fun and certainly not maintainable!) My strength, pain tolerance and fitness have all been affected by both not medicating and medicating my symptoms, making everyday life feel like a challenge at times.  I love to exercise- I have rowed, played netball, played basketball, attended many gyms, used PTs, done yoga, I have run, jogged, walked and swam what sometimes feels like a whole ocean. Sometimes my pain and pain induced exhaustion makes it impossible to get out of bed, to stand up. Frustrated with an endless deluge of medicated quick fixes… I was determined to find the cause. I just couldn’t understand why people wanted to treat the effects rather than the cause.

In the last 8 to 10 years, with some extensive research and a particularly wonderful doctor, I’ve learned that some of my body changes have been due to a variety of health concerns and diagnoses.  My first endocrinologist (wonderful doctor, as mentioned above) blew me away when he told me the ‘story’ of my growth and behaviour accurately, based on his 40+ years of studying Insulin Resistance. He also told me that insulin resistance was to blame for my small feet and hands – not freakishly small, but sometimes I wonder how I don’t fall over more often – this causation has always made me giggle. All of these challenges and indeed the revelations have driven my fascination with body nourishment; food for fuel, food for healing and food for sheer enjoyment – it is amazing the affect a happy mind can have on the body!

When I’m feeling capable and strong, I love my body; I appreciate my body for all that it can do, and I look forward to reaching my goals, seeing improvement and tracking my progress.  I love my body for being a precious vessel, which carries me through this incredible life.  I love what my body enables me to be involved in. I love that my body can surprise me with its strength, endurance, recovery and miraculous healing.

Sometimes I feel happy with my appearance, and sometimes I don’t. More often than not, the days that I don’t are related to the expectations of others, external pressures and imagery associated with beauty and success – moulds that I simply don’t fit.  Most of those days I can talk myself around by practising gratitude and gaining a little perspective. Unfortunately, there is the odd day when I really beat myself up and let those feelings impact on my self-worth and value. I know that this negativity is in all of us and sometimes it just gets the better of us.

On top of all that (as if that wasn’t enough!) I’m also gluten intolerant, aside from the variety of undesired symptoms that come along with this intolerance (blood sugar spikes and falls, painful digestion, a variety of eczemas and very inhibiting inflammation), some of the world’s favourite, traditional and convenient dishes are full of gluten – how boring! A little-known fact, out of the 60 dishes I created in MasterChef, only two of them contained gluten – this didn’t seem to disappoint three of the world’s best and most discerning palates.  I was determined; I am determined, to create delicious, nutrient-rich, beautiful food without anyone missing out, including me! I don’t, and I never wanted to be coined as ‘the gluten-free’ chef, it simply doesn’t encompass everything I do.  I also get a lot of my enjoyment from cooking for others enjoyment, and sometimes that means cooking dishes for my loved ones that I don’t or choose not eat. But, if you are like me and have to listen to your body and find a way to work in harmony with it, then be sure to browse through my free food recipes for perfectly satisfying alternatives for all our scrumptious favourites and pantry staples.

All of these experiences have driven me to seek answers, to seek control, to seek a healthier approach, mind, body and soul; to find a way to thrive and prosper, to work with my beautiful body and not against it.  I like to cook; I like to grow, I like to connect with farmers and producers, I like knowing what I’m fuelling my body with, I like knowing what I’m putting into my mouth, I like being aware what I’m sensitive to, intolerant to and also what makes me flourish. This is just some of my motivation for creating healthy alternatives to some family favourite recipes, alternatives to my favourite cuisines, using ingredients and methods that allow me to be my best self without missing out on all the joy associated with eating.  I look forward to sharing ongoing tips and tricks with you and likewise, I’m happy to hear from you – your stories, your favourites, healthy alternatives, your successes or challenges and how you overcome whatever challenges you face.

Elena xox

PS. Reflecting my diet choices, being gluten free and watching my sugar in-take too (an unfortunate consequence of being insulin resistant), I thought I would share with you an undeniable food staple, something most of us hate to love and definitely something that needs to be a free food for me….Bread.

I don’t eat a huge amount of bread, but to have the option on hand is convenient.  I keep mine in the freezer to prolong its longevity and to allow for my intermittent toast cravings. Here’s a favourite bread recipe of mine, of which there are several easy variations depending on your personal preference.  

It doesn’t require kneading or proving; it’s filling, satisfying and above all it’s delicious!

Start baking!

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