In Conversation With Billie McKay, The Girl Who Took The Masterchef Australia Title Once Again

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The latest season of Masterchef Australia has fans and favourites competing with one another. As someone who’s been a long-time fan of the show, I was quite excited to watch amateur cooks and experienced chefs head into this cooking battle. While the fans gave their best, the finale saw two favourites, Sarah Todd and Billie McKay go neck to neck in the competition, with Billie emerging as the winner of Masterchef Australia once again! She practically created history by taking the title twice (she’s also the winner of Season 7).

You might wonder how it’s possible for a past contestant to win again. But take it from someone who has been watching this show religiously–Billie has showcased immense growth–from sticking to her strength of making desserts to going above and beyond with great savoury meals (how can we forget her spin on the beef tartare with wasabi?). With the last challenge being a pressure test set by Heston Blumenthal, where she had to replicate his Taffety Tart, many will admit that it is tough to beat the dessert queen–a title she deserves after making the many perfectly-plated and tasty desserts, especially the one she pulled off in just 40 minutes!

Although she has worked with Heston right after winning Season 7 back in 2015, she admits it was terrifying going into the final cook. “I knew what he is capable of. I knew it was going to be a really hard dish. Having worked for him before, I thought maybe I’d feel a little safer and more comfortable. But as soon as I saw that dish, all that went out the window, and I just felt sheer terror at the look of that dish,” she says.

 

In a tête-à-tête with ELLE, Billie shares what it was like for her to lift the trophy the second time, and how her experience was this season.

ELLE: Congratulations on winning Masterchef Australia once again! How do you feel?

Billie McKay (BM): Thank you so much! It’s still sinking in. It’s been nearly a couple of weeks now. I think it’ll hit me one day soon. And I’ll just go ‘Oh, my goodness, I won it!’ So yeah, it’s pretty crazy.

ELLE: What made you come to Masterchef Australia again? 

BM: I think it was just a feeling deep down inside, I never would have thought I’d say yes. Well, I never would have thought I’d get the opportunity to do it again. So saying yes this time around, I had to consider a few things–I have a baby and I knew it would be really hard to leave her. But it was just a feeling of ‘Yes, I need to do this for myself, and get my cooking identity back.’ And it was a perfect time and the perfect opportunity.

Billie McKay

ELLE: Tell us about your final cook. 

BM: It was pretty intense and a very long challenge (5 hours and 15 minutes). The dish was so delicious though. It’s such a shame all the viewers can’t taste it through their TVs. A lot of the time with Heston’s dishes, people wonder if they taste as good as they look because they often look unbelievable. But the thought that goes into the flavour of his dishes is just as much that goes into the look of them. The cook was hard. I had to redo a few elements twice. And that certainly put me back in time. But I’m very glad that I did that. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have come out with the win. 

ELLE: How has your experience been this season as compared to the last? 

BM: Similar in some ways. Walking into that kitchen, it looks and feels the same. But because there were returning contestants that had years of experience in professional kitchens, the challenges had to be harder to level the playing field. I found it a lot harder than last time. The challenges felt like they got shorter. The pressure tests seemed harder and less achievable. But that made it feel more worth it in the end.

ELLE: Did this season help you find a culinary direction? 

BM: It certainly did. I definitely wasn’t cooking creatively as much as I used to. I think having a baby probably put the brakes on that a little bit. But getting back into that kitchen and having the access to all of the ingredients and equipment has definitely brought this spark for cooking and given me more of a cooking style. 

Billie McKay

ELLE: What style of desserts do you want to specialise in?

BM: I really love doing desserts with savoury flavours. I loved using different spices or even a whole lot of vegetables that may not have been used in desserts. It’s sort of an angle that I really enjoyed playing with. I think that will be a road that I’ll keep going down and investigating and hopefully come up with the more unusual but tasty desserts.

ELLE: How do you deal with the pressure in the Masterchef kitchen? 

BM: It’s very high pressure. The time limit they set for challenges is exactly what you see on TV, so you really feel the heat. I think I dealt with it by trying to stay as calm as possible. It worked out but as soon as you panic, things sort of fall apart pretty quickly. So yeah, if I felt stressed underneath, I tried to look calm so that I could just move on with what I had to do next and not get too stressed out about it. But sometimes I was faking it. Anyway, it worked for me. So that’s the main thing.

ELLE: What are your top three moments from this season? 

BM: I really enjoyed the pressure tests, especially the Kirsten Tibballs chocolate cake pressure test. It just had a really lovely feeling to it that whole day and such an honour to cook one of her desserts. I really enjoyed doing the Josh Niland Tuna Wellington as well. To put a piece of tuna where usually a piece of beef would go and make a sauce from the tuna bones that actually tasted like a beef sauce was really eye-opening. And of course, the finale has to be the top moment. Can’t leave that one out. It was very special getting those scores from the judges. And probably getting a 10 from Mellisa is one of my favourite moments.

ELLE: How was your experience with the new judges this season?

BM: I was definitely nervous going into the kitchen with new judges, not knowing what they were like or what they love to eat. It felt like a whole new competition. It would have been different with the old judges. I’m really glad that the new judges are in there because I think they do such a great job. Andy’s been there before as a contestant so he knows exactly what we’re all going through. Jock ran a three-hatted restaurant in Adelaide and is a fantastic chef. And then Mel is just beautiful. I can’t speak more highly of her. She really helped a lot of us through those hard days. And a lot of us aspire to speak about food the way she does.

ELLE: What are your future plans? 

BM: I definitely want to keep cooking. I’m so happy that I did MasterChef this time around because it’s really sort of pushed me to pursue that. So I’d love to open a little restaurant soon.

Want to know more about Justin Narayan, the winner of Masterchef Australia last season? Read all about his journey here

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