From her first win back in 2015 to competing and bagging the title once again in 2022, Billie Mckay has proved that she is a force to be reckoned with. The new MasterChef Australia winner says the win is still sinking in. She talks to us about appearing on the show this time around, her learnings from the show and the new bonds she’s crafted with her fellow contestants.
MasterChef Australia S14 winner Billie Mckay on her journey so far
Congratulations on winning MasterChef, twice, this time. How would you describe the entire experience?
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Billie Mckay: Well thank you first for the congratulations, it still feels pretty unreal! Yeah, I think it was harder this time around. The first time around I didn’t know what to expect, I was just sort of thrown into it. But this time around, I knew I would be going up against past contestants as well as the new ones, and I knew how hard those new contestants would fight for it, and also, how much experience all the past contestants had. So, I was pretty scared. I think I hadn’t cooked a whole lot in the time – I mean, I was cooking regularly, but not in that creative MasterChef style – so I was definitely a bit nervous to come in again.
But, I think the atmosphere was a little nicer this time around. I don’t know why. I think we all bonded really quickly, maybe because some of us had done it before and knew what to expect. So, there was a bit of camaraderie amongst the contestants, which was really really lovely.
You mentioned in your introduction tape that you had lost yourself a bit over the last few years. How did you find the motivation to come back and compete with the best of all seasons – winners such as Sashi Cheliah and Julie Goodwin, and other terrific contestants such as Sarah Todd, Tommy Pham and others?
Billie Mckay: I had my daughter (in between the two seasons of MasterChef), and I think most mums would probably agree that you sort of get buried in that newborn baby, little child phase where you don’t really know what you’re doing and you lose a little bit of yourself. I certainly wasn’t cooking as much as I used to, and not enjoying cooking as much as I used to. So I think that fact alone made me go, “Oh yes, I think I need this (participating in MasterChef) right now.” I never would have thought I’d do it again, because I never thought the opportunity would come up, firstly, but secondly, because it is quite a stressful environment, and I didn’t think I would put myself through that again.
But, I had this strong feeling that I should say yes to it, and it was pretty nerve-wracking. I had to take a lot of things into consideration, but the overriding feeling was, “Yeah, let’s just do it again and see what happens. Nothing terrible is going to happen, I might get eliminated first, I may make it halfway, who knows!” But yeah, it was just that gut feeling that I need this, and I think I wanna do it.
And then you emerged the winner, and I think that’s the icing on the cake!
Billie Mckay: Yeah, absolutely! The icing on the cake, yeah, I somehow made it through all of those very hard challenges. So yeah, very cool!
What were some of the best moments that you had on the show?
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Billie Mckay: I think the pressure tests. I actually really, really enjoyed them and I suppose I can say that now because I made it through all the ones I was in! There’s something different about the pressure tests. I guess you don’t have to think a whole lot about coming up with a dish of your own, you’ve sort of got the recipe and you just have to tackle it. I just had to get to work and get everything done. And of course, you’re cooking these beautiful dishes and you learn so many techniques, you know, like Kirsten Tibbal’s chocolate pressure test. I learnt so many things from that, and you can sort of carry that into other challenges ahead.
Any favourite dish of yours, that you cooked?
Billie Mckay: I certainly loved doing desserts this time around. I’ve always loved cooking and eating desserts. But I guess in Season 7, I didn’t cook a lot of desserts, and I think that was probably because Reynold (Poernomo) was there, and he was so good at it! And even John (Carasig) was fantastic with desserts. So yeah, I did have a bit more confidence this time around, thinking that “Okay, I might be able to do a few desserts here.”
In some mystery boxes, you wouldn’t get a whole lot of dessert ingredients, but I was leaning more towards something sweet. So, I could incorporate ingredients that I never would have thought to use in a dessert, you know, have varying success out of that. Sometimes it hit the mark, sometimes it didn’t. But yeah, those desserts were really fun.
Talking about food, what is your comfort food?
Billie Mckay: Probably desserts again! I love old classics like sticky date pudding and chocolate fondants and all those sorts of warm, saucy desserts, that you can amp up with different flavours and spices. I’m a bit of a sucker for those ones.
Have you ever visited India? If not, where would you like to visit first?
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Billie Mckay: I went to India quite a few years ago, after Season 7, to do a bit of chocolate tour – which was something I didn’t really associate with Indian cooking. But that just shows how varied it is! I didn’t get to see a lot of the country because we were so busy with the schedule, but I’d love to get back there. I love Indian food and yeah, I’d love to see it in its own country.
After talking to Sarah (Todd), I’d love to visit Goa. It sounds absolutely beautiful. I’d love to check out her restaurant (Antares). The seafood there sounds unbelievable. Yeah, I’d love to go there.
Any favourite culinary destinations that you have?
Billie Mckay: I did a bit of travelling with my husband a few years back and I think Spain was probably my favourite. I love seafood so much, and the seafood there was just beautiful. I did a dish on MasterChef that was sort of a memory of that Spanish seafood cooking and yeah, beautiful, beautiful food.
What are your plans for the future? Anything in the pipeline?
Billie Mckay: Well, to start with, I want to have a bit of a rest, and then some time with my daughter. Maybe go on a little holiday with my family. But I definitely want to continue to keep cooking, so I’d love to open a little restaurant here where I live. It’s a tiny little place on the East coast of Australia (in New South Wales) and yeah, there’s not a whole lot around here, so I’m thinking of opening a restaurant somewhere here.
MasterChef Australia S14 is available on Disney + Hotstar
Hero and Featured Image: Courtesy of Disney + Hotstar
This story first appeared on Travel+Leisure India