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  • Published: 23 April 2024
  • ISBN: 9781761341151
  • Imprint: Ebury Australia
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $36.99

Your Time Starts Now

Food and fame, failure and freedom: the life story of Australia’s first MasterChef

Extract

I had one of my best and one of my worst days in the kitchen all in the same week. It was filmed over two days but went to air on one Sunday night episode.

The mystery box was revealed to be a cupcake challenge. More than one contestant expressed the opinion that this was my challenge to lose. I wondered if this was because I was a mum, or because I was fat. Either way, these opinions were incorrect because baking was not my bag, and except for a few months in my new house, I hadn’t made any kind of cake in an oven for a couple of years. So, cupcakes weren’t one of my strengths, but we had a basic recipe and I’d made enough of them in the past to give it a good go.

Our brief was to make a signature cupcake, and we had a huge array of ingredients to choose from, which was a nice change from the usually limited pantry. I decided to keep mine straight­forward and to make the most lemony cupcakes I could. I used the yellow and green layers from licorice allsorts to carve little lemon segments and leaves to decorate the cakes, and I called them Lemon Divas. When I was asked why, I said because they’re pretty to look at but they pack a punch.

One of my single favourite moments of the competition was when George, after the clock had stopped but before the official tasting, came by to sample our cakes. He cut one into quarters and popped a quarter into his mouth as he went by. Now George never ate very much of anyone’s dish, he only kind of nibbled at things and tasted enough to get the idea. So when he turned back and grabbed the rest of the cake I was jumping around on the inside. He likes it! He likes it!!!

I did win the cupcake challenge, confirming the beliefs of the other contestants even though they were baseless. I received the advantage for the invention test, which was to select the main ingredient that everyone had to cook with, and also to have extra time to choose ingredients. We used to call it ‘the curse of the mystery box’, because almost without exception whoever had this advantage mucked up the next challenge. I thought I would buck this trend. I did not.

As the mystery box was unveiled the following day, so was the celebrity chef and judge for that episode, and it was none other than the long-time host of the UK series, John Torode. Bear in mind that in the months leading up to my application for the Australian inaugural series, I had been binge-watching the UK version of MasterChef in my new house, so when its esteemed judge walked into the kitchen in Sydney, my belly did some weird flip thing and my brain hung the ‘out to lunch’ sign in the window while it went on a fangirl spree.

The theme was British, my chosen ingredient was a leg of lamb, and I was a disaster. I’d taken on too many tasks, and ran out of time; my veggies were still in the oven rather than on the plate, my sauce was on the stove, and the butchery on my lamb, which I had intended to roll and stuff, was disastrous. In between the end of cooking and the tasting I pleaded with the producers not to make me serve my dish to John. They insisted that I had to. It was morti­fying, but he was kind, telling me I was a good cook having a bad hair day. If only he knew. Every day is a bad hair day for me, but I almost always cook better than I had for him. Back into the ‘chef outfit of doom’, as I dubbed it, and into another pressure test.

It was after this debacle that it really dawned on me that if I didn’t get a handle on my ridiculous nerves, I would be out on my ear before too long. I embarked on a mission to gain control over my exploding brain. I read some books about it, and I started to do breathing exercises and other cognitive behaviour practices to help me to focus and stay on task even when things went wrong. As the weeks went by, I became better able to settle into the unpredictable nature of this experience and more calmly face whatever came my way. But these practices didn’t always work, and they weren’t a cure-all. There would still be a rocky path ahead for me in this kitchen.

In the real world, it was coming up to Mother’s Day. I asked very nicely if there was a chance we could skip Sunday work expe­rience to spend the day with our families. The answer at first was just no. Only a couple of us in the house were mothers, so the reasoning was that it would be unfair to everybody else to let us have a special day. I campaigned a little, pointing out that all of us would love a day off and to be allowed out and about for a few hours. We were all on board with this idea and, about two days before Mother’s Day, we were told that we would in fact be allowed out for the whole day. We were under strict instructions to return by 9 p.m. I asked our house coordinator how early I could leave. She said she didn’t care, as long as I didn’t wake everybody up.

I made the call to Mick. He was beside himself. He had previ­ously declared that it would be easier if I were in prison because he would at least get conjugal visits. (‘Easier for who?’ I’d asked.) Anyway, when I told him I could leave as early as I wanted, he said with not a hint of a joke, ‘I’ll be there at 1 a.m.’

I wasn’t sure that ‘leaving early’ meant ‘leaving in the middle of the night’, but I figured it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. Which is how I found myself, as a thirty-eight-year-old mother of three, sneaking out of the house with my shoes in one hand and my bag in the other, relieved that the front door was not in fact alarmed. Mick was out the front with the engine running, and we cacked ourselves all the way home to the Central Coast, where I got to wake up in my own bed for Mother’s Day.

After the most beautiful few hours with my boys and my dogs and my couch and my kitchen, we piled into the van and drove back to the house in Darling Point. It was a few minutes to 9. We were all holding on to each other; we were all crying. I looked at those heavy timber doors, and I could not make my feet move towards them. I made a decision.

‘Take me home,’ I said to Mick.

He looked shocked.

‘Let’s just go. I can’t go back in there. Please take me home.’

This is what I identify now as another of those pivotal, life-changing moments. If Mick had done what I’d asked, I would have gone back to the Central Coast and been so happy to be back with my family.

But he didn’t. This man, who was missing me so much, and was suffering without me in every area of his life, held my face and said, ‘Babe. You’ll be home soon enough. But first, go back in there and finish what you started.’

So I did.


Your Time Starts Now Julie Goodwin

The extraordinary life story of Australia's beloved Julie Goodwin, first winner of MasterChef and bestselling cookbook author

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