Kate Bracks of Masterchef fame tells Harshini Vakkalanka the show was one of the hardest things she’d ever done

Kate Bracks, famous for winning the 2011 Masterchef is every bit as exuberant and enthusiastic about food as she was on the show. Meeting her at the Mariott and the Inorbit Mall, where she conducted masterclasses, was like watching a piece of the much-loved Masterchef Australia (which is way better than Masterchef USA and leagues ahead of its Indian counterpart), come alive.

“I have never been to India before. It has been fantastic, I have loved it. We went to Commercial Street, Church Street, the Kali temple and City Market. So I feel like I have seen lots, but there is lots more to see I’m sure,” she starts off. “My favourite thing has of course been the food. We have Indian food at home but it’s nothing like the real Indian food.”

Butter chicken it is!

Her first taste of India was butter chicken. “When I was asked to try butter chicken I was reluctant because we have butter chicken at home. But it is nothing like the butter chicken at home. It’s so good! The chef showed me how he made it and I think what’s different is that it’s cooked in a tandoor oven.”

What she loves most, however, is sweet food, as is apparent in The Sweet Life, her cookbook post-Masterchef. Kate explains that her love for sweets goes all the way back to childhood, where it was established that cooking desserts is her first love.

“Desserts are where I feel most comfortable not only with cooking but also with eating. It’s lots of comfort. I think it’s because a lot of it goes to my childhood. I have such lovely memories of cooking things like chocolate chip cookies with my nana or cake with mum. It’s just something that I feel I can be more creative in. I like being creative with sweet food,” she recalls. “So the book is kind of that really — it’s my love of desserts and sweets. I have structured it in such a way that it’s good for people who are learning about cooking desserts and sweets as well as people who have been doing it for a long time.”

The book includes Masterchef favourites like the retro coffee cake as well as some of Kate’s favourites like the chocolate terrine with spiced praline, mandarin oil and crème fraiche apart from simple things like vanilla cupcakes and other favourites like the chocolate cake and hazelnut torte.

“Balance is the secret to a good dessert or dish. For me flavour and texture are both important. So in terms of flavours you need to have something sweet, something sour and something salty. But then you also need different textures with something creamy and crunchy an when you put them together, yum!,” says Kate whose favourite chefs are country cook Maggie Beer and gastronomist Heston Bluementhal, both of whom featured on the show. Balance is also important to her when it comes to family, because she has three small kids and has now put off her plans of opening a bed and breakfast until they are a little older, though she has bought some land close to home.

For Kate, living in Orange in Australia, which is known for its fruit and vegetable produce, offers a lot of inspiration, with fresh ingredients to cook and come up with recipes. “When I think of a recipe, I often start with a fruit or an ingredient which is in season. Then I think about what other flavours go with the produce. I like to think of flavours that are unexpected and I normally think about texture. After that I search for ideas from cookbooks and the Internet and I make little drawings of different ideas, like a brainstorm and normally one of them says ‘Cook me!’ and I will experiment and cook it in different ways until I feel like it’s balanced and I’m happy with it.”

And Masterchef, she says, was one of the hardest things she’s ever done. “But it was also one of the best things I have done. It was certainly challenging, you feel very nervous, pushed outside what’s comfortable. But I think that makes you grow and I think I learnt a lot as a cook and about me as a person. I became a lot more confident and I think it’s fantastic,” she observes.

It can’t have been easy? “The hardest part was being away from my family. But I think it has been good for all of us. It was also hard for my children, but it’s taught them about resilience and the fact that there are lots of people who care for them other than me. And I think they have become stronger as well.”