Across my Table

Across My Table - Emelia Jackson and Renae Smith - MasterChef 2014

Thursday, March 19, 2015Me! In words

When I first started writing this column for the blog, it was with the intention of talking all things food with the several culinary personalities that visited the city. It was a very personal thing to me. While it was an interesting experience to eat the food these visiting chefs created, it is quite something else to talk to them and understand where their love for food has come. I have spoken to many a culinary wizard since this column started and this time around I got a chance to interview two beautiful ladies I followed quite diligently on MasterChef Australia.

Meet Emelia Jackson, the Dessert Queen of the show and Renae Smith, a master of spontaneous cooking - both of whom sizzled on MasterChef Australia 2014. They were recently in Bangalore to create and showcase a unique 6-course menu  at the High Ultra Lounge. Sitting by the bar, 30 floors up, watching the sun go down on Bangalore city, I spent a good half hour or so chatting with the ladies. Here is just some of what they had to say.

Everyone's love for cooking stems from some place, often a place close to the heart. I asked the ladies, what it is was that kickstarted their love affair with food and how they kept the flame going? Emelia says that  she doesn't remember a time when she was not cooking. "I was always doing something like baking biscuits with my mom. I remember making gingerbread with my brothers and sisters at Christmas. Also my grandparents were European – Macedonian and Greek specifically and food is very important in those cultures." Emelia grew up with a strong food culture and a love of cooking and believes that it is her source of creativity and that’s why she can keep up with it. "I love experimenting in the kitchen", she says.

Renae moved to Sydney a while ago and met somebody who was big in the food industry and who moved about with food celebrities. This lady has a lot of cooking schools of her own as well. She would invite Renae over for dinner and Renae would help her. "Through her I learned to cook without recipes. She would just give me a bunch of things and ask me to make something out of it. I guess, she is the one who inspired me to try things and to think that I could cook better. I am constantly learning, especially since I am changing the way I eat. I am moving from vegetarian to vegan.  I have so much to learn. Learning ways to make food more interesting and how I can get more interesting."

A lot of our personalities come out in our food  and when Emelia serves up a plate she believes you will see the uptight part of her and the perfectionist as well. She also says that she is sweet and generous. Renae is quite emphatic when she says that her personality is all about being messy and all over the place. She is not a cook who comes with a plan to the kitchen. She walks in, picks things up and you will have a good dinner at the end of it. 

MasterChef is definitely a learning experience and of course the ladies have picked up some cool skills. For Emelia, the skills she learnt were many. But she says that towards the end of MasterChef, it was only about desserts and the techniques to balance flavours in desserts for her. She learnt a lot about how to use chemicals in cooking. In terms of savoury – she learnt how to make sauces and how to cook meat perfectly. For Renae, the learning was more adventurous. She says, "I don’t really like Japanese cuisine, but I learnt that I can take miso paste and use it to make something the way I like." The learning process opened up avenues of experimenting with foods and allowing Renae to take something she may not like and use it in a way she things would make it better for her. 

Now I for one have always been curious about what would be served at impromptu parties of chefs. Emelia says that if you were invited to her home, you would find a lot of Asian, modern Vietnamese, Thai and, Asian cuisine with a twist on the table. And of course a lot of desserts. You are after all in the Dessert Queen's home. And if you were to drop in at Renae's home (she has people over every week!), you would be treated to vegan food. "We have cabbage leaves with raw vegetables with a nut cheese on top. We do a San Choy Bau with scrambled tofu. Lots of salads. We don't do too much desserts."

I thought working with vegan food may be difficult but Renae is clear when she says that "Working with vegan food is not really difficult. What you need is a change in attitude. When I first started, I tried making vegan food with substitutes and it just does not work. Raw vegan is easier to make than cooked vegan. I use cabbage leaves for tacos and put in all the flavours, paprika etc."

Now Emelia being a fan of the desserts must naturally keep an eye out on all that is happenings in the world of decadency. She says that a big trend is dessert degustations and they are getting quite popular. 5 courses of desserts which were once thought of as impossible to savour has now changed. "I think there is a movement towards people buying things – enjoying things like sponge cakes. In Australia, doughnuts are the rage, ranging up to $8 a donut and people will be buy it. If you are not selling doughnuts then there is something wrong."

For someone who grew up on vegetarian food and is now making a move toward veganism, I asked Renae of any pain points when working with such constraints. She explained that the hardest thing is learning and educating yourself. You can’t live on salads alone as this can be unhealthy. Its up to you how you make the salad more wholesome. You have to do it right or you will get so sick. 

Renae cites her older daughter who is 12 going on 13 years. "The pressure is ensuring that she gets the right protein and nutrition. The vitamins we can assure, but I don’t want her to lack in any way. I have to make up for nutrients in many ways. I am lucky she eats rice and lentils. She will take a tin of chickpeas to school and eat it. She will come home and fry up some tofu and eat it. She is in an important stage of growing."

It was a pleasure speaking to Emelia and Renae. Their passion for food is clear in the way they talk about it. Their confidence with their abilities shines through as they speak. The photoshoot after this interview was quite fun too. 

Click here for the 6 course meal at High Ultra that was a showcase of some of the best that High Ultra has and a few dishes cooked up by Emelia and Renae.         

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