My mum. I think the fact that she wanted to get cooking our meals over and done with, but still have something delicious to serve, is where I probably got my style of fast meals from. She would never fuss all day over something, but rather whip up something fantastic from whatever we had lying around the pantry and in the fridge. The way that she improvises with flavors and ingredients is impeccable; it could rival any of the greatest chefs out there. She is so good at adapting to what she has around her. I love to cook like that, and I think it takes a certain amount of bravery to be able to chuck a recipe aside and wing it. To me, being a good cook isn’t about how well you can follow a recipe, it’s about how well you understand how different flavors come together. And most importantly, it’s about trusting your instinct in the kitchen. My mum embodies that, even if she doesn’t like to admit it.
A baked cheesecake recipe that I got from my best friend Lauren’s grandmother. I remember Grandma Zarine use to make this cheesecake all the time, like every year for Fourth of July pool parties, and everyone would go crazy for it! She’d let Lauren and I make the American flag on top out of blueberries and strawberries, and we’d get so excited to decorate it. I remember thinking that someday I wanted to be able to make something so delicious that people would be begging for it, like they did for her cheesecake. I finally convinced her to write down the recipe for me, and when I moved to Australia I started to make it for school events or celebrations. By the time we moved to Indonesia, I had the recipe down, and would only bring it out for the most special of occasions. The cake takes almost four hours to make from start to finish, but it’s one of my absolute favorites and I’ll remember it forever.
I really love cooking a good piece of pan-fried chicken. Perhaps it’s my Southern roots (I was born in Texas after all), or perhaps it’s something about how deliciously crispy the skin gets, but either way, I love it! It’s not health food, and it’s not heavily spiced, it’s just simple fried chicken. I don’t have a deep fryer at home, but I make do with some good old-fashioned butter! I jazz up my flour mixture with some Italian herbs and chili powder and then I simply dip the chicken in an egg/milk mixture, dredge it in the flour, and then fry it golden brown in a skillet. Once the chicken’s cooked, I de-glaze the pan with some wine or some cream, whatever I’m feeling that night, make a little sauce, and presto! Dinner is served!
I learned so much about myself, and about my cooking ability. Having a passion for cooking is one thing, but having confidence in yourself and in your abilities is a completely different ballgame. I have loved food and cooking for as long as I can remember, but that doesn’t mean I know it all. In fact, MasterChef showed me just how much I don’t know. There are so many techniques, skills, and cuisines that I have no idea about, and being on MasterChef has proven that to me, but also encouraged me to want to put myself out there so I can keep on learning. Cooking is an evolution, and it requires patience and practice. Just because you are good at one thing doesn’t mean you will be good at all things, but that’s where dedication and a will to succeed comes in. Being on MasterChef allowed me to gain a lot of confidence in my abilities.