Jess Hall may have only finished 19th on the 2019 season of MasterChef, but it hasn’t stopped her from becoming a successful entrepreneur in the food world.
Since leaving the competition, 30-year-old Hall has started The Well Fed Co, handmade artisan kefir cultured butter, with skills she learned during her time on the show.
However, due to the coronavirus, the relaunch of her business has been delayed.
“I have just been appointed account manager at Two Providores who is a wholesaler to NSW and ACT restaurants, cafes and stores. We specialise in Australian small producers and Australian native produce,” Hall said in an exclusive interview with TheLatch—.
“So now I’m working alongside some of my favourite Australian chefs.”
Like all MasterChef fans, Hall has been tuning in the 2020 series Back to Win — although, watching from home this time around is very different for the former contestant.
During our chat, Hall talks about the popularity of the new judges, what she learned by being on the show and also lifts the lid on a few surprising behind-the-scenes rumours.
Anita Lyons: Hi Jess, so great to chat with you. I am absolutely loving MasterChef and being on last season, you must be seeing it through very different eyes. What are your thoughts on the new season?
Jess Hall: Life is pretty full-on at the moment but I’ve been watching and catching up as often as I can. It’s so exciting to see all these familiar faces back in there with a chance to do it all again. I’m really loving the new judges as well, they seem so invested in all the contestants and I think that’s what makes for a great judge both on TV and as a participant.
I think All Stars is very different from a regular-season of MasterChef. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing 24 new home cook faces start their experience next year.
AL: What do you remember most about your time on MasterChef?
JH: The incredible feeling of knowing you were part of creating a show loved by so many people around the country.
MasterChef’s popularity is mind-blowing and it was an honour to be part of it. That, and walking away with 23 new incredible friends (not to mention all the crew!), I think that will always be my favourite part of the experience.
AL: What did you learn from being on the show and how did it change your life?
JH: I learnt a lot about myself and my ability to get through difficult situations and rise to a challenge. That’s been the most rewarding takeaway but outside of that, my new cooking skills have meant I have even more fun in the kitchen these days. Instead of admiring dishes from afar, I now have the knowledge and courage to think “I can give that a crack myself”.
Plus, I’m now working in the food industry and living a life doing what I am truly passionate about. That was my ultimate goal.
But a message to people reading this, I learnt that you don’t need to get onto MasterChef to make that change in your life. You just need the courage and self-belief to ask for a foot in the door. Start at the bottom and work your way up to where you want to be.
“I learned that you don’t need to get onto MasterChef to make that change in your life.”
AL: I’m particularly interested in the pressure tests because they are so stressful to watch! Can you detail what it’s really like to actually take part in a pressure test?
JH: I went out on a pressure test, and without a doubt, the hardest one of my season, so I am no stranger to what they’re like!
I think it’s a combination of forcing people out of their comfort zones, giving them a recipe that needs to be followed precisely and then throw in elimination and maybe a famous guest chef watching you….blimey!
Pressure tests are a total mental game. You need to be in the zone to make every second count. Everyone has different tactics. For example, do you stop and read the full recipe first (in my case, 12 pages) or do you get machines going, start on some elements? It’s down to the cook but those decisions can make or break. Despite the fact I went home on mine, it was the most fun I had all competition.
Pressure tests are what it’s all about and I’m so glad I got to do such a hard one with one of my favourite chefs, Clare Smyth.
AL: What was filming the whole series like and how many hours did were you on set each day? Was it what you thought it would be?
JH: It’s hard to remember what I thought it would be like because I’m so used to the reality of it now.
It took at least two days to film each episode and the days are really long but we are all so grateful to be there!
We’re told exactly what it will be like before we say yes to coming on the show which I think is really important.
AL: I always laugh at how the benches look so clean after a mystery box challenge — mine certainly wouldn’t look like that! How does that even happen and how long after each cook do the judges eat it?
JH: As soon as we finish cooking, a team of magic fairies come in and make everything clean and sparkling again. We usually go on a lunch break around that time.
The judges only pick five dishes in the Mystery Box challenges so you come back in with no idea if you’ll be tasted or not.
The judges will then say a name and then one of the crew will bring out your dish and then we film the rest.
Mystery boxes are usually a great way of trying out something new in a risk-free environment.
AL: The rumour is that the judges come around and try your food while it’s hot and then “eat it” for the cameras while it is cold. Is that true?
JH: The rumour is true! The fact is you can’t film the whole show and keep everyone’s dishes cold/hot/frozen at the same time so the fairest way is for the judges to taste as you go, to get a true idea of where your dish is heading and the fresh flavours. But the dishes are held really well off set to make sure we all get a fair go.
AL: One thing that fascinated me is that all of these home chefs are so knowledgeable! Are you allowed to do research during filming? Do you learn from each other?
JH: We are only allowed the resources we bring with us (but they must fit into a suitcase along with all your clothes, toiletries etc), the books in that are in the house. But of course, the exchanging of knowledge between you and the other contestants is where you learn the most.
My season was full of so many cultural and social backgrounds and we each had a wealth of knowledge to pass on. It was amazing.
People had really interesting ways of learning. I’m a visual person so I had printed off Instagram photos of dishes that inspired me. Some had a Rolodex of card with recipes, others would draw their dishes! It was incredible!
“People had really interesting ways of learning. I’m a visual person so I had printed off Instagram photos of dishes that inspired me!”
AL: There are so many incredible cooks on this season of Back to Win. Who do you think will win the series?
JH: I would be remiss to not say, Tessa [Boersma] & Simon [Toohey]. I’ve seen first hand how exceptionally talented they both are and how far they have come since that first nervous day we met at auditions. I honestly do believe either of them has a chance of winning, they cook with passion and excitement and that is a winning combo for good tasting food!
AL: Would you go back on the series if they did another all-stars?
JH: Where do I sign up?
MasterChef continues on Network Ten, Sunday to Thursday.