Campbell was a hot favourite to win the competition, with his ability to create haute cuisine consistently impressing the judges and the celebrity guests. Campbell, who cites Italian chef Christian Puglisi as his inspiration, came in just behind his best mate in the competition — winner Justin Narayan — and ahead of third-place winner Kishwar Chowdhury.
Following the MasterChef Australia grand finale, The Latch chatted with Campbell about his time on the show, what he is up to now and the last message he and Narayan exchanged. Read on to see what he had to say.
The Latch: What was it like watching that final, intense pressure test back and re-living it? Did you find yourself feeling emotionally exhausted all over again?
Pete Campbell: It was just as uncomfortable watching it back as it was on the day and i was just as stressed!
But it was really good to see what I was able to achieve and how far I came in the competition.
TL: The cook was obviously a very tough one for you, was the pressure intensified or alleviated by having your wife and daughters there?
PC: I think both. would say, It definitely added more pressure with them there because I was worried about them watching me stress out and I didn’t want them to feel worried. So that’s kind of where some of my focus was.
But having them there definitely meant there was no way that I was going to completely fail, I had to keep pushing through to get it all done. So it was a bit of both, but still, more than anything, just very special.
TL: You competed in so many pressure tests and elimination cooks during the show, did they ever become less intimidating? How did they help you become a better chef?
PC: They definitely became less intimidating. I think I was a part of almost all of them, there were only a few eliminations that I managed to miss. And the more that I did, it definitely built confidence and made it a little easier. And all of those combined helped going into the grand finale.
I think if I had avoided more eliminations, the finale would have been probably overwhelming. I’d always be disappointed when I went into elimination, but the competition isn’t won on the gantry — you’ve got to cook. So the more I was able to cook and get used to the nerves and become more comfortable, it was definitely valuable.
TL: How did you practice mental self-care in the competition in order to counteract the immense pressure?
PC: Anything that instinctually, I didn’t feel like doing, I just avoided. I studied a lot but didn’t do a whole lot of practice. Because if I practised something and it failed, then I could definitely spiral into a bit of a pit of worry. And if I didn’t feel like cooking, I just convinced myself that it was okay to not be cooking, and maybe just go for a run, go for a walk or watch a movie or something.
Because it felt like everyone around me was constantly practising, and it’s easy to be distracted by that and think ‘I’m not doing enough, I’m not as good as them.’ But I think just learning what was working for me and being confident to stick with that. It took a while, but then once I became comfortable with that, it really helped me get through.
TL: When did you first discover your talent for cooking and what was it that stopped you from pursuing a career in food before now?
PC: I just never cooked before we moved to America. We moved to America about seven years ago and once we were there, one of us had to cook and my wife hates cooking. So I decided to become the cook.
And I realised, as I learned, that I really enjoyed this. And then it was like a became a love language of mine as I cooked for my friends.
So I only discovered it very late because prior to that, I never bothered to cook, and I think I just, I just wrote it off that this is not a possibility. And to become a chef so late… moving back to Australia, it was just a bit of a hail mary to apply for MasterChef so to make it on and now to be following this newfound dream and it’s really special.
TL: You also demonstrated such a deep understanding of the science behind food — what you credit that to? Were you good at science in school?
PC: I wasn’t a good student in any regard at school!
I can’t I can’t even pretend like I could take credit for what you’re saying, I think it’s very kind but I think it’s just a lot of luck.
I do feel like I have an instinct for cooking, but I don’t understand much of the science behind it. So a lot of things. just constantly tasting and adjusting to balance a sauce or a dish. And also being very mindful of watching when I’m cooking and gauging when something is done.
Hopefully from here I learn a lot more about it and the science becomes easier but at this stage, it’s all instinct.
TL: Where in America were you living previously and how did it influence your style of cooking?
PC: We were in Los Angeles. I just loved to cook for occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Like, a big spread of food for all their friends…Thanksgiving is such a good day because it’s Christmas without the stress of gifts!
I was always very interested in fine dining, but I guess it didn’t seem necessary or appropriate to try and focus on that at home and not having a lot of cooking equipment doesn’t help either.
And then I just developed that general love of cooking and the experience of watching people eat my food and enjoy it, and then making it onto MasterChef, I decided this was the time to take it very seriously and try and learn all those tricks and discover how to go down that fine dining style.
TL: We have to chat about your beautiful friendship with Justin, how did that evolve and what was it that made the two of you click?
PC: It evolved naturally and quite quickly, and it’s hard to explain when you do just click with somebody
But early on we spent a lot of time together and had similar senses of humour. It was just always fun. As soon as we were cooking, hanging out with Justin made everything a lot more enjoyable and a lot easier to kind of get around the pressure and stress of the competition.
And then, as we became more confident, we brought that into the kitchen and always tried to cook next to each other to just enjoy it more. And I’d say that’s probably where both of our cooking skills improved a lot. Juzzy is just a very, very special friend.”
TL: What was the last message you guys exchanged?
PC: I think the last message like to be quite literal, was: he wanted to help me design a website, and he was asking me what fonts I like. And I told him that I wanted the font to be Comic Sans, which is a dumb joke. And he called me an idiot
It’s very hard for us to do anything serious. Because we try we start off with a conversation and it will definitely quite quickly tail off into nonsense.
TL: Have you earned your spot in his bridal party?
PC: (jokingly) I didn’t earn a place! I think he’s keeping the people that he knew before the competition. Because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. But I know that if he could, he would have me up there.
TL: What does life post-MasterChef look like? What will we see you do next?
PC: I’m very lucky, a lot of people a messaged about opening a restaurant. And that’s obviously the long term goal. But realistically, I just don’t know enough. If I were to open a restaurant, it has to be good and I wouldn’t want to do it and do a bad job of it. Right now, I just don’t know enough about the industry or cooking.
But, being very lucky to meet Peter Gilmore in the finale, he’s offered me a job at Quay. So as soon as lockdown is finished, I’ll be starting there to be learning under Peter. It’s arguably the best restaurant in Australia so this is such a surreal end to my MasterChef journey, and an incredible beginning to actually becoming a chef, which was my goal at the beginning of this.
Now, achieving that at the best place possible. It doesn’t really get any better.
Follow Pete on Instagram @my.mate.pete