MasterChef NZ’s Alice Taylor reveals her secret weapon

How cooking has helped the TV star through a difficult year
Michelle Hyslop

It’s fair to say that MasterChef NZ contestant Alice Taylor’s dual passions – cooking and Taiwanese foreign policy – are are at opposite ends of the spectrum!

Yet the plucky Dunedin foodie and Master of Politics student somehow manages to balance both sides of her life.

Alice’s secret? Her close-knit family – including her twin brother Jack.

“People don’t click that we’re twins for some reason,” laughs Alice, 22, during their fun family photoshoot. “I guess we don’t look similar and we have very different personalities, but we do have a special bond.

Alice and her twin Jack both flew the nest to study in Otago.

“We moved to Otago to study at the same time and we’ve been through the same experiences.

“It’s really nice to have someone to talk to, although now we’re doing very different things – me politics and MasterChef, while he’s studying to be an airline pilot! But I’m very excited for the day when

I board a plane and hear his voice over the speaker. I’m very proud of him.”

And Alice’s whānau – including dad David, mum Sue, older brother Paul and pup Milo – is immensely proud of Alice too.

“We’re all really into food,” she nods. “Growing up, Dad did most of the cooking. He’s an exceptional cook and I feel like if he entered MasterChef, he’d win. But baking with my mum is one of my earliest memories. Cooking together was how we bonded.

Her supportive family (from left) pup Milo, dad David, mum Sue, big brother Paul and Jack.

“It was the same with my nan. She made a lot of Fijian food, so I’ve been surrounded with it my whole life. Food is a real family thing.”

Alice finds inspiration in her grandmother Ursula Taylor, who moved from Fiji to Aotearoa during World War II. “I’ve had a lot of Fijian influence in my life, so a lot of the flavours I’m using in MasterChef are from there.”

Entering the show was a huge call for the Auckland-born cook, who finished her dissertation in Taiwanese foreign policy and security just days before auditioning for MasterChef. But when her dad texted to tell her applications had opened, Alice figured it was as good a time as any.

“I’d had a really rough day and I was thinking to myself, ‘What am I doing? I’m about to finish my Masters, but I’m not all that happy.’ I’d had a difficult year, so when this came along, it was perfect.

“While I love my politics degree, food makes me the absolute happiest and I always wanted a career in it.

“Baking is great for my mental health as it’s very centring and keeps me calm. When I found out I was going to be on the show, I knew I needed to take this seriously as it could change my life.”

Indeed, Alice – who wrote a student food column called *F**k I Can’t Cook during her time at the University of Otago – says MasterChef* has turned her into a completely different person.

While she initially struggled with the fact many of the other cooks had more than a decade of experience than she did, she says now, “The result was that I learnt so much. The other contestants had spent so much time trying new flavours and travelling, but they were so generous in teaching me a lot.”

One of her biggest trials on MasterChef was cooking meat, which Alice could rarely afford while at uni. She explains, “I made a lot of vegan and vegetarian meals, so I knew I had to brush up on cooking protein. But the flipside of being a student is that I’m super-resourceful and attuned to learning.”

Laughing, Alice adds, “I mean, I went from cooking with just a knife, a bowl and a frying pan to using a fancy new mixer! It’s been the most amazing experience. I have so many ideas for the future, but for now, I’m just happy to be here.”

Hana’s hidden heartache

Hana’s found her happy place in the kitchen.

She credits her joint Japanese and Kiwi heritage with helping her get this far on MasterChef NZ, but Hana Kirk says her multicultural background hasn’t always been an advantage.

“Growing up in New Zealand, I’d get teased for being part Asian and having different food in my lunchbox,” she tells.

“But often, because I look more white, my experience of racism were jokes that people made in front of my face, not knowing I’m Japanese.”

And because she didn’t grow up in Japan, Hana, 26, struggled to find her feet on the family’s regular trips to Tokyo too. “I didn’t 100% fit into either group,” she explains. “It really affected me, especially when

I was at primary school, when you just want to be the same as everyone else.”

However, at uni, Hana started to interact with a more diverse crowd of people and says, “It really made me realise the richness of my upbringing. It’s shaped me into a stronger person and given me an interesting perspective on life.”

MasterChef NZ screens 7.30pm Mon & Tue and 7pm Sundays on Three.

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