Swapping textbooks and paintbrushes for meat cleavers and sixteen-page recipes, Elena Duggan had no idea that leaving her much-loved life as a high school art teacher would lead to such big success in the foodie world.
And while it wasn’t always smooth sailing for this year’s Masterchef Australia winner, there were many important life lessons we picked up from Elena along the way.
Family and friends first - always
Many viewers were probably left gasping at their television screens as Elena stepped away from her kitchen bench in the final crucial minutes of the grand finale to help her only competition, Matt Sinclair, with his reinvention of Heston Blumenthal's coconut panna cotta and verjus 'egg' dessert.
This act of kindness served as a gentle reminder that while there may be glory (and money) at stake, friendships should always come first.
Trust your gut instinct
It can be extremely difficult to tune out the opinions of others, especially when this advice is coming from talented, experienced chefs. But Elena showed us that sometimes you have to look past what other people are telling you to do and focus on what you think is best.
Her memorable quail, grapes and goat's cheese dish left judges and viewers alike salivating, with George Calombaris dubbing it 'food heaven' and awarding Elena Dish Of The Day for her grape-themed cook in Nappa Valley. However, had she listened to the advice of judge Gary Mehigan and left the lavender out from the goat’s cheese element, she wouldn’t have produced the winning dish that saw her shoot straight through to the semi finals. Good call, Elena!
Don’t give up
Sure, this one might seem a little cliche, but Elena is living proof that it’s never too late to turn the game around. She was no stranger to the elimination rounds, ending up in the bottom three a few times after producing a couple of dodgy dishes (green savoury pancakes, we’re looking at you), but continued to push through and fight for her spot in the Masterchef Australia kitchen.
And even in the final minutes of the competition, many chefs would have thrown off their oven mits and stormed out of the building as they were still three points behind a highly talented cook with only one dish to go. But Elena persevered against unlikely odds, and her drive and determination saw her soaring to first place (and taking out the top prize).
Return to your roots
It’s something we saw a lot in the competition – contestants trying to experiment with new and inventive flavours and cooking styles that often didn’t go to plan. However, when the finalists were given the chance to cook with any ingredients they desired in the grand finale, Elena embraced the hearty, wholesome cooking she knows and loves.
While the calibre of cooks was noticeably higher this season, with fine-dining presentation becoming the norm, the Masterchef Australia winner decided to dish up something a little more homely. Her pressure-cooked lamb was served with a sticky lamb jus, creamy macadamia and onion puree and pickled vegetables – a winning flavour combination that saw her awarded a perfect score of 10 out of 10 from each judge.
It’s OK to wear your heart on your sleeve
There weren’t many episodes where we didn’t see a tear or two from Elena, but that was always coupled with an infectious laugh, a beaming smile and a comforting hug for her fellow contestants. Two particularly powerful moments were when the final contestants received letters from their loved ones at home, and when her parents, partner and sister arrived at the grand final – there wasn’t a dry eye in the room over here, either.
Throughout the competition, viewers around the nation fell in love with her genuine, deeply passionate personality that kept her pushing herself until the very end.
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