With all the hype around the upcoming MasterChef Australia season about to start, I can't help but feel a little sad. I see the TV ads, the judges reactions and the sheer and utter joy and passion of the contestants faces... yet I still watch with a bitter sweet sadness.
I applied to be a MasterChef contestant in the 2016 season. If I'm being honest, I only applied because my husband asked me to. I really didn't want to, I didn't think I had what it took. But I eventually completed the application because my husband believed in me more than I did myself.
To say I was surprised when I received an email back from the shows producers is an understatement. I wasn't expecting to be noticed at all. Then the adrenalin kicks in and you start feeling confident and sure about what you're capable of. It's an indescribable rush that takes over and makes you feel like you can conquer the world.
I was invited to take part in the first stage of the audition - we would be doing a Mystery Box Challenge - just like on the TV show. It was exhilarating being in the kitchen, looking at the random list of ingredients in front of you and having to whip something up worthy of a renowned food competition - within an hour! After we completed the first challenge we were sent back to the holding room to wait for the judges to determine who would be going to the next stage of the auditions. I remember glancing around the kitchen at the other dishes and thinking "ahhh I'm glad I even got picked to audition"... the other dishes were amazing.
I remember sitting in the waiting room alone. The other contestants started chatting and introducing themselves, but I sat on the floor in the corner - quietly and alone. Popular to contrary belief I can be quite the introvert. I love being alone. The producer walked back into the room with a clipboard. He did the expected speech that we had all come so far and the dishes we produced were all outstanding. I remember looking at my watch to see what else I could do that day - knowing I was about to go home disappointed. He then started reading out names... "... Leola Foon..." Huh? Surely this was the list that didn't make it... "please stay behind so we can brief you in about tomorrow's challenge - congratulations."
I made the next round.
I was so excited and seriously couldn't believe it. There had been so many thousands of entrants across Australia, and little old me made it to the round before TV. I've never had cooking training, or have ever really taken cooking seriously - I just know how to cook.
The next day was the final challenge to determine if you would make the top 50 and make the TV show. The challenge was a Signature Dish, which was something we had prepared for as we were told when we applied what the auditions would entail. My dish was a modern twist on a Chinese classic. A "reconstructed" San Choy Bow - as the producers called it.
The Signature Dish had to be made and plated within the hour - the pressure in the kitchen was intense but so energetic and empowering, I loved being there. Once the hour was up the judges came around and tasted everyones dishes. I remember to the right of me stood Elena Duggan (the 2016 MasterChef winner), she made fish and chips and served it on a chopping board. I remember how lovely she was to meet and how impressed I was with her fat cut chips!
We headed back to the waiting room to await the results. If I were to make this round I would be top 50 in Australia - a huge achievement! I still couldn't believe I had made it this far at all - let alone on the brink of being Top 50! The producers came back to the room and delivered a longer speech about how amazing the dishes were and that the subset of applicants was getting smaller and smaller towards the final rounds. He read out only a small handful of names... and those he didn't read were not invited to stay back.
My name was not called.
I packed my esky and my equipment, jumped into a taxi and headed home in a hurry. No tears, just numbness. I got home and called my husband.... standing in the kitchen against the wall sobbing uncontrollably I cried and cried and wished I had never entered in the first place. I slid down the wall into a heap on the floor and cried more and felt so sorry for myself and so angry that I let myself believe that I was good enough to do something like that - only to acknowledge the fact that I had failed and I didn't deserve a place on the show. My heart hurt like something had been ripped out and I was angry at myself for trying.
The disappointment and anger lasted at least a few months. I stopped cooking and was cautious about what I did, in case it could potentially turn into failure - I was terrified of having to feel that pain and heartache again.
But I eventually remembered that I had gone through much worse than this and that I had overcome so much more than getting into a cooking competition. I had survived brain trauma and faced death head on - I was far more powerful than I could imagine. So this, this pain - was only temporary.
Although this was a hump in the road - it wasn't a wall. I just needed to get over it and remind myself of what I'm truly capable of. Thanks to feeling the heartache of failure I remind myself regularly of what I have overcome, what pain I have felt and what I am capable of. And with that as my arsenal - I am forever equipped to tackle anything.