Not only did the pandemic prevent bubbly MasterChef star Aldo Ortado from sticking to his plan of jumping on a plane once a year to visit his beloved family in his native Italy, but he tells Woman's Day it also railroaded his dreams of starting a family with husband Mark Spencer.
"We went down all the surrogacy processes and everything, but then COVID kicked in and we had to drop it," Aldo, 35, says, revealing that the hold-up was "devastating".
But the couple – who wed in October 2019 in picturesque Cape Miseno in the Gulf of Naples – are now back on track with their baby plans, thanks to a generous offer from Aldo's sister Lucia, 26.
"[She] has offered to be our surrogate mother and she will eventually move to Australia," Aldo tells Woman's Day.
"She knows how important family is for me and how important family is for us. I think that I'm destined to be a dad, so that's in my not-far-away future – to have babies!"
In the meantime, Aldo and Mark, 48, are exploring the possibility of becoming foster parents, and looking forward to finally meeting their new niece and nephew in Italy!
"Anna is three months and Leonardo is just over one year – it's been a hard time to be away from my family," says Aldo, who reveals his mother, nonna and the rest of the clan have been cheering him on in the MasterChef kitchen from the other side of the world.
"It's never easy," says the reality star, who originally competed in season 10 and has now paused his job managing an Italian restaurant in Sydney's Cronulla to go on the show again.
"You could do it 10 times but every time it's a brand-new level of pressure and every time it's something more exciting that comes along. I feel always like a virgin."
And he admits he's up against some culinary kings and queens!
"Mindy [Woods] – she's so amazing. I admire her knowledge of food. And Michael [Weldon], sometimes I watch him breaking down meat and fish – it's so flawless and you get mesmerised by it... those people will be right there giving me a lot of trouble," says Aldo, who knows exactly where he's headed if he does eventually get the chop from the MasterChef kitchen.
"As soon as I'm eliminated I'm going to take the flight the next day to Italy," he tells Woman's Day, revealing he and Mark plan to spend "a week in Puglia, so I can show him that side of Italy. Then we're going to spend a full-on week with my family.
I'm probably going to forget that I'm married because I need to reconnect with my family!"
And while Aldo recently broke down on screen about his fractured relationship with his father, who refused to attend his wedding after calling it a "circus", he shares that the rest of his family have embraced Mark as one of their own.
"I used to be my mum's favourite but now Mark took the spot," he jokes. "It's very upsetting!"
But Aldo may have to postpone his holiday home just a little longer if he's crowned this year's MasterChef winner – and he already has plans for the $250,000 prize.
"I've got a big house with a big backyard. I would love to have a private dining room at the back of my house, with a little kitchen that could fit about 16 people, and then this beautiful long communal table with all the share-style food that I love to do," he says.
"My husband thinks it's a little bit intrusive to have people we don't know walk into our door, but I always tell him it's not his decision."