Throughout MasterChef's Back To Win season, Laura Sharrad has copped it from fans for many things - namely for cooking pasta too often and her friendly relationship with judge Jock Zonfrillo - but the 24-year-old managed to power through the criticism all the way to the grand finale on Monday night, where she narrowly missed out on the 2020 title and $250,000 prize money.
Laura and winner Emelia Jackson were neck-and-neck throughout the entire episode, but Laura's icy ice cream and sandy chocolate crumb in her dessert proved no match against Emelia's flawless pastry skills.
But Laura still won $30,000 in prize money and has returned to Adelaide to run the restaurant she owns with her husband, fellow chef Max Sharrad, and thousands of adoring fans who have loved watching a strong, talented young woman kick ass on primetime Australian commercial TV.
Now To Love chatted to Laura from her hometown about her friendship with Emelia, what she thinks about some of the intense backlash she's faced from viewers this season, how her massive public profile has helped boost her restaurant business and exactly how she plans to spend that precious $30k.
Congratulations on making it to the finale Laura! Before we start, how is your hand feeling? [Laura burnt her hand badly during last night's finale episode, but still managed to soldier on and finish her cook].
"The wound is OK. I have a nice cut there now. Goddamn I can't escape these injuries!"
What was it like watching the finale last night?
"It was a very emotional episode and I absolutely loved watching it. It was one of the best finales I've seen. I loved how it came across and the food. There were many tears in my household ... my friends were bawling their eyes out.
"My hubby Max and my closest girlfriends and their partners came over. We got take away and drank Champagne."
How much of a support has Max been through all of this?
"He has been incredible. I think you go on the show and it's all about you, and your partner gets kind of get forgotten about. But I think what they do is actually more important than whatever we've done.
"Not many people can just stop what they're doing and have their partner run the business for them. When I was away, Max was like 'Don't even read any work emails, just switch off for however long you're there', which was really nice.
"I'm so lucky to have him and to see how proud he is of me."
What was it like watching your friendship with Emelia play out on screen?
"It was so beautiful. We've got such a special friendship. It's one of those friendships where you can not speak to each other for a few months and then it's back to normal. That's the beauty of those friendship like that."
"I'm really happy that they did show all the raw emotions and us hugging and being supportive of each other. It was so special for me to see on TV.
It's clear you've formed some wonderful friendships with your fellow contestants on the show. It must be so hard not being able to see them.
"You make friendships along the way and make plans and say 'I can't wait until we can go home and you can stay with me for a week'. You make all these really fun plans and little holidays.
"It's pretty upsetting that we can't do that at the moment, especially with Victoria [in lockdown] and Emelia being there, as well as Khanh [Ong]. I don't really know when I'll see them next. But it's for the best, I guess.
You run a pasta restaurant, Nido Bar, with Max in Adelaide. How is business going at the moment with the pandemic?
"We went back to full trading hours three weeks ago and we are very, very busy. We're pretty much fully booked out for lunch and dinner for the foreseeable future.
"I think with hospitality, it's a really hard industry to be in with the small [profit] margins. Hospitality is bloody hard, especially because we've only been open for 14-15 months.
"During the first two months, the road we were one closed for construction for months. We were still really busy, but you're not as your full potential. And then the bushfires happened, that was sad moment in South Australia, then COVID-19 happened and we were only offering take away. It's been a crazy 14 months."
On Sunday night we saw Reynold Poernomo open up about how much COVID-19 had affected his dessert business KOI. It seems there is a big difference between perception and reality in hospitality...
"I didn't actually know Reynold had that chat with the judges. I knew he had some real difficulties in his personal life and professional life and it's really important for people to understand how tough it is.
"People say 'You're busy, you must be making money', but with overheads and stuff, it's hard to make money in hospitality. You do have to be crazy and you have to love it to stick with it. But we're full and we're busy."
WATCH BELOW: Emelia Jackson reacts to winning MasterChef 2020. Story continues after video.
You received a lot of criticism during the season for several reasons - mainly for cooking pasta and your relationship with judge Jock Zonfrillo. What did you make of that feedback?
"It was pretty hard. I've never had any hate whatsoever. I've only had the occasional extreme message like 'You're a bitch'. That's fine, whatever, I can handle that.
"But there are some very nasty people out there. It's quite disappointing with so much going on in the world at the moment that people still want to tear others down and tear down a strong female who is successful.
"I feel sorry for people who do that. But the way I'm looking at it, 98 per cent of it is so positive and there is so much love out there that counteracts that negativity. There's always going to be people who don't like you and you can't please everyone."
Finally, how are you going to spend your $30,000 prize money?
"I said I would buy myself something nice - a nice pair of shoes or a handbag - and then we have a bit of renovating to do at home. The money is definitely gong to be helpful for a few things!"
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