MasterChef fans were thrilled to discover Mindy Woods was returning for the Fans and Favourite series.
The proud Bundjalung woman of the Widjabul Wia-bul clan is known for encouraging the use of First Nations flavours in Australian cooking and for running her successful restaurant Karkalla in Byron Bay.
Whilst it was a joy to watch Mindy battle it out against Julie Goodwin and Billie McKay during last night's Pressure Test, she ended up losing her spot in the competition.
"I was surprised I lasted that long," she admits to TV WEEK. "It was fast and furious this time around.
"Standing there beside Julie and Billie, two past winners, we had so much fun. It's probably one of the best cooks, most fun and entertaining cooks we had in the kitchen. So, we filled it with a lot of love and girl power on that day."
Even though Mindy ended on the best note possible, her MasterChef journey coincided with a difficult six months for the chef
Her restaurant was devastated by the floods, she had to deal with COVID-related issues, and she mourned the loss of a family member.
"It was really tough to get away for that length of time. We had COVID, we had floods, there was a lot of stuff going on back home that we had to deal with while we were still away. So being away from Country, family, my business and my partner were really tricky this time," she shares.
Navigating such hardships while trying to compete on a demanding show was understandably taxing.
"Our business was flooded throughout. It was a nightmare to deal with when I was on set, trying to concentrate on the competition, having to deal with flooding and closures of business and our community just got absolutely destroyed by it," tells Mindy.
"We had a lot going on. A death in the family during the competition, and I'm sorry to not be able to be around my family during that time was tough."
Luckily Mindy was able to get home for the funeral before returning to set in Melbourne and despite those obstacles, the MasterChef star is "proud" she "stuck it out."
Mindy's work in promoting native flavours in their cooking has inspired fans of the show and her peers.
The former reality star believes teaching people about those ingredients helps connect other cultures to First Nations.
"It's one of those things that people really struggle to know how to approach or to connect or to have a relationship with First Nations people. If that is through food, how beautiful and how powerful is that, for me," she explains.
As for how people can start incorporating those flavours into their cooking while appreciating and respecting the culture, she shares, "I want all Australians to be kind of aware of and kind of be respectful around the fact that these ingredients are not just food to our people.
"These are connected to Country, culture, stories, and celebrations. They have a history; they have an identity of their own."
Since leaving the show, Mindy has been working on redoing her Karkalla restaurant menu, training her team, and connecting with Country.
She is also looking forward to releasing a native food line and educating primary school children about native ingredients.
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