Two years doesn't seem like a long time for Sarah Clare to be away from the MasterChef Australia kitchen before returning. But it's what she's done in the time away that's quite extraordinary.
The 36-year-old has gone on a roller-coaster journey that has included divorce, opening a restaurant on her own, finding love again, and becoming a stepmother.
"I don't do things by halves, that's for sure," Sarah says with a laugh.
The busy chef tells TV WEEK that when she was first on the cooking competition in 2018, she had separated from her husband Doug, the father of their son Elvis, but kept it under wraps so it didn't distract her on the show.
"We separated just before I left to film, but he was amazing and supported me during that time," Sarah says.
Sarah admits that having to deal with the emotional toll of everything that was happening at home was her undoing in season 10.
"I was away for my son's third birthday, which just broke me," she says. "I mentally checked out from that day, and only days later I was eliminated."
Sarah says going back to Tasmania was a chance to restart her career. She had always worked in hospitality, but wanted something of her own. So, without much money in the bank, she decided to open her own restaurant.
"It was terrifying," she admits. "I did everything on my own, from the shopping to the painting to finding staff. Many nights, my son and I were eating takeaway on the floor of the restaurant while I worked to get it ready."
Sarah is passionate about showing other women that being a mother doesn't define you and that your dreams and aspirations can continue and thrive.
"It infuriates me when I hear people say a woman is a 'working mother', when nobody says a man is a 'working father'," she says.
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Sarah's determination paid off, with her restaurant, ILHA, opening its doors 18 months ago.
But sadly, due to the COVID-19 restrictions and the impact they've had on businesses, Sarah has had to close her doors.
"It's truly heartbreaking," she says. "I'm just lucky that my staff were able to pick up some work in other areas."
Despite a busy schedule, Sarah confirms she's found love again.
"He's really amazing," she enthuses about her partner Daniel. "He has two kids as well, so we're making it all work. I thought I'd be 'one and done' when it comes to children, but now I have three!"
Sarah admits that returning to the MasterChef kitchen wasn't as tough as it was two years ago, because Elvis is now five years old and can understand what's happening and where his mum is.
"My amazing mother looked after him, so he was spoilt rotten," she says.
As for what comes next after this instalment of MasterChef, Sarah says another baby won't be on the cards.
"It's tough just getting my head around having three kids," she says. "I'm learning every day, but thankfully, I had an amazing stepmother and I'm learning from her."
And she won't be walking down the aisle again anytime soon either.
"Marriage has never been that important to me," she says. "I was married the first time because we were trying to start a family."
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