In 2009, Australian cook Justine Schofield was selected for the first series of MasterChef Australia. While she was eventually eliminated in fourth place, her individual skills and bubbly personality did not go unnoticed with Network Ten offering to produce a TV program of her own, Everyday Gourmet. Now, after more than 700 episodes, Essentials’ spoke with Justine about her rise to fame and contents of her fabulous new book The Weeknight Cookbook – one we feel is possibly the best stocking stuffer of all time.

You’ve achieve a lot since appearing on the debut series of MasterChef Australia – best selling books, hundreds of hours of TV production and a growing string of media and PR engagements. How do you feel about your rise to fame?

I could never have imagined that MasterChef was going to be this incredible platform for me to create a new career. Next year will be my 10th year of filming Everyday Gourmet and I’ve just started to write my fourth book.

I still pinch myself at how lucky I have been, to be able to do what I truly love. Yes, being in the right place at the right when the MasterChef phenomenon occurred did obviously play a roll in my success, but there is no such thing as free lunch and I’ve always been a big believer in hard work, getting your hands dirty along the way and always being honest, grateful and committed to every opportunity that has fallen in my lap.

Of course it has been difficult to juggle my obligations, stay relevant and produce many, many recipes (easily over 1000) but when you’re passionate about the task at hand then the hard work, never feels so hard. I love what I do and I am fortunate.

Are you proud of your achievements?

I am so incredibly proud. Looking back 12 years ago when I sitting at a desk attempting to sell security camera (didn’t sell many), daydreaming of the next dish I was going to cook when I got home … never would I have imagined that it would have become a reality and my new career. In all fairness though, I think mum and dad are more proud!

Your new book The Weeknight Cookbook features a fantastic collection of flavoursome healthy options. Can the average cook make these recipes?

My recipes are designed for busy people that want inspiration for fast and easy recipes during the week. They really showcase how to get the most out of your fridge, freezer and pantry to ensure you feel empowered in the kitchen, to be able to cook a great meal for yourself, family or partner any day of the week.

Roasted Broccolini Salad with Baked Ricotta from The Weeknight Cookbook
Roasted Broccolini Salad with Baked Ricotta from The Weeknight Cookbook

Where do you feel we’re heading as a nation, in terms of food habits?

I definitely feel that there will be a bigger push for eating a more plant-based diet. More vegetables, grains, seeds and cereals and less meat and fish. I am a huge believer in a balanced diet (personally I could never be 100 percent vegetarian) but allowing the vegetable to shine more on our plate is the trend and I’m interested in exploring it more and developing more recipes around the humble veg to reduce our weekly meat intake.

What are some of your favourite childhood memories of food and cooking?

From a young age I was drawn to the kitchen. I was always so curious in the way a few simple ingredients can be transformed into such a scrumptious dish. My mum is a fabulous cook and cooked for us all the time. Even though mum and dad both worked very busy full time jobs, they would still cooked dinner 95 percent of the time for my two brothers and me.

The only time I ever really experienced ‘delivery food’ was when I stayed with friends. It was also very important in our family to eat at the table, together and share one meal (if you didn’t like, you learnt to like it! haha). I think we are all so close in my family because eating around a table every night gave us the opportunity to catch up properly, share a meal and just talk.

Food also always evokes memory and keeps heritage alive. Mum is from France so the dishes she makes remind me of my grandmother (Meme) and I hope one day if I have children I can pass these recipes down and keep them alive. I feel the only way they will stay relevant is to cook them regularly, and that’s exactly what I do.

What’s the perfect Australian Christmas lunch and why? And should we be roasting a turkey? 

We haven’t roasted a turkey in our family for ages. I feel it’s sometimes not suited to the hot summer and to be honest it can sometimes be a bit underwhelming.

I prefer to change it up every year, but there is always lots of fresh seafood and wonderful summer produce, like tomatoes and mangoes. One thing that is always a staple at every Christmas lunch is foie gras (goose or duck liver), a French specialty (usually served at aperitif with drinks). For mum and I it’s non negotiable!

Tell us about your most memorable summer holiday experience?

Most memorable would have to be down on the South Coast of NSW where my Uncle Bill lives. We would stay in Huskisson and Green Patch and play by the sea all day, eat beautiful local prawns and head to the local pub at night for fire engines (pink lemonade) and counter dinners. So Aussie, I just loved it.

What OS food ingredient or cooking method has inspired you recently? 

I’ve just recently bought a hibachi grill, a small authentic Japanese charcoal BBQ. I’m really interested in learning about coal cooking and becoming better at controlling fire when cooking over.

When travelling what can you not leave home without and why?

There’s nothing worse than getting a small cold or feeling unwell when travelling so I ensure I always take in the lead up to my trip, and pack premium vitamins in my suitcase. This is just to ensure I have the best chance to have a healthy and strong immune on my holiday.

Got any cooking hacks we should know about?

Two of my favourite: The easiest way to peel ginger is with a small spoon not with a knife. Simply scrape off. There will be less wastage and it’ll be easier to get the skin in the curvaceous sides. Also, the best way to boil and peel an egg: Poke a small hole at the wider end of the egg with a metal skewer or sharp small knife. Cook in boiling water for 6 minutes. It makes peeling much easier and you’ll achieve perfectly cooked whites and a gooey egg yolk.

What’s the most important tool in the kitchen and why?

One or two very good quality knives, you don’t need 8 knives to be a great cook. And invest in a really good set of pots and pans.

Are you a wine lover?

I do love my wine indeed. I’m a big lover of Provence rosé at the moment because of its crisp, dry notes. It’s also very versatile, so it’s goes with many different occasions, cuisines and meal courses. It’s the perfect summer drink!

How will you celebrate Christmas 2019?
With my family and friends and lots of food and wine of course!

The Weeknight Cookbook by Justine Schofield, Published by Plum
The Weeknight Cookbook by Justine Schofield, Published by Plum

The Weeknight Cookbook by Justine Schofield
Published by Plum, RRP $34.99, Photography by Jeremy Simons.

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