FINDING A FOODIE FUTURE
NICOLE Stevenson isn’t one of those people who spent their entire life dreaming of going on a reality TV show like MasterChef.
True, she was an avid watcher of the show, and she was passionate about food, but never even dared to consider that she would almost make the top ten of the toughest cooking competition in the nation.
Today Nicole is about to move to her new home Ipswich, while launching a range of healthy desserts to the café industry, while also working on a cookbook with a difference that will appeal to a very specific target market. Sounds like three very good ideas.
The 25-year-old spent her school years at Amberley State School and West Moreton Anglican College, as the daughter of a dad who worked on the RAAF base. When she left school in 2009 she enrolled to study nutrition at university, but after the stresses of her final year at school she decided to take a year off.
“I felt like I needed some time off,” Nicole said. “So, I took a gap year and then got a traineeship with a cardiology group, got promoted very quickly, and I worked under many managers, so took another gap year. I then jumped into a job with a bariatric group and stayed there, so I never ended up going to university.” Then in 2016 Nicole was taken on the ride of her life, when she auditioned for MasterChef, went on the show and finished 11th, the same year Ipswich’s own Ben Ungermann came runner up by just one point.
“I loved to cook at home, it was a passion, and I never thought I was good enough to go on it. My boyfriend at the time pressured me to do it, I didn’t really want to. I put in my application at 11.50pm at night on the day it closed. The next day I got an email from the group saying come down for an audition in two weeks!
“I practiced my heart out, and I was pretty surprised when I was shortlisted. We did lots of interviews, psychology and such, it was a long day,” Nicole recalled. “I think my boyfriend believed in me more than I did. I thought ‘this is getting real’.”
“At the time I was working part time, applying for other jobs, and I felt a bit lost at that point. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I got on the show, and it worked out perfectly for me in the long run.”
Nicole wasn’t devastated to leave the show, as she felt she had given everything she could during filming, despite going through personal loss.
“It was hard to be away from home for so long on the show, especially as my grandfather passed away when I was on a road trip on the show. It was Heston week and I couldn’t just up and leave when we were filming. The fact I didn’t get to say goodbye was the hardest thing. I was stuck in rural Victoria filming, and these things happen I suppose. When I was evicted and finished 11th I felt like I didn’t have anything else to give, I knew I’d given it my best.”
When she got home Nicole returned to work, but today things are different. She’s just bought a house, she’s quit her job and is about to work two days a week in Kenmore, while at the same time writing her
I ❛❛ loved to cook at home, it was a passion.
cookbook, plus launching her own business.
“I’m launching a range of healthy desserts which I’m calling ‘Food For Balance’, which are range of vegan, gluten free, no (or low) sugar treats that I’m planning to sell initially through cafes. The market is saturated with desserts, but this is something different," Nicole said. "It’s still in the early stages of development, but I’ve got a food consultant on board who is helping me. The short-term goal is to get it into cafes and see how it goes.
“The brownies I make are under 10 grams of sugar per 100g which is unheard of. I’m doing little things like using agar instead of cacao butter which makes a huge difference.
“If I say something is healthy I want it genuinely to be healthy. I want to tick all the boxes for the customer.
“I believe in eating good foods for health. I know when I’m travelling or eating on the run I feel my
mental state change, but when I’m eating healthy my mood is lifted and its true that you do use food to help the way you feel. Ethically sourced produce is something that is also important to me. You need to respect meat and produce.”
Nicole is a proud Ipswich girl with a new focus on what she wants to do with her life, just 12 months after she last appeared on TV.
“I still can’t believe I got in, never mind finishing 11th,” Nicole said. “It was good to have Ben Ungermann there who was also from Ipswich. We have lots of mutual friends and share a Dutch heritage.
“I love the community in Ipswich, it has come so far in the last few years. The image of Ipswich has changed. We have so many amazing resources in Ipswich, especially in the area of Health Care. People don’t realise how lucky we have it, we tend to take it for granted.
“There’s lot of things happening in Ipswich and its only going to continue to grow.”
Willowbank's Nicole Stevenson when she was a contestant on MasterChef Australia. Supplied by Channel 10.
Nom. Nom. Nom. Meet Nicoles Vegan Sweet Potato Brownies.
Nicole’s Raspberry and Coconut Vegan Cheesecakes.
Right: Ipswich’s Nicole Stevenson thrived on the show which she admits gave her life a focus and direction.