FIND­ING A FOODIE FU­TURE

QT Magazine - - COVER STORY - DAR­REN HALLESY DAR­REN.HALLESY@QT.COM.AU

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.”

PHOTO ROB WIL­LIAMS

PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Wil­low­bank's Ni­cole Steven­son when she was a con­tes­tant on MasterChef Aus­tralia. Supplied by Chan­nel 10.

PHOTO: NI­COLE STEVEN­SON

Nom. Nom. Nom. Meet Ni­coles Ve­gan Sweet Potato Brown­ies.

PHOTO: NI­COLE STEVEN­SON

Ni­cole’s Rasp­berry and Co­conut Ve­gan Cheese­cakes.

PHOTO: CHAN­NEL 10

Right: Ip­swich’s Ni­cole Steven­son thrived on the show which she ad­mits gave her life a fo­cus and di­rec­tion.

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