While she hasn't had a lot of airtime so far, Keyma Vasquez Montero promises to bring a new flavour to MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites — one the reality show hasn't seen before.
Hailing from the small Venezuelan town of Ciudad Guayana and influenced by her grandparents' love of Caribbean food, the mother of two wants to share Latin, Venezuelan and Caribbean cuisine with the masses.
"In Australia, there is very little that we know about [these cuisines], so to me, being given the opportunity to do this on this platform is huge," Montero tells Refinery29 Australia.
After migrating to Australia 11 years ago, Montero admits that settling into a new country was initially difficult and it was "a big adjustment" raising her children here.
"For any immigrant, it's very difficult to come to a country where it's not your first language," she explains. "I had probably half of the English I have now."
Food has always given her a sense of home and belonging, and it naturally became the inspiration to start her blog Guava by Keyma when the pandemic started. The website features recipes for some of her favourite dishes, like Venezuelan cheese fingers and cassava fries with Guasacaca sauce.
"Obviously I had a lot of time on my hands and I just tried to keep developing my cooking. Then I started documenting all of that and sharing some of the recipes," she says, explaining that other cuisines she's craved have also made the mix.
There's depth to Montero's blogging process, as she cooks every dish three to four times — and it must get the seal of approval from her children before it makes it onto the blog. Her cooking on MasterChef is an extension of the deliciousness splashed across her website.
"It's part of what I'm bringing to the show as well," she says. "Honest, humble cuisine."
Judge Melissa Leong says that Montero is definitely one to watch on the cooking show this year, because she offers cultural knowledge and techniques that other contenders haven't necessarily brought to the table before.
"It's a really wonderful thing to see such a diverse range of contestants as we always have from the beginning of MasterChef Australia," says Leong.
"There has always been a wonderful diversity of characters, stories and culture and that continues, and I think what I've loved this season is learning about Caribbean food culture, for example, from Keyma.
"She's a brilliant human being and the way that she's so passionate about expressing her Venezuelan roots and also her Caribbean roots is something that Australia hasn't really seen before. It's something we should learn more about because it's so delicious and so vibrant and there's so much history there."
While some viewers have noted on social media that Montero hasn't been featured as much as some of her MasterChef co-stars, others have expressed how stoked they've been whenever she has appeared on-screen and showcased her culture.
This year's season of MasterChef features 12 contestants from previous seasons (favourites) competing against 12 amateur home cooks (fans) in the kitchen.
The favourites on the show this year include Julie Goodwin (Season 1), Billie McKay (Season 7), Sashi Cheliah (Season 10), Alvin Quah (Season 2), Michael Weldon (Season 3) Mindy Woods (Season 4), Christina Batista (Season 5), Sarah Todd (Season 6), John Carasig (Season 7), Aldo Ortado (Season 10), Minoli De Silva (Season 13) and Tommy Pham (Season 13).
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites continues at 7:30pm on Channel 10 and 10Play.