‘She’s A Tough Judge’: MasterChef Australia Winner Billie McKay’s Surprising Moment With Melissa Leong
For those playing catch-up, the grand finale involved two rounds, and in round one McKay scored 21 out of 30, while her competitor, Sarah Todd, landed a score of 26 out of 30.
Already five points behind, the pressure was on for McKay to catch up in round two where both contenders were asked to recreate celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal's famous Taffety Tart.
Todd's scores were delivered first and she received a collective 56 out of 60 from the judges. This meant that McKay needed another 36 points at the very least to trump Todd.
It all came down to the final judge, Leong, to reveal her score, and she was the only one to give a perfect 10 to McKay — resulting in 37 extra points for McKay which won her the entire competition.
McKay says she was very surprised that Leong scored her dessert a 10 because the food critic has very high standards.
"As I was seeing those scores be revealed, I thought there's no chance I'll get a 10 from Mel because she's such a beautiful person, but she's such a tough judge," she tells Refinery29 Australia.
"She knows food and she knows what she's talking about. I just did not think there was any way that I would get a 10. I think that that was probably one of my favourite moments of the season — seeing that number 10 on her card."
With a $250,000 cash prize under her belt, the mother-of-one from NSW plans to open her own restaurant with a focus on delicious dinners and desserts.
"The first point of call is to just have a little break and spend some time with my daughter and family and catch up with everyone and celebrate," she says.
"Then the next thing is I do want to open a restaurant and start cooking again, because I've discovered it again and I don't want to let it go this time."
McKay competing in the Fans & Favourites season has allowed her to reconnect with her passion for cooking after she — like many new mothers — had to take a break when she gave birth to daughter Ada in 2020.
After winning the show seven years ago, she worked at UK chef Heston Blumenthal's Michelin-starred restaurant Fat Duck for six months before coming back home and working on her family's dairy farm.
"Then I got older, got married and had Ada. I'd just been loving working on the farm. But always in the back of my mind, I knew how much I loved cooking and wanted to work in food," she says.
"But it didn't really happen. I was loving the farm and not really knowing how to get there," she explains.
When she received the phone call from MasterChef producers asking her to appear on the revamped season starring 12 returning contestants (favourites) and 12 amateur home cooks (fans), McKay understandably felt conflicted, as she didn't want to leave her daughter, but ultimately recognised it could be an opportunity to reinvigorate her culinary career.
"I think that's always in the back of my mind," she says of wanting to set a good example for her little girl.
"Now that I've gone and won it again, I think it's a great feeling and I look forward to the day she discovers that and maybe watches and has a bit of a proud moment, too."
As for McKay herself, the buzz of winning twice still feels very surreal.
"I think over the next few weeks when it sort of sinks in, I'll really enjoy that moment."