“The One Thing That Trips Any Chef Up”: This Was The Biggest Struggle In The Dessert Masters Kitchen

The cooks on Dessert Masters know their stuff. Of course they would — they're some of Australia's best pastry chefs, chocolatiers, and dessert makers. But while many of them have appeared as guest judges on MasterChef Australia, the reality of switching from a professional kitchen in the real world to whipping up dishes in the televised kitchen on Dessert Masters is harder than they expected.
For many of the chefs, the change in equipment was perhaps the biggest struggle they grappled with. "You would obviously be tripped up because the equipment's a bit different in the MasterChef kitchen compared to the regular kitchens that we work in," contestant Kay-Lene Tan tells Refinery29 Australia.

"All of us are working in a kitchen that we've never worked in before. I think that's always the one thing that trips any chef up."

kay-lene tan
"All of us are working in a kitchen that we've never worked in before. I think that's always the one thing that trips any chef up — when you're put into an environment you're not familiar [with], it takes a little while before you can find your feet and actually be able to produce [desserts] to the standard you are used to producing."
As someone who has a brother as a chef, I can personally attest to this experience (well, at least to observing it). Countless times, I would watch my brother attempt to cook in my mother's kitchen, criticising the cast iron pans that had clearly been cleaned with a scourer, and the oven's 180 degrees (which is more like 170 degrees). For a chef, the impact of changing into a kitchen they're unfamiliar with cannot be understated, especially when that same kitchen is the vehicle for their craft. Throw the fact that you're being broadcasted on television and you've got the recipe for a very stressful environment.
"I think a lot of us forgot that we were on TV at one point or another because we were so immersed in what we're doing," Tan tells us. "Obviously you have a time crunch, you're surrounded by these incredible talents, you're feeling a bit of pressure. All of us on the show agreed that it was a really big workout for us... Our fitness regime was on point. We did a lot of running."
But while a kitchen in the real world might have some time restraints in order to keep customers happy, it's very much a slower-paced environment — the Dessert Masters kitchen was anything but. For Anna Polyviou, one of the biggest challenges was the pressure to know what she was cooking as soon as she walked into the pantry — and those damn five-minute warnings.
"When you went into the pantry, you couldn't forget anything," she tells Refinery29 Australia. "You'd have to run back in there, wasting time, grabbing equipment, going to your bench and just starting... I can tell you that the hardest part was the last five minutes. You're running around and trying to put everything together."

"Everyone was really nervous to go on [TV] as well. No one ever wanted to be shown badly on TV or if they made a mistake and [we worried about] what people would think."

anna polyviou
Another aspect that impacted the way the contestants adapted to the Dessert Masters kitchen, ironically, was the very reason they were there — the fact that they were on television. "Everyone was really nervous to go on [TV] as well," Polyviou tells us. "No one ever wanted to be shown badly on TV or if they made a mistake and [we worried about] what people would think, but in reality, it's not that kind of show."
While the challenges of cooking on the screen were aplenty — including time limits, adapting to new ovens or tools, and completing half-marathons back and forth between their new pantry and their benches — for some, the Dessert Masters kitchen fostered an environment that perhaps encouraged more experimentation than their kitchens at home.
"One of the really exciting things for me in the kitchen was that I had the opportunity to do techniques that I've never done before," says the chocolate queen, Kirsten Tibballs. "In the Dessert Masters kitchen, I created or utilised techniques I'd never even tried before — and I've been a pastry chef for a long time. I love that element of it, to be able to push myself."
But while Tibballs admits that her experimentation in the Dessert Masters kitchen probably wasn't the best place for her to test out new recipes, it was something that she couldn't help but do in that environment. "It's not the ideal environment to be testing something for the first time, you know, with how many people are watching on television."
"But I thought, you know what, I'm going to do this. I've never done that. I'm going to do this technique. People might assume that these people know everything. But I can tell you, we don't."
The positive vibes of Dessert Masters clearly radiate off the screen, but behind the scenes, things are even more sweet. Yes, adapting to cooking in the Dessert Masters kitchen is clearly a hard process — but contestants say that it was their cast members (and competition!) that helped them through it. "Obviously, there's equipment in that kitchen that some of us have never used before," Tan says. "But we all help each other out. When the oven goes off and I wouldn't hear it, someone would call out, 'Kay, your ovens ringing!' or 'Kay, did you remember to put your stuff in the blast-freezer?'".
In this way, the contestants of Dessert Masters have tried to keep the kitchen as true to the cooking environments they would work in back in the real world. "It didn't feel like we were in a competition," she tells us. "It just felt like you were working in a regular kitchen."
MasterChef: Dessert Masters is now airing on Channel Ten and 10Play.
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