Debra Sederlan’s time on MasterChef came to an end last night after an elimination challenge that saw herself, Ben, Andy, Alice and Julia preparing a five-course village feast for 50 Italians. Debra was in charge of cooking the spit roast pig and side vegies, which was an overwhelming and confronting task for the former vegetarian. As a result of her pork being too cold, she was eliminated from the competition. We caught up with Deb this morning to discuss how she felt about team challenges, how menopause affected her and who she wants to win.
What was the hardest part about the elimination challenge for you?
The pig! But it was a pretty difficult challenge all the way through for me. Having to deal with the pig was really confronting, so right at the beginning I was on the back foot and I was quite emotional through that whole day, just pulling together all the components of my dish for the 50 people in the village. I think when I had to carve the pig I realised my time had just completely disappeared.
Looking back do you think you did too much and should’ve done what the judges suggested, and kept it simple?
It’s really funny that you should say that because quite often I’m very focused around what I put up on the plate. But it was the judges who came up to me and suggested, “Deb, why don’t you do some salad?” And normally when they do that I’m like, “No, because this is what I’ve decided I want in the meal,” but I just thought about it and at that point when they made that suggestion, I looked at the vegies that were there and I thought, “Oh, maybe my dish can do with some more challenge.” So I allowed my focus to . . . they influenced me! [Laughs] They do that a lot. You get used to them coming up and making suggestions, and some of them are fantastic. Originally I was only going to do the fennel, the apple and the pork, and that was it. I just allowed myself to be swayed. [Laughs] Perhaps I could’ve cut the pig inside. There are lots of things retrospectively that I could’ve done differently.
More from Deb when you keep reading.
You said you realised early on that your time was up. Do you still have the same level of motivation to complete the challenge?
I wasn’t thinking about not getting through at that stage. When you do the challenges, I personally never thought about not getting through. I just focused on what had to be done. There was a point where I realised I needed help and that’s when I went inside and asked Andy and Ben. When I went in to ask them for help I realised how overwhelmed I was feeling ’cos I could barely speak — I was crying so much! Andy’s like, “OK Deb, what is it, what do you need us to do?” Without their help I don’t know what I would’ve done.
Did you get much time to explore Italy?
No. Seeing on TV has actually been really nice! They have some beautiful footage of the country.
Team challenges were a bit of a struggle for you.
I think it was just the complete unfamiliarity of that situation. And our team challenges aren’t like real life where you sit down, collaborate and really discuss things. They happened on the spot. Because I wasn’t really aligned with anybody as much, when there were friendships within the teams a lot of the trust was placed on whether the captain was a friend of someone, and then they would get a certain chore. It could’ve been as much my fault as the team’s. I’m not a team person — I’ve never played team sports because I don’t like teams! [Laughs] It doesn’t mean I don’t like working with people, I do, but I’ve just done a lot of stuff on my own and I’ve gotten used to managing my own decisions.
Did you watch MasterChef beforehand? Did you know what you were getting yourself into?
No! I don’t think I had any idea at all, retrospectively! And I’m actually kind of glad I didn’t.
So you didn’t watch the previous series?
I had watched the previous series but not with the nightly dedication like some of the contestants, who are like cult followers and took notes every night, or had this ambition for four years. I wasn’t one of those.
Have you managed to watch yourself on TV and how do you think you came across?
I watched myself from a pretty objective perspective, as a witness rather than, “Oh wow, that’s me.” I’ve watched the TV show and it’s been edited this way. I know the things that went on [behind the scenes]. It’s a drama. They need to put that across. I’m OK with everything. I actually thought I managed to be quite authentic throughout the whole process.
You said you were going through menopause — do you think that made a big difference with how you performed?
I still am! [Laughs] I don’t know that it made a difference with how I performed. The reality for me was that as a 50-year-old I realised that my adrenaline and energy levels are quite different to when I was a 20-year-old, when I used to think having sleep was just a waste of life. Physically, it does, because I was managing something that was going on with me on a personal level, internally, and when you’re in stressful situations even normal people can get overwhelmed, but for me I was dealing with other things. And it’s a reality of my life as well as for many other women in middle age. You do get hot, sweaty, cold, and start crying at the drop of a hat! You go, “Where did I put that? I can’t remember where I put that.” So they’re all very real things and the nature of this show is it’s so fast-paced, physically and emotionally demanding that yeah, I think I was pushed to the edge a few times.
You mentioned alliances early on. How did you feel mixed in with all the contestants who are quite a bit younger than you?
It’s interesting because I’ve been on my own for so long, and I deliberately tried to find my own space amongst all the people. I am in my personal life quite a quiet person and quite private, so it was really important to me to find that quietness in all of that noise. I did that by getting up really early in the morning, I did yoga, took myself away just to sit . . . A lot of the time it’s all about perception. Certainly, I think it’s nice if you have friends to support you, but this was my personal journey and I managed it in the best way I could.
What were your favourite challenges?
I loved the dude food challenge. I wasn’t really shown because I was a whisker away from getting into the top three, but that was great and I had a lot of fun. I cooked food in a way that I normally wouldn’t. I cooked the highest fat content dish of the day! [Laughs] So I got great comments from the judges and it was a fun, high-energy challenge. The other one was when the past three MasterChef winners came in, that was really amazing. And just meeting some of the celebrity people — Heston [Blumenthal] was just so unassuming and a really amazing man in the way he thinks about food. Marco Pierre White was just this great, massive god-like person. And Jamie Oliver was just like a beautiful, cuddly teddy bear!
What are the key things you’ve learned about yourself?
I learned my spirit and courage as a person. I learned to put myself out there. And the other thing I learned about myself — and I think this is a really human thing that people go through life thinking that they’re not really special and not worth much — I was confronted with a lot of things about my worth as a person, and my food. I learned that the type of food I cook is really unique to me and lots of people like it!
Who do you want to win?
There are two people I’d love to see win and if there could be a draw it would be great. I’d love to see Julia as one of the final contestants. I think she’s an amazing young woman. And I’d really love to see a young guy win — a lot of the young guys in the past have come really close. And Andy, as a person, for a young guy, is incredible. He has grown as a cook so much, and it was so nice to see the penny drop for him in Tasmania. When he went through that challenge he went, “Wow, this really is what I want to do.” He changed gears, focused and put up amazing food. So they’re my two picks.
Photo courtesy of Network Ten