Adam Liaw says he has learned a lot about himself and cooking since MasterChef. Photograph: Destination Flavour, SBS AustraliaWith the MasterChef finale upon us, the season two winner reflects on how the TV show changed his life (he’s given up law for a start) and what it has taught him.The seventh season of a resurgent MasterChef Australia is coming to an end on Monday night, and I'm reminded it has been five years since I won the second season. A lot has changed in that half-decade. I'm no longer working as a lawyer, for one. These days I cook, I write books, I make TV shows, I travel and eat, and generally I spend an awful lot of time thinking about food. Here's a few things I've learned.
Cooking is a basic life skill
As a cookbook writer I must have been told a thousand times by people that they "don't have time to cook", and I'm always baffled by it. Australians spend on average around four hours a day watching TV and surfing the internet. We all have time to cook. Cooking is a basic life skill " like riding a bike or brushing your teeth. There's no better way to improve your quality of life than by learning to cook well.
I'm not a chef, and I don't want to be
MasterChef and other shows like it are fantastic entertainment, but it should be obvious to everyone that if you want to be a chef then going on telly isn't the way to do it. I have huge respect for chefs, but good food and good cooking isn't the exclusive domain of Ramsay-esque bluster, or Blumenthal-ian wizardry. Home cooking is not second-best to restaurant food " they're two different things. I just love feeding my family, and helping other people do the same.
Simple is best
I cook far more simply today than I did five years ago, and it comes down to one obvious truth: there is no correlation between how difficult something is to make, and how good it tastes. Ingredients are fantastic just as they are, and it's the cook's job to get them ready for the table without getting in the way of their natural flavour. I can honestly say I rarely spend more than 20 minutes making dinner each night, and I think I'm a better cook for it.
Seasoning is the most important part of making food taste good
A few weeks ago I wrote about seasoning, but it's such an important point it deserves repeating. Seasoning and flavouring are two different things. Chefs often talk about seasoning as the correct level of salt in a dish, but in reality seasoning is balancing just five things: salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. Flavouring, on the other hand, is adding new flavours to a dish. Years ago I focused a lot on flavour combinations, worrying whether basil and apple went together, or if I could combine duck with tomato.
These days I hardly ever think about those things. Good seasoning is the reason why at fancy restaurants you can see strange combinations of ingredients that just seem to work together. And it's the secret to making delicious food at home, too.
Food is fun
We all tend to take food (and television) a bit too seriously. The winner and other contestants from this season will have seen food reach the most artificially stressful, combative and difficult point it will ever reach in their lives. When the dust settles it's time to remember that cooking is easy, and food is fun. Keep that in mind, and I wish every one of them wild success, happy cooking, and full bellies for years to come.