Steph De Sousa
Thanks for dropping in. Can I make you a coffee?
Where do I start? Life has certainly been an interesting (is that the right word?) adventure for me. The saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is pretty appropriate in my case I think
“A little spice, a lot of sass .”
I was born in a little country town in North West Tasmania, called Wynyard. To give you an idea, Wynyard has a top, middle and bottom pub, a footy club, a few churches and all the shops are on the main street. Everyone knows everybody or is related to you somehow. It’s a nice place to feel connected to a community.
I spent a lot of time during my young years hanging out with my Grandmother on my Dad’s side. Nanny Viv. She was a fab cook, particularly baking. I remember sitting on her bench watching her cook for hours. I never tired of it. She would let me help but I mainly remember watching and chatting. I think this is one of the reasons I find any kitchen such a peaceful and happy place.
One of the most amazing things she would make were hot cross buns. I can still see her kneading the dough for what seemed like hours, and helping find the sunniest spot to sit the dough in to let it rise.
When they were finally finished, eating one straight out of the oven with a slab of butter so thick it looked like cheese.
My first job was when I was not quite 12. I walked down the street of Paradise Point, where I lived, into the local Patisserie and asked for a job. Weirdly they said YES.
I met this man when I was 16, he was 26! By the time I was 22, I was married and pregnant with my first child. By the time I was 26, I had 3 kids, Darby, Tannah and Malli, had lived in Vanuatu, MacKay, Gold Coast and was headed for Tasmania. This would be the last move I would make with him. It’s a very long story and one for another day, but I eventually escaped that relationship on my 30th birthday!
It wasn’t long after this that I started work as a public servant. First for the ATO, then for the Child Support Agency, and then on to the big daddy of them all, DHS.
My goodness this job was good to me, and so were the friends I made along the way. I went through so many life events while working with them, and they were so supportive at every step.
Over those 15 years I worked for them, I went through a very messy divorce and had so many custody hearings in court that I can’t actually remember how many, I met my hubby Neville and married him, Lost my beautiful dad to very aggressive brain cancer, had another baby, Noah, moved to Newcastle to escape a very toxic ex husband, another custody battle, my beautiful nephew Jack passed away at 17, and teenagers – need I say more? let’s throw in another custody battle because there were so many.
Life was not easy let me give you the tip. There is more, but honestly, you are probably rolling your eyes by now and just skimming to the next paragraph anyway. One day I’ll write a book and bore you some more.
Then, three years ago, while sitting on the couch with my phone, I filled out the application for Masterchef Australia. It took me a few nights to complete it, and I pushed submit! I remember it so clearly because I turned to my hubby, Neville and said, “I just submitted my MasterChef application.” The look of shock on his face was priceless. He knew I had always wanted to do it, but it had been years since we had spoken about it seriously. Every year when the ad came on during the show, we would talk about it, but never do anything about it. I had just reached the point in my life when I needed to do something. Something for me, something amazing, something fun! I had been in a desk job for 12 years and although so grateful, it was slowly killing my soul. I felt like all my sass and drive and determination was leaking out of my hands into the public service keyboard.
To be totally honest, I never really thought I would hear back from them. I really didn’t think I was good enough, or interesting enough to get an audition, but then I did. Another moment sitting on the couch, reading my emails, it was family night so all the kids were home and I got the email inviting me for an audition.
That feeling was amazing. It felt like it just unlocked something inside me, like I just knew I had to do it. I had to do MasterChef.
I rocked up to the first audition, so naive. I really had no idea what to expect. I cooked lemon and ricotta ravioli with a sage and brown butter sauce. They liked it and asked me back to cook something else a few days latter. I could not believe this was happening to me. I returned, cooked a vindaloo, some chapati bread, raita, coconut beans. They liked it again and I was shortlisted. About 3 weeks later I received a call to say, thanks but no thanks. I WAS DEVASTATED. I could not believe after all this I had not made it. I had convinced myself it was my destiny. It was such a massive let down after such a high. I thought I was about to break out of my ordinary life and explode on to a new exciting one. It took a few weeks, but I eventually pulled rank on myself. Dusted myself off, and decided that it was my destiny and I was going to make this MasterChef thing happen. I worked my heart out that year. I cooked every spare moment I had. When I wasn’t cooking, I was studying, watching cooking shows, eating new and different food. The second those applications opened for 2018, I was on to it and submitted it so fast. I was ready, so ready. I got another email, inviting me to audition and I just knew this was my time. I had practiced and practiced a dish ready to cook. I made it through to the second round again and then shortlisted again. And again, I got the thanks but no thanks call! You thought I was sad last time, you should have seen me this time. For about a month I was lost. This was all I had worked toward for 2 years, I had nothing else. This was the dream. There was no back up plan. I decided pretty much within a few weeks that I was going to give this MasterChef thing one last go. But this was going to be the last time. I decided if I didn’t make it this time, I would just have to do something on my own. I could not stay doing what I was doing any longer, it was killing me.
So I got stuck into cooking again for another year. Every opportunity to cook, I did it. I watched every season of MasterChef again, trying to work out a formula for success. (there isn’t one I decided) Applications opened and I am ready to roll again. This year I am not as confident that I am going to even get an audition. What if they have decided I am just not good enough. All the anxiety of not being good enough hit me hard. All my friends and family were telling me that I had it in the bag, but i was so much more anxious this last year. There was so much riding on it because this was it, the last time.
Thankfully I get the email inviting me to audition again. Being the third time, I have a good idea of what they want from me so I plan and practice a few dishes that I hope will knock their socks off. The day before the first audition, I am sitting at my desk at work and my mobile phone rings and its my son Tannah. I don’t get to it quick enough and I miss the call. I try and call him back but he is on another call. Then I get another call, this time from my daughter Darby. “Mum, Dad’s dead.” My three big kids, Darby, Tannah and Malli’s father had died. He was dead in his house and the police were waiting for them to get to the house so they could arrange for his body to be taken away.
Naturally I jump from my desk and run out the door to be with them. I spent the rest of that day in chaos. I remember ringing my mum on the way to his house asking her does she know what I have to do to get someone to come and collect his body? Seriously, have you ever thought about this? I was lucky to stumble across a funeral home with an angel on the other end of the phone to help me. The kids were just in shock. If I had no idea, imagine how clueless they were. We made it through the day but then came the decision, do I leave them for the day tomorrow and go to the audition or do I kiss my dream and everything I had worked so hard for, goodbye?
The kids would not have a bar of it and promptly sent me on my way. I spent the entire 3 hour drive to the audition on the phone organising a cremation, informing family and listening to tears from the kids. I arrive, take a deep breath, take 2 Panadol and get out of the car. Put my game face on and walked through the door.
I was greeted like an old friend by the Master Chef team which was just what I needed on that day. I smashed that cook out of the park that day and was invited back two days later to have another go. I smashed that cook as well and made the shortlist again. I may have lost my shit in the interview that day. It all just got a bit much. I was thankful for the previous auditions, because I knew them well enough to explain what was going on. They promptly shooed me out of the interview and sent me home to my kids. How I passed the psych test that day is beyond me!
Then the nervous wait began. I remember so clearly the day got the call. I was sitting in a training room at the federal police headquarters in Canberra, learning about fraud when my phone rang. I grabbed my phone and ran out of the room so fast. It was Marty, the executive producer. I can’t really remember what he said except I had made it to the judges auditions.
I think it was a mix of relief and joy. Thank god that was a yes, because I was scared for my mental health if it was a no.
I feel like food is one of those things in life that despite your age, nationality, rich or poor, happy or sad, sain or crazy, it will bring you together with a stranger. MasterChef is the perfect example of this. 24 strangers, with very different stories and values, with just food as the common link, all thrown into a house together and then put under more pressure than they could ever imagine. What comes out is 24 people with the strongest of friendships with nothing but a wish for success for each other. And that there is the magic of MasterChef. It’s a competition but not one person was on it to win the money. Every single person was there to be on the ride of their life, learn all they can and to change their life to be a life filled with food. Ahhhh, so much emotion writing this. The same feeling in my gut rises up when I talk about this as the first time I laid eyes on my babies. Seriously, it is that same overwhelming feeling of excitement, love, amazement, achievement and every other emotionally expressive word I can think of!
I can remember one night when I was about 33, probably after a few red wines, I said to a friend of mine, “I really believe I am destined to do something amazing.” Thinking about that now, it sounds so up myself, but it was so true. It was a deep seeded desire, buried so deep inside of me, that I just knew I was going to do something life changing. I didn’t want an ordinary life, I wanted an adventure, to be someone and do something! Back then I didn’t know what that was, and to a certain extent I still don’t. But I do know I have flicked that indicator on, turned that corner and have my foot on the accelerator, and I think I’m headed in the right direction.