MasterChef Runner-Up Matt Sinclair steps forward to food dream

By BeanScene Editor Sarah Baker

Matt Sinclair’s MasterChef journey may be over, but his new career in food has only just begun.

“I’m still trying to get my head around what’s just happened but what’s going to happen,” says Matt of being crowned MasterChef Australia’s 2016 Runner-Up.

It’s been just over one week since 2.5 million viewers tuned in nation-wide to watch Elena Duggan narrowly pip Matt at the post to take the title, but already Matt’s winning in other avenues.

As soon as filming wrapped-up, Matt dived head first into a commercial kitchen at Wood Fire Grill by Rickys in Noosa Heads, Queensland.

“It’s been incredible. The main reason I wanted to get into a kitchen as soon as I got home was to start to get my head around performing a proper service without 15 cameras and people screaming at you,” Matt says. “I wanted to be a part of the prep and discover how much it hurts in a service when you’re not prepared.”

With more experience under his belt, Matt has just announced he will open a food stall at Brisbane’s Eat Street Markets in the first half of September. Named Ten Piece Cutlery, the stall will be the launch pad to Matt’s long-time dream of starting a food truck and catering brand. “We’re in mega planning and preparation mode. That’s where a lot of our focus is going. There’s a lot of logistics going into it so we want to get it right,” he says.

This will be a permanent chance for locals to taste some of the bold flavours Matt became known for on the reality cooking show. “We love our South-East Asian style with nice punchy flavours, but at the same time we’ve given ourselves some creative freedom to be a bit adventurous and explore different cuisines,” Matt says. “The one thing I have definitely taken away from MasterChef is knowledge on flavours: keep it simple, make it tasty. Some of the simplest food on the planet is where you get the most pleasure.”

Most MasterChef viewers would know that Matt is handy with a smoking machine, equally impressive in filleting fish, and makes a make a mean broth, but what others may not know is his skill behind a Has Garanti coffee roaster. He’s no self-confessed “coffee snob”, moreso a “regular two to three-long blacks a day” kind-of-guy, but Matt knows his rate of rise curve from his exhaust curve.

For two years Matt spent his mornings extracting shots from a La Marzocco machine at Little Cove Coffee in Noosaville, and come afternoon, he’d roast. “It’s probably where my appreciation for coffee first developed. They go a little bit heavier on the roast, a bit richer. It’s my style,” Matt says.

Prior to working as a roaster Matt was working as a Restaurant Manager in Noosa. He says he was looking for a new challenge to “recharge his batteries”, and so went for the interview at Little Cove Coffee.

“To my surprise they didn’t just want me to work there they wanted an apprentice roaster. My eyes lit up. It was exciting. It was a whole new world and a whole new skill set to learn,” Matt says. “I had zero experience. It took me 12 months to get my head around [roasting] and confidently do it on my own. I love the craft and the skill to it.”

Matt says he’s fond of Kenya AA beans and Panama Geishas, but what he looks for in a good coffee is depth of flavour. “I’m not a massive fan of super light roasting or highly acidity styles. I like something a little bit deeper, more punchy, more backbone,” he says.

In fact, Matt says the Little Coffee Cove team had his back the whole way throughout his MasterChef experience. “They were incredible. When I first said to them I had this opportunity to go on MasterChef, they said, ‘Mate, you’ve got to go. Do it.’ It was amazing to have that support.”

Matt’s roasting career may be on the backburner for the time being, but he can’t rule out a return one day. “Never say never,” he says.

When looking back at how his food journey has evolved, Matt says its funny to think that applying for MasterChef was never his idea. Show producers scouted the Queensland Coast for talent and in speaking to local businesses heard about an eager cook and foodie by the name of Matt.

“They gave me a call, I pondered it for a while, and thought, ‘why not?’” Matt says. “I never thought I had what it took to go all the way. I knew I could cook but I didn’t know at what level the competition would be at or how fast everyone was going to escalate. For me it was just one day at a time.”

Those days turned into months, until Matt was one of the last two standing. He says one of the biggest challenges he and other contestants faced throughout the series was “creative block”. “There were days you’d step into the kitchen and you just don’t have that X factor, when nothing comes to your head and you have no inspiration [for a dish or recipe],” he says. “It’s intimidating walking into a kitchen feeling like that.”

Matt describes the MasterChef environment as “a bubble”, where contestants are “completely immersed in food” on the show and at their residency. “It’s food, food, food. Food magazines, cook books, on repeat. When we weren’t reading books about food, we were work-shopping food in the kitchen and talking about it with each other. That’s why I think you see a spike in the quality of food towards the end of to the show because that’s all we’ve been doing,” Matt says.

As for all cameras, Matt says they just became second nature. “In all honesty, it’s that crazy you don’t even notice the cameras. You’re that focused and committed to just getting through the other end of challenges and trying to put up the best food possible, there’s no point in taking an interest in the camera because it’s not going to get you across the line,” he says.

Matt came so close to getting across that line in the Grand Finale, which began in early morning and didn’t wrap up until around 2am. Matt says his most memorable moment was sharing the day with his mum, dad, sister and wife. “There’s a lot of things I shared with people throughout the competition, but to be able to share that moment with my family is something I’ can hold onto forever,” he says.

It’s unlikely Matt will ever forget the mammoth challenge dessert Heston Blumenthal brought in for the occasion. Named the Verjus in Egg, the five-and-a-half-hour cook was described by Heston as one of the most “challenging desserts ever to feature on the show”. It may have brought Matt undone by the slightest of margins, but he doesn’t regret a thing.

“I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” Matt says. “I can honestly say that I look back on that experience as an incredible platform to dive into what I want to do next. For me that’s what it’s all about, the next chapter, and what I do from here. If things keep going the way they’re going and we keep working hard at it, then the next dream will come true.”

Keep an eye out for Matt at Eat Street Markets, 99 MacArthur Avenue, Hamilton:

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