IT WAS eight months ago that our girl from Bowraville, Billie McKay, was named Australia’s 2015 MasterChef.
And it’s been six months since she jetted off to England to take up Heston Blumenthal’s offer of a job at his three-Michelin star restaurant, The Fat Duck.
The time since then has just been on wondrous rollercoaster ride, as Billie told the Nambucca Guardian.
"I have moments when I have to pinch myself to realise just where I am … being surrounded by the calibre of chefs who work there is intimidating, but incredible,” Billie said.
“I expected it would be a fantastic food experience and it really has been! Everyone was really welcoming too, so that was a really nice start.
“The people I work with are so extremely passionate about food and specifically the ‘Heston’ style of food. It’s a real community – a family. “I started in the ‘prep house’ which is a kitchen across the road from the restaurant.
"It’s where all the big prep jobs are done so it was great to start there. I then moved on to the lolly section – which is one of the courses on the menu.
"Then I moved into the restaurant where I was preparing and plating the ‘walk in the woods’ course - which is a beautiful creation of mushrooms, beetroot, blackberry and truffle.
“I think having had the opportunity to work in a restaurant like The Fat Duck has been a big highlight, but doing service and seeing all of the dishes go out is amazing.
"I think especially, the Botrytis dish that Georgia and I did in the (MasterChef) grand final – it’s pretty special seeing it prepared and plated by the pastry chefs every night … though that sugar ball still haunts me.”
Embedded in the fabric of restaurant culture are the long, long hours chefs are expected to work. But Billie said she couldn’t believe how fast the hours race by.
“They are pretty crazy - I start at 7am and sometimes we finish in the restaurant as late as 1.30am,” she said.
“So the days are long but they go pretty quick as there is always so much to do – it’s always busy … but when it comes to service, it’s so organised and precise, so it doesn’t feel too hectic.
“Being such a well known restaurant it is often a night out for many celebs. I don’t see them though, being in the kitchen, but have heard many famous chefs, actors, sports stars and even British royalty have dined in the last few months.”
Billie herself was recognised after MasterChef Australia finished airing in the UK earlier this year.
“I’ve met a fair few fans of the show since then,” she said. “Everyone says that the Australian MasterChef is by far the best … I have to agree. Go the Aussies.”
Billie and her partner Haydn Surridge are enjoying the change of pace from life in country NSW to the UK fast lane.
“We are living in Maidenhead which is only a 10-minute drive to Bray, where The Fat Duck is, so it’s a good location.
"We are only a 20- minute train ride to London too, so we have seen a bit of the city! “It’s bloody cold though – I’ve never felt this cold before, but I have a well stocked winter wardrobe so I am prepared.”
While Billie said she was initially daunted by the thought of working at such a high profile restaurant, she has no regrets about taking the plunge.
“I was absolutely terrified on my first day, but quickly realised that it wasn’t that scary. I’ve learned a lot of new skills and have really figured out what I want to do with food,” she said.
“But I’ve decided to finish up at the Fat Duck and do some travelling with Haydn. While it is a fantastic opportunity to work there, my heart is in Australia, cooking country inspired food!
“I’ve learned so much that I’ll take with me and am sure I’ll pick up more ideas when travelling. I can’t wait to start organising my own dream restaurant.
“We will be back in Australia towards the end of the year for my sister’s wedding so we are pretty excited about that.
“I am also hoping to do a few popup restaurants in the Nambucca Valley so that our wonderful community can taste my food.”