Here's what Illawarra Masterchef contestant Gina Ottaway has learnt from reality television

Being a Masterchef contestant has been a covert operation for Flinders grandmother Gina Ottaway with filming wrapping for the hit reality cooking show last year.

The 55-year-old disappeared for several weeks but told no-one about her exciting jaunt except her immediate family, swearing them to all to secrecy.

“I actually had left my job but I didn’t even tell them why I left,” the former disability services work said. She had been off work injured but decided not to return when the television opportunity arose.

The program which airs on the WIN Network is only 11 episodes in, though Ottaway was tight lipped about how far she gets in the competition when talking with the Mercury. What she was happy to chat about was how the experience has taught her to believe in herself.

“I watched Masterchef every year and the calibre of people on the show and what they were putting up was amazing,” she said.

“[The judges] loved the fact it had gone back to simple home cooking, they loved that I cooked from my heart and that made me quite proud to say ‘it’s okay to be a simple home cook’, nothing fancy.”

Ottaway’s simple style of cooking – creating recipes with only five or six ingredients – is something viewers have been crying out for, she said.

“I’d love to do a cooking show and basically visit the grandmothers, nonnas, yayas, abuelas all over and get those sorts of recipes that take little time and pass them on as well as my own,” she said.

Big name celebrities such as Gordon Ramsay and Prince Charles are yet to feature on the popular program. The ultimate winner walks away with $250,000 and a monthly column in Delicious magazine.