Cooking for love

March 31, 2017

Cooking for love

Elena Duggan, winner of MasterChef Australia 2016, returns to her hometown next month to showcase the best local produce the region has to offer, as part of this year’s Noosa Food and Wine Festival.

Even at two years old, Elena Duggan was the consummate sous-chef. While her mum cooked dinner every night, Elena took pride of place on the kitchen bench where she would be given jobs according to her ability and says she took great pleasure in throwing ingredients into the pot, stirring, or passing things to her mum.

“Mum didn’t really enjoy cooking, but still to this day I think she is an incredible cook. She taught me how to maximise flavour and nutrition for a family, which I really appreciated and am always grateful for,” Elena says, now aged 33.

Other fond memories she shares are with her nan.

“I remember eating all of the off-cuts of pastry when she would make a variety of pies, she was a very traditional Aussie cook … I loved her apple pies and her steak and kidney pies. I tried to recreate it when I was practicing in the MasterChef house but I don’t think anything will ever come quite as close to it.”

Elena’s nan, along with her parents and other close family and friends still reside in Noosa, where she grew up and now regularly visits throughout the year.

“Growing up Coastal was such a joy and I’m so grateful for that. My parents owned a scuba diving business and we had our shop along the Noosa River, we had a jetty there, so getting off the school bus and being able to go for a swim was pretty special,” she shares.

Mum didn’t really enjoy cooking, but still to this day I think she is an incredible cook. She taught me how to maximise flavour and nutrition for a family which I really appreciated and am always grateful for.”

Now living in the New South Wales Blue Mountains, the former school teacher and her partner are planning to move a little closer to home and are looking at properties anywhere from the south coast of Sydney up to the Noosa Hinterland, with the goal of being able to grow a lot of their own produce.

“We can grow a little bit here, but we’d definitely love a bit more space and be able to have somewhere I can cook and teach and produce out of, that would be ideal,” Elena says, sharing when she’s back on the Sunshine Coast she always enjoys making delicious discoveries.

“I have a few favourites (restaurants) I go back to, but I love checking out anything that’s new and getting a bit of attention. We’re spoilt for choice with fresh produce and the variety all year round, so I always hit up the Noosa Farmers Markets and see what’s going on there and often go to the Eumundi Markets to see anything that’s new and interesting and how I can have a play with it.”

Next month, Elena will join a whole host of celebrity chefs at the annual Noosa Food and Wine Festival from 18 to 21 May.

“I was on the show (MasterChef) last year, so I wasn’t able to attend – this is my first year in attendance as a guest, which is pretty awesome,” she says.

“It’s unusual for me to know anyone in a crowd, but there might be a few people I will know and surprisingly it’s more nerve-wracking cooking for people you know.”

Later in the year, Elena will head to California for an international food festival and is preparing to launch her own website bursting with recipes and tutorials – her journey as a teacher almost coming full circle.

“I’m trying to continue to encourage people of all ages to cook and eat better and more enjoyably and that’s where my love and passion of education comes into it as well, because it’s still in me to teach, it’s just changed formats,” she says.

“I definitely miss being in the classroom, one of my students who graduated last year has made it into ARTEXPRESS this year, which is the highest exhibition honour for a Year 12 student. So it’s moments like that which make you think it’s pretty special to be a part of their lives when they’re doing such incredible things and learning and growing.

“I’m hoping to get back to that in some form, I think it will be through cooking this time.”

Elena will be at the Noosa Food and Wine Festival on 20 May, as part of The Queensland Seafood Experience, at Peppers. For more information and tickets, visit

The new season of MasterChef returns on WIN (Channel HD80 and Channel 8) in coming weeks.

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