By Mahika Panditha
When Sri Lanka wins a cricket match, or if a Sri Lankan citizen or a person of Sri Lankan descent achieves or accomplishes anything, the whole country cheers, and celebrates in honour of them.
Most recently, Sri Lankans all over the world had the immense joy of celebrating 11-year old superstar, Georgia, who won the Junior MasterChef Australia 2020 title. Her stunning achievement has garnered the praise of thousands of Sri Lankans, and made our very own foodies very proud.
Georgia learned to cook at the age of 3, with her first attempt being a classic scrambled eggs and toast dish. Her maternal grandparents are Sri Lankans, and her grandmother Charmaine has been credited with teaching the little super star chef how to cook Sri Lankan cuisine, which ultimately won Georgia the final.
Georgia maintained her calm and collected manner each week, whipping up one amazing dish after another, and receiving unending praise from the judges. She was one of the 14 contestants on the show, along with Ben, Carter, Dev, Etka, Filo, Laura, Phenix, Porsha, Ruby, Ryan, Salvo, Tiffany and Vienna, who beat over 2,000 young chefs during the auditions. Whilst all the young chefs competed as best they could; only Georgia, Carter and Filo made it to the final race, watched over by talented judges Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen.
In the final episodes of the challenge, the young finalists were truly put to the test. The semi-final pressure test gave them maybe a tad over two hours to make a lemon meringue ‘Coronavirus’, (the dessert, not the pandemic!), which was originally made by the world famous pastry chef, Kirsten Tibballs.
The finale however was where the fun really began though. Of course, we all know that Georgia took home the trophy, and impressed both the judges and her mother, with the two-course fine-dining meal she made, but this is how it all went down.
Let’s set the scene. There was an orchestra playing tense music whilst the kids cooked, and to make it even more hectic for them their parents too were there watching them. The challenge was all about fancy dining. Each of the contestants had to make a two-course meal that to serve four people, inclusive of a main, and a dessert. The choice of dishes was theirs as long as it was suitable for fine-dining.
If you look back to past seasons, most participants when faced with fine-dining have gravitated straight to French food, or the smallest dish possible that would probably cost absurd amounts. However, each of the contestants decided to highlight the pride they felt in their individual culture and heritage which shone through in their final dishes.
The contestants were given 90 minutes, and while Filo made fried shrimp and Egyptian spicy rice, and Carter made a super complex lamb and peas meal, our darling Georgia made a trio of curries including pork curry, cashew curry and eggplant curry alongside cucumber raita, papadums and rice. Initially she feared that she had spread herself too thin, but judge Jock Zonfrillo noted she was just ahead of her competitors after the tasting, which had in fact truly wowed all the judges.
Up next, the 90 minute dessert course. Filo produced a hazelnut cake with a mirror glaze, crumble and strawberry sorbet, while Carter made a beautiful vanilla bean panna cotta paired with raspberry sorbet and chocolate soil. However, Georgia turned out a unique dessert which she called ‘Tropical Mess’ – toasted coconut ice cream, brown bread crumbs, plum pearls, plum meringues and a lemongrass granita.
Unfortunately, during her prep she had faced a little bit of trouble as the components of her dish were not cooperating and the dish fell apart. After a quick hug from her mom and some wise words of encouragement, she got back into it and managed to serve it up just right.
Georgia’s maturity however had been on display throughout the competition in how she handled her troubles previously, having been noted for saying “I always try to get everything right, but that’s not how life works”. The judges paid very little attention to the look of the dish but rather to the taste and flavours of it, with Andy even mentioning that he did not even care what it looked like because it was delicious. It sure was enough to secure her win!
After the finale, Jock wrote on his Instagram, “I’ve never met an 11 yr old so respectful of others, polite, and with such a passion and understanding of food. Your balance of flavours, taste and technique are well beyond your years. We were truly grateful to eat your delicious food time and time again, and for you to share your heritage and family with us”. Later on, Andy Allen added “Your passion to seek perfection is well beyond your age and you’re going to be something very special in years to come”. Melissa Leong also shared a heart-warming message for the young chef later on after the finale posting, “Georgia. At 11, you are already out-classing kids twice your age in wisdom, self-possession and grace (and obviously culinary talent). I am in awe of everything you bring to the table, and I am just so goddamn hopeful with you as our future. Congratulations little one, you did it!”
Georgia went home with the title, a trophy, a cash prize of AUS $25,000, and the biggest smile. To sum up her experience, Georgia says “Junior MasterChef is the best experience I have ever had.”
The young chef told the Daily Mail Australia that she has no plans for the money as of yet, but she would most likely use it when she is older as she would like to travel and try other cuisines. She added that she would also like to taste the other curries available as she has only had her grandma’s so far!