Foodie Confidential: Hair's breadth of a chance

For three years, MasterChef Asia judge Audra Morrice was a homecook with a burning desire to be on the Australian version of the reality cooking competition.

But it was only after she initially missed the application deadline to be a contestant on the fourth season of MasterChef Australia that she knew how badly she wanted it.

The Singapore-born former senior account manager in the telecommunications industry, who moved to Sydney for work in 1998, says: "I had made a million excuses as to why I shouldn't take part, but my husband told me to just do it and not wait another 10 years.

"I remember very clearly that it was 12.32am when I wanted to apply. I was too late and I cried."

Her New Zealand-born husband Carl Anderson, 45, runs an executive search firm and they have two sons aged 10 and 12.

Through an "emotional rollercoaster" series of events which involved her calling the hotline to beg for a chance, her application was eventually approved.

Morrice, 45, placed third in the Australian edition of the competition. Since then, she has started a successful catering business under her name, a food line called Audra selling jams and a cooking show called Tasty Conversations.

She has also come full circle on the show, from being a contestant to being one of the three judges on the new MasterChef Asia. It airs on Thursdays at 9pm on Lifetime (StarHub TV Channel 514).

The other two judges are celebrity chefs Susur Lee and Bruno Menard. All three were in town last week for promotional activities in the lead-up to the show's debut last Thursday.

Next month, she will be back in Singapore to launch her 232-page cookbook called My Kitchen, Your Table, published by Landmark Books. It has many Asian recipes from her foodie family. These were dishes she ate during her childhood in Singapore.

The date also marks the first death anniversary of her late Indian father and Singapore Armed Forces pioneer John Morrice, who died at age 79 of a heart attack.

Her Chinese mother Stella, 75, still lives here, as does her brother Andrew, 47, who runs an import-export business.

She remembers that her father was concerned about her quitting her job to join MasterChef Australia and challenged her decision.

Getting emotional as she speaks of her foodie father, she says: "He played a very big part in the things I've achieved in life and now his food heritage is in my cookbook. He would be super proud that my life is all about food and I get to mentor the next generation."

What was it like to step back into the MasterChef Asia kitchen as a judge?When the contestants cook, I feel butterflies in my stomach for them because I know the pressure they feel.

What are the things you eat when you visit Singapore?

Thosai, fried butterfly dough fritters and roti prata.

In Sydney, how do you showcase Singapore's cuisine?

I cook a lot of Nonya dishes and make a mean beef rendang. I want people to know that Singapore is not just about chilli crab.

I've also introduced lo hei (yusheng) to the Aussies, teaching them about the Chinese New Year dish. My version has an Asian dressing made with black vinegar, fermented beans and brown sugar.

How did your family influenced your love for food and cooking?

I come from a family of great cooks. I never met my paternal grandparents, but I know that my grandfather was the assistant cook to General Tomoyuki Yamashita (during World War II) and war hero Lord Mountbatten.

My father would also tell me about my grandmother's legendary appam (fermented rice flour pancakes).

With my mother's side of the family, I remember digging for clams along East Coast beach. My aunt would then cook the clams with black beans and chilli. My mouth is watering as I talk about this.

Can your two sons cook?

Yes. I'm not overly precious about them using knives. By age six, they could cook over a fire. They can make their own omelettes with kale and chorizo and they know how to render the chorizo to get the fat out. I used to make batches of food and leave them in the freezer before I travelled overseas for work. Now, they can make their own food. I believe that makes them good potential husbands too.

What is always in your kitchen?

Five different types of soya sauce - gluten-free, premium, kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soya sauce), light and dark, as well as smoked salt and Sichuan peppercorns, which is good for roasting pork. I also must have lots of vinegar - apple cider, balsamic and black.

Would you consider opening a restaurant one day?

I love doing catering because all the clients are different and you can do bespoke menus for them. The restaurant business is tough, as it is a very transient industry. If you are no longer relevant, you are out.

What is your next food dream?

As a young child, I always wanted my own retail store. Perhaps I'll do a range of my own crockery, because I hate white plates. Don't you think plating salmon on a blue or green plate brings out the colours better than it being on a white one?

MasterChef Asia airs on Thursdays at 9pm on Lifetime (StarHub TV Channel 514).
My Kitchen, Your Table ($49.90) is sold in major bookstores. Its official launch on Oct 24, 4pm, is at Books Kinokuniya in Ngee Ann City.

This article was first published on September 6, 2015.
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