This is it! The maiden MasterChef Singapore is in the homestretch, with IT manager Zander Ng and culinary student Genevieve Lee heading for a showdown in the finale this Sunday (Oct 21), while housewife Sharon Gonzago and photographer Shamsydar Ani were shown the exit and directed to the close-but-no-cigar section. This is the first of two separate interviews we did with the ousted contestants.
When 8 DAYS caught up with Gonzago, she has nothing but fond memories being the underdog during the competition. While she’s never won best dish, she’s dazzled judges Damian D’ Silva, Audra Morrice and Bjorn Shen on a few occasions. One dish that got their thumbs up was her coconut and pineapple curry, based on a recipe by her late mother. Gonzago turned on the waterworks when she introduced her creation to the judges.
“My mum passed away when I was 23, and I never had a chance to cook a full meal for her,” the 48-year-old mother of three tells us. “The dish I cooked on Episode 1 was what she cooked for me when I was growing up. When I presented it to the judges, it suddenly hit me that I had never made a wonderful dish for my mum. But now I have a chance to give it to someone else. Hey, I’m feeding people with love.”
On last Sunday’s ep, the Top Four finalists were involved in a restaurant takeover challenge at Marco Pierre White’s The English House. Gonzago got the axe when her chicken and leek pies didn’t dazzle the judges. “There was no sadness in my elimination because I got to meet my kitchen idol Marco Pierre White, and that made up for it. Again, I cried [when I saw him]. What do you expect me to do?” she says, laughing. “I’m emo, man!”
8 DAYS: Looking back, what do you think went wrong at the restaurant takeover challenge at Marco Pierre White’s The English House? You were assigned to make the chicken and leek pies.
SHARON GONZAGO: I lost time. It was 30 minutes into challenge when I had to discard the first batch of chicken as it was not up to Marco's standards. And it was a downhill spiral for me from there on. I couldn't make up for the lost time. The stress and panic showed in my dish. On hindsight, I should have stayed strong, but I crumbled under pressure.
If you were to do it again, how different would you do it?
It was a Rookie Mistake 101 of not checking all my ingredients to make sure they are perfect for service. This is a lesson that I will never ever repeat again.
On a scale of one to 10, how starstruck were you when you first saw Marco Pierre White?
100! I’m coming to 50 soon, so when Marco first burst onto the culinary scene, I was in my late 20s. This is a guy whom I have followed since I started cooking. Back in those days, there was no social media — you just follow his cook books and read articles about him. I grow old with him and when he suddenly stepped in front of you, Oh my God! He’s there!
Maybe that was why you lost: you were too distracted by him.
I think so too (laughs). But it was a tough challenge.
Clearly, meeting Marco Pierre White is a highlight of your MasterChef stint. Do you have least favourite moments from the show?
The least favourite moment didn’t happen on the set. It was with myself. I self-doubted a lot. I’m grateful to my fellow contestants because after every challenge before the judging, I freaked out a bit, but they were like, “Sharon, it’s gonna be alright.” They were behind me. Truthfully, there was never a bad moment on the set.
Has being on the show emboldened you?
That’s the most important takeaway. Since the first episode, I’ve done four massive events where I served a typical tok panjang [a traditional Peranakan feast], each comprising 18 dishes. Before MasterChef, I would just doubt myself. But after MasterChef, I didn't doubt myself. If I can do it in the MasterChef kitchen, which is even harder, this is easy-peasy.
You cried a lot on the show.
My family and friends know me as a tough cookie. But somehow this show brought out feelings I’ve never felt before. Maybe on the first episode seeing my mum’s photograph brought back memories. I really miss her. I cried again when [fellow contestant] Diana [Ismail] left. That hit me really hard because we bonded during the first challenge. We are mothers, we share a lot of similarities in terms of character, and cooking style.
Do you get recognised on the street?
Oh my God, I do get recognised everywhere. It’s so embarrassing because my husband would give me the stinky eye. We were recently shopping at Tampines Mall, where more guys were approaching me (laughs). My husband was going, What the hell? They would say, “Hey, Sharon, you’re on MasterChef. You’re doing good, keep it up.” One lady Messengered me: “Thank you for giving us housewives a boost.” I do understand that housewives are often overlooked. So if I can do it, they can do it too. It really touches my heart because I didn’t know I could inspire women like this.
Catch the MasterChef Singapore finale on Oct 21 on Ch 5, 9.30pm. It's also on Toggle Catch-up.
Photos; MasterChef Singapore