Her Instagram is a feast for the eyes, filled with irresistibly delicious meals that she lovingly prepares for her family, friends and, oh, 25 thousand followers too! And as if that wasn’t impressive enough, Larissa recently achieved her dream of gracing the MasterChef Australia kitchen, leaving a lasting impression with her culinary cred and crazy-good cooking.
Now, we were curious to learn more about this kitchen guru. What inspired her to audition for MasterChef? What are her all-time favorite ingredients to whip up deliciousness with? And, most importantly, how does she manage to get her own kiddos to embrace a diverse array of cultural foods? We’re talking about moving past the typical pasta-with-cheese-on-it phase!
Get ready to find out more about Larissa’s culinary journey, her inspirations, her kitchen secrets, and some insider tips and tricks that will leave you craving more. Bon appetit!
Congratulations on making it onto MasterChef! What inspired you to audition?
Thank you so much! It’s honestly such a dream come true. I’ve been a fan of MasterChef since the very first season (when the challenges were more about chopping onions and less lamington towers) and it has always been a pie-in-the-sky dream of mine to be a part of the show; but, I’d just never really felt like it was in the realm of possibility for me.
So much changed when I became a mum to my beautiful twin boys. Having children was such a pivotal moment for me. I wanted to raise them to believe that they could achieve anything and that the world is their oyster and nothing is out of their reach. I wanted to set an example for them and show them that you can chase your dreams and do hard things. Leading by example was one of the biggest reasons I decided to audition for MasterChef. And well, here I am – doing the hard thing and having so much fun along the way!
What was your biggest fear going into the competition?
Just one fear? It’s no secret that I am a bit of a control freak and like to know everything, and suddenly being thrown into an environment where I can’t control what comes next was really scary! I’m the type of person who likes to have the ‘creative space’ to think, prepare, casually daydream and let ideas evolve, especially when it comes to cooking. I was low-key terrified that under the pressure, every instinct I have about cooking and every recipe stored in my brain bank would just suddenly disappear. It was definitely a challenge to embrace the unknown every single day, walking into the kitchen and just trust in my abilities.
Your heritage is Russian and Ukrainian, how important is it for you to represent your cultural roots in your cooking on MasterChef Australia?
Representing and celebrating my culture is absolutely important to me, especially in the current world climate. It really is a part of who I am and it’s also the food that I grew up with and that nourished me. I really wanted to shine the spotlight on and give some love to Eastern European cuisine, which doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, it’s packed with amazing flavours and traditions that are totally worth exploring.
One of the dishes that I cooked on the show that really showcased the richness and diversity of my heritage, was a classic combo called Borsch and Pampushky. Borsch is a delicious beetroot soup, and Pampushky are these cute little bread rolls that you smother in a garlic and herb oil (omg!) as soon as they come out of the oven. Together, they’re the national dish of Ukraine. Borsch is extra special to me because it’s one of the first things I remember eating as a kid, and now I pass it down to my own children. It represents the warmth, comfort, and resourcefulness of my culture. It’s incredible how you can take the simplest and most humble ingredients like beets, potatoes, and onions and turn them into something so rich and flavoursome!
If you could only cook with one ingredient for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Oh, choosing just one ingredient is impossibly hard! Is it cheating if I use the MasterChef under-bench staples too? But if I had to pick just one thing, the Eastern European in me would have to say the humble potato. It’s such a versatile ingredient that can be prepared in countless ways. Fried, roasted, boiled, mashed, smashed… you name it! It’s the ultimate comfort food.
And if you’d let me add beef and butter to that list, I’d literally be okay forever. Oh, and garlic…
Who is your biggest culinary inspiration or role model and why? We saw you bear hugging Jamie Oliver on the show – that must have been an incredible moment!
Yes, that bear hug with Jamie Oliver was an absolute pinch-me, life-made moment! He’s definitely one of my culinary inspirations, but there are so many other wonderful chefs and role models that I look up to as well.
People like Ottolenghi, Maggie Beer, and Nigella have all definitely had a huge impact on my love for cooking over the years.
However, none of them can surpass the influence of my beautiful Babushka. She patiently cooked with me and for me, teaching me invaluable skills from as young as I can remember. She taught me how to grow my own food, how to preserve and cook from scratch, and how to waste nothing. Her ability to transform the humblest of ingredients into magic has always inspired me – she truly embodies the essence of our heritage; the original homesteader, the fermenter and pickler waaay before it was cool…
If you could pinpoint the most important thing you’ve learned about cooking so far in your life, what would it be?
The simplest thing? Seasoning. It would be to season everything. You can make the most complex and beautiful dishes with all the right ingredients, but if you haven’t seasoned them properly, they fall flat. Salt is an absolute game-changer in the kitchen. Salting with the right salt, at the right time enhances flavours, brings out the best in every ingredient, and adds that magical touch to any dish. No word of a lie.
What’s the best feedback or critique you’ve ever received about your cooking?
Without a doubt, the best feedback I’ve ever received was for my Borsch and Pampushky that I served the judges as my secret weapon signature dish. To hear Jamie Oliver and the judges shower love on my food, calling it rich, complex, and “bloody delicious,” was absolutely mind-blowing. To hear the words “this is EXACTLY what we are looking for, THIS is competition-winning food” – I cannot even begin to tell you what that meant to me. I can honestly say that I have re-watched the clip of my Borsch and Pampushky tasting from the first episode of MasterChef eleventy billion times. It’s definitely the proudest plate of food in my life.
What’s your favourite food memory?
I have so many favourite food memories (I think all of the best memories are the ones created around food) but if I had to choose just one, it would be as a very young child around my Babushka’s big kitchen table. My mum and my aunties would gather around (usually a multi-day affair) to make hundreds and hundreds of Pelmeni and Vareniki. I remember watching my babushka’s skillful hands kneading kilograms and kilograms of dough in giant floral printed, enameled bowls as big as baby bathtubs, whilst we chatted the day away.
One of my sneaky little joys was stealing a few too many rounds of raw dough because it was just too delicious to resist. Those times spent with my family, cooking and enjoying food together, are memories that I’ll always cherish. What I wouldn’t give to go back there…
What’s your ultimate goal in your culinary career, and how do you see MasterChef Australia helping you achieve it?
Oh, I want it all! I think my ultimate goal in my culinary career is just to inspire people to cook delicious food and not feel intimidated in the kitchen. I want people to feel like they can have fun and enjoy the process of cooking. Whether that means having a little space where I can host intimate cooking classes followed by lavish long lunches filled with wine and great conversations, or being able to host food experiences and travel around the globe, sharing beautiful cuisines.
I’d love to explore avenues like food presentation or even host a cooking show. I truly believe that nothing is impossible and nothing is too far out of my reach. MasterChef Australia has given me the platform and the confidence to pursue these dreams, and I know it’s going to be an incredible stepping stone in my culinary journey.
We know you’re a mum of gorgeous twin boys. Tell us, do their lunchboxes look as lame as everyone else’s, or are you sending them to school with gourmet MasterChef quality creations?
Haha! They’ve had more ham and cheese toastie lunch orders from the school canteen than I’d ever like to admit.
Their lunchboxes usually contain cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, berries or some kind of fruit, some cheese, crackers, and perhaps some kind of ham or small goods. Funnily enough, I do get comments about how amazing the boys’ lunches look, but honestly? It’s only because it’s presented nicely in a bento box. If you were to put all the contents of their lunchbox between two pieces of bread, it’s literally just a sandwich and a piece of fruit. Kids will be kids, and sometimes simplicity is key!
But can we please make adult bento lunch boxes a thing?
We know how important family is to you. How has your family reacted to you being on MasterChef?
Oh, my family has been incredibly supportive and excited about my journey on MasterChef. They are so, so proud of me. In the lead-up to the show airing, my boys were ridiculously excited. Every time “mum’s ad” came on the TV, they would run to the television with excitement. I’m pretty sure my family has single-handedly increased Channel 10’s ratings because we constantly had the channel on, eagerly waiting for “mum’s ad” to air again.
Their enthusiasm and support mean the world to me. It’s such a joy to see their faces light up with pride, and it motivates me to keep pushing myself, even beyond the competition. Family is everything, and I’m grateful to have such a wonderful support system cheering me on. I’m a lucky girl.
For more of Larissa’s food adventures: