‘MasterChef’ paves way for food writer

Clockwise from top left, Alice Taylor with her first ever head chef, Baduzzi's Federico...
Clockwise from top left, Alice Taylor with her first ever head chef, Baduzzi's Federico Schincariol; Alice has nothing but praise for her MasterChef experience; top chef Vaughan Mabee of Amisfield at Lake Hayes has been a mentor for Alice.
For Alice Taylor her time in Dunedin provided an invaluable base for her experience on MasterChef and becoming a pastry chef and food writer, she tells Rebecca Fox, as her first cookbook is released.

It has always been Alice Taylor’s dream to write a cookbook. This month her dream came true.

"It’s very exciting. I always wonder how I got this opportunity? It seems quite crazy to be 24 and writing a book, yet two years ago I was studying Taiwanese foreign policy."

The former University of Otago master of politics student and MasterChef finalist holds a copy of her book Alice in Cakeland, hardly believing it is hers.

"I’m not going to lie, I am a little nervous about it."

A culmination of many years of writing and two of hard work, the book was her first goal when she finished third in the MasterChef television series in 2022.

"I first imagined writing a book 10 years ago, I think I was 14 or 15."

While she has always been passionate about food, it was during her university years she got interested in writing, working for student magazine Critic and doing an internship at the Otago Daily Times.

"The ODT was the first published recipe I’d ever done. I’d always been dabbling in that and I think that contributed to me getting on MasterChef."

Although it was her dad’s suggestion she enter MasterChef, once she got on the programme she made it her goal to get herself a career in food after the show.

"I really wanted a book deal and a job."

She succeeded on both fronts. Co-judge Michael P. Dearth from Baduzzi in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter offered her a job when she was eliminated.

"In finals week, or just after, I reached out and got a cookbook contract."

Since then opportunities have continued to come her way. After working as a pastry chef at Baduzzi under first head chef Federico Schincariol for a year, she then had the opportunity to work at Amisfield in Queenstown with Vaughan Mabee, who was a judge on the show. She was also writing a cooking column for North and South magazine.

"It was an incredibly high-pressure environment, very rewarding and I’m glad I did it, but it’s really something else."

It highlighted to her the amount of work, time and care that went into the food restaurants such as Amisfield produced.

Eight months ago, Taylor moved to Auckland for "many reasons" including to finish her book and "falling in love". She now works as a pastry chef under New Zealand’s top chef Zennon Christain Wijlens at Paris Butter.

Alice Taylor with her father and mother, David and Sue.
Alice Taylor with her father and mother, David and Sue.
"It’s at the top of its game, super competitive."

Not that she was going to go back into the kitchen straight away, feeling a little "burnt out" after a hectic few years, and she was also writing cooking columns as a freelance writer.

"But I dined there for my brother’s birthday and just fell in love with the food and looked at the restaurant and everyone looked so happy and I was like oh god, here I go again."

Taylor loves her job as a pastry chef at Paris Butter. The menu changes often and she helps make Wijlens’ ideas a reality.

"Having become better at my job with experience, I have much more creative freedom and direction which is quite cool. It’s an exciting thing to be part of."

It has also opened up other opportunities such as travelling with Wijlens to the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

"It’s been a bit of a convoluted journey."

She grew up surrounded by good food, a father who is a great cook and grandmothers and mum who are keen bakers.

"I loved to eat. I always wanted to be in the kitchen eating, trying things. I was obsessed by flavour."

When most young children were reading picture books, Taylor was looking at cookbooks.

"I’ve always been innately obsessed with food."

Baking was something she discovered was quite relaxing for her mind.

"I’ve always had a busy mind, maybe a little highly strung, so baking was something I got a lot of joy from."

So she began editing and changing recipes and trying new things out.

"It’s a creative outlet for me. Now it’s my job it doesn’t have the same energy, but I still love it."

Looking back at her journey, Taylor says the expectation is that a young person knows what they want to do when they leave school.

"That is just not true. I think deep down I knew I wanted to do something in food, but I didn’t necessarily see that as an option."

Despite that, she has no regrets about pursuing her academic studies as at the time there seemed to be more opportunities.

"They’ve been very rewarding. I went down to Otago, had a wonderful time there, changed degrees multiple times."

She started out studying law, but switched out in the second year to pursue history, and then politics. At the end of her degree she found herself confused about what she wanted to do.

"I was always writing about food and then dad texted me about MasterChef and something clicked in me, that here was my opportunity.

"It was what I’d always dreamed of but you never think they’re going to happen to you. I’ve never looked back."

Taylor admits some people question the career change.

"They are so useful for each other. My politics studies taught me about the politics of food — something I am very passionate about, taught me how to write, they’re all very applicable to my career now and I’m grateful to have done both."

It has all come "seamlessly" together in the book. Drawing from what she likes about her own favourite recipe books, she decided simple, accessible recipes with no fancy equipment or ingredients that turned out just like the photos, are best.

"I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve. There were a couple of recipes that I had to say goodbye to as I was only allowed so many recipes. I could have kept going."

She juggled the ingredients such as butter and eggs to ensure they were not too costly, keeping in mind that baking is expensive these days.

"It’s user-friendly. To me it’s a very functional book."

These days she is very grateful for the hand up and the opportunities MasterChef provided, meaning she did not start at the bottom like most in the industry.

"My beginning was not like a usual one. I learn quickly. I learnt the skills of cheffing and am still learning. I’m very, very lucky."

And despite many people’s experiences of reality television, she had a great time.

"I couldn’t believe what had happened to me so I just tried to enjoy it. Eight-year-old me would have been totally gobsmacked that was happening. We just had a hell of a lot of fun. It was stressful, a lot of pressure, but I enjoyed it."

These days as she juggles pastry cheffing with freelance writing, she admits it can get a bit tricky and she is learning how to relax.

"I’ll never complain as this is a dream for me, I’ll make it work. I was much more exhausted studying second year law than I am now."

The book

Images and text from Alice in Cakeland by Alice Taylor, photography by Lottie Hedley and Melanie Jenkins (Flash Studios), published by Allen and Unwin NZ, RRP $45

Photo: Melanie Jenkins
Photo: Melanie Jenkins

Smoked salmon and fennel pie

This recipe uses smoked salmon instead of fresh fish, which reduces any concern around overcooking fresh fish. I was inspired by the flavours of kedgeree, and incorporated fennel because fennel and salmon is a match made in heaven. You can line the base with pastry and blind bake it, but what I love about this pie is how simple it is so I make it with a pastry top only.

Serves 4–6



75 g butter

½ Tbsp curry powder

1 tsp fennel seeds

½ cup all-purpose flour

4 cups whole milk

2 Tbsp mustard

pinch of salt


2 cups chopped spinach

splash of oil

1 bulb fennel, finely sliced

1 onion, finely diced


6 hardboiled and peeled eggs

500 g smoked salmon — or any smoked fish

2 sheets puff pastry

1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp cream, for eggwash


Preheat the oven to 200°C fan-bake.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Add the curry powder and fennel seeds and fry off for 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the flour and cook off for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk, bit by bit. Reduce the heat to low and cook until thickened, whisking occasionally. Once thick, remove from the heat and stir in the mustard, salt, pepper and spinach. Allow to cool down slightly as you prepare the rest of the components.

Add oil to a large pan and fry off the fennel and onion with salt and pepper. Combine the sauce with the fried fennel and onion.

To make the pie, chop the eggs in half. In a dish at least 2.5cm deep, flake the smoked salmon and lay down the halved eggs on top. Pour over the sauce. Lay the pastry over the top and crimp with a fork. Cut a hole in the pastry and decorate as wished. Brush with eggwash and season with salt.

Bake for around 30 minutes, or until golden and the pastry is cooked.

Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then serve.


To hardboil the eggs, simply boil in water for 7 minutes then place in ice water before peeling.

Photo: Melanie Jenkins
Photo: Melanie Jenkins

Vegan apple muffins

When I was a student at the University of Otago almost all of my flatmates were vegan or vegetarian. I love cooking vegan food, but when it comes to baking, I still find it a challenge. As you might have gathered, my love for butter runs deep. In saying that, I enjoyed experimenting with vegan substitutes for baking and the best recipes I found often used apple sauce instead of egg. This led to the creation of this recipe — which doesn’t use apple sauce, but instead a combination of grated and diced apple. I absolutely adore this recipe — in fact, I think it is better than most muffins that contain dairy. I always find that oil-based muffins and cakes last better than butter-based ones, and these muffins stay delightful for a number of days.

Makes 8



2 cups self-raising flour

½ tsp cinnamon

½ cup sugar

½ cup oil — canola works well

½ tsp vanilla extract

1 cup plant-based milk

2 large Granny Smith apples


70g vegan butter, melted

¼ cup caster sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

Pinch of sea salt


Preheat the oven to 200ºC fan-bake. Grease 8 large muffin pans and line with baking cases.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon and sugar and set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, vanilla and milk. Grate 1 apple and add to the mixture. Dice the other apple and add to the mixture. I like to peel the apples but you can keep the skin on if you like. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry. Generously fill the prepared muffin pans with batter.

Bake for around 20 minutes, until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool in the pans for 10 minutes.

To make the topping, add the butter to a saucepan and cook on low until melted. Pour into a shallow bowl and allow to cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and sea salt.

Remove a muffin from the pan, dip the top in the melted butter and roll in the sugar mixture. Continue this process with the other muffins. Serve warm, by themselves or with vegan butter.

Photo: Melanie Jenkins
Photo: Melanie Jenkins

Ginger cakes with nashi pears, vanilla creme fraiche and walnut brittle

I cooked this dish in my audition for MasterChef. This is the cake that changed my life. It made me believe that I was a good baker, and that I understood flavour and balance. I don’t really bake this cake any more because I feel as though that chapter is closed and I get quite emotional when I make it. In saying that, I am so excited to share it with you and I hope you enjoy it. What I would say is that this cake must, must, must be eaten fresh and warm from the oven. Think of it as a hybrid between cake and pudding. The components that I serve with it, especially the syrup from the nashi pears that soak into the cake, elevate the dessert.

Serves 4



125g butter, plus extra for greasing

45g ginger, peeled with a spoon and grated with a fine microplane

¼ cup golden syrup

¼ cup maple syrup

1 cup self-raising flour

pinch of salt

¼ tsp mixed spice

¼ tsp ground ginger

⅓ whole nutmeg, grated with a fine microplane

1 egg, at room temperature

⅓ cup cream, at room temperature

Orange and maple caramelised nashi pears

2 tbsp butter

splash of oil

2 small nashi pears, peeled and diced

⅓ cup maple syrup

zest and juice of 1 orange, plus extra zest for garnish

lemon juice, to taste (start with ½ lemon)

zest of ½ lemon, plus extra for garnish

Walnut brittle

½ cup caster sugar

¾ cup walnuts, toasted with a pinch of salt

About 2 tsp butter

Creme fraiche

250g creme fraiche

1½ tsp vanilla paste

75ml cream


Preheat the oven to 180°C fan-bake. Grease 4 10cm mini cake tins and line with baking paper.

To make the cakes, melt the butter, grated ginger and syrups together in a small saucepan over a medium heat until the butter is completely melted and a few bubbles form. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt, mixed spice, ground ginger and nutmeg until combined. Set aside.

In a separate small bowl, whisk the egg and cream until combined.

Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour in the cream mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour into the prepared cake tins.

Bake for 13–16 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. When the cakes are cooked, remove from the oven. Turn out after 5 minutes.

To make the orange and maple caramelised nashi pears, brown the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Once it has browned, add oil. Add the nashi pears in an even layer over the pan. Cook until browned and caramelised on both sides. Remove from the pan.

To the same pan add and whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add the pears back in. Simmer on a low heat and reduce for around 10 minutes, until the pears are tender and the syrup has reduced. Taste and adjust the flavour if needed.

To make the walnut brittle, line a baking tray. In a small saucepan, add the sugar. Add enough cold water to make a wet sand consistency. Place on a medium heat and cook until the sugar turns into a syrup and then a golden caramel. Do not stir the caramel — just swirl the pan if needed. If there is any sugar sticking to the sides, use a wet pastry brush to brush those crystals away. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the walnuts and butter with a wooden spoon. Pour on to the prepared tray to cool.

Once cooled, break up into even medium-sized pieces, and either chop roughly or pulse in a food processor until the praline resembles a chunky crumble.

To make the creme fraiche, add all the ingredients to a bowl and beat with an electric beater until very thick and creamy. Place in a container and scrape it up against one side. This allows you to spoon a nice quenelle at the end. Keep in the fridge until needed.

To serve, place each cake slightly off-centre on a plate. Lay nashi pears around one side of each cake and spoon over some extra drizzle. Sprinkle the brittle next to the pears and place a spoonful of creme fraiche over each cake. Use a hot dry spoon if you want to make a quenelle. Garnish with extra orange and lemon zest.

— Extract from Alice in Cakeland by Alice Taylor