Cooking gold: Celebrity MasterChef winner Eamon Sullivan

Author: tracy laity
Photography: network ten

I've never sweated so much in my life as I did in the Celebrity MasterChef kitchen. When I signed up, I was just hoping to get through the first round, but then when I actually made it, I wanted to go all the way and win. There were times when I was close to throwing in the towel, but if there's one thing I know as a sportsman, it's that it's never over until the very end. It's stressful cooking under pressure like that, but if people respond well to your food, it makes you feel good. That's the sort of thing you get addicted to: pleasing people through food.

It's funny because I was quite a fussy eater growing up. If my mum cooked something new, I'd chew on it really slowly and then if I didn't like it, I'd spit it out into my napkin. I remember one night we had red cabbage sauerkraut for dinner. I thought it was the worst thing I'd ever put in my mouth, but my parents refused to let me leave the table until I'd finished everything on my plate. I think I ended up sitting there for over an hour. Sometimes I'd even pretend I'd finished eating and then leave the table with my mouth full of food. All these years, I thought I'd gotten away with it, but it turns out my mum knew all along what I was up to.

My mum was the foodie in my family and was the biggest influence on me. Dad always hates it when I say this, but he was pretty much limited to charcoal sausages on the barbecue. Actually, that's not fair. He does a mean Moroccan fish curry and the best eggs Benedict. He used to make them for us using leftover ham on the bone from Christmas lunch. They always tasted amazing. At Christmas time, our house was always filled with the smell of baking. Mum would make her shortbread, pavlova, the Christmas pudding, everything. I remember stirring the Christmas pudding mixture for good luck. I always used to help her in the kitchen and I think that's when I first started to fall in love with cooking.

Cooking has always been therapeutic for me. I've had five hip operations in my swimming career, so there've been times when I've been forced to take time out from training to recuperate. Whenever I've been injured and I'm feeling down in the dumps, I'll start making comfort food - my favourite is spinach pie, which was the first recipe my mum ever taught me. Before I moved to Sydney, I used to live with three other guys; we all trained together, and they used to joke that it was great whenever I got injured because they knew as soon as I got out of the pool, there'd be an awesome meal waiting for them at home.

Now that I'm busy preparing for the Commonwealth Games, my diet is pretty boring. It's all about low-GI carbohydrates - no bread, rice, potato. Generally I eat a lot of lean meats and vegies, either steamed or baked. I allow myself one breakfast, lunch and dinner a week when I can eat whatever I want. It's usually on Friday or Saturday afternoons, when I have a break from training, that I can indulge myself. I go grocery shopping and spend the rest of the day cooking in the kitchen. I don't really like takeaway food. I'd rather cook something to get what I want than settle for something I don't.

I've started doing cooking classes for the NSW Institute of Sport, helping young kids living out of home for the first time and showing them how to cook healthy and tasty food, but my ultimate dream is to open my own café, probably back home in Perth. I'd want it to be the kind of place where people know each other by name and stay to have a chat: a place where you can get good, clean, simple, healthy food. And I know just what to put on the breakfast menu. My dad's eggs Benedict. You can't get much better than that.





EAMON SULLIVAN'S FOOD FAVOURITES

Biggest craving? Potato chips. I find it really hard to say no to salty, savoury snacks.
Signature dish? Probably what I cooked on Celebrity MasterChef: roast lamb rump with gnocchi, wild mushrooms and rosemary jus.
Favourite cuisine? Tapas, or anything with chilli.
Most inspiring chefs? Heston Blumenthal, for the sense of theatre he brings to food, and Jamie Oliver, for making good food accessible to everyone.
Favourite Sydney restaurants? Bodega, Toko, Fix St James, Assiette.
Favourite Perth restaurants? Star Anise, Jackson's, Galileo Buona Cucina.



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