Mayfield's Reece Hignell cool as a cucumber in Gordon Ramsay MasterChef challenge

FRESH START: Mayfield's Reece Hignell went on MasterChef Australia to change his life and cook for a living. Now he is in with a chance of winning the title. Picture: Supplied

FRESH START: Mayfield's Reece Hignell went on MasterChef Australia to change his life and cook for a living. Now he is in with a chance of winning the title. Picture: Supplied

Reece Hignell’s MasterChef journey started with a splash of beetroot caramel that could have failed miserably – but didn’t. The dessert earned the Mayfield home cook a spot in the top 24.

Now one of the main contenders for the 2018 title, he has an immunity pin up his sleeve and made quite an impression on fiery chef Gordon Ramsay earlier this month.

“It’s been absolutely crazy but 100 per cent the best experience I have ever had in my life so far,” Hignell told Food & Wine. “Meeting Gordon Ramsay was mind-blowing. We developed a connection and spoke off-camera a lot.”

Hignell, who was born at Belmont Hospital and attended Whitebridge High, is fast developing a fan base but insists he didn’t enter the competition for fame and fortune. 

“It’s hard to stop your life when you have a good job and a good income and say ‘I’m going to go and work in a kitchen’,” the former recruitment consultant explained.

“I needed the confidence to do something different. I wanted to cut all my ties with work so that when I came home I didn’t fall back into the same old routine. 

“I came into this competition trying to get the confidence to do something and so far I’m riding a wave of confidence that is making me want to go back home to Newcastle – and I know how great Newcastle is when it comes to food – and be part of it.”

Hignell’s brother just bought a house in Mayfield and his parents and Nan “live out near the lake”. He has no plans to leave. 

“Newcastle chefs really inspire me. Lesley Taylor is one of my biggest influences. I have followed her restaurants for so long and I admire her cooking and her mentality when it comes to cooking,” he said.

“To be a part of a scene that she has helped establish, that’s where I want to be. And I want to do events. I know I can do it, I just need to get home and start organising it. I think I am so awkward on television, I’m not the type who can be a reality TV star.”

Hignell is rightly proud of his immunity pin. It means he cooked the best dish of the day and out-cooked a professional chef. Yet he remains humble.

“The guy that I beat would out-cook me by a mile any day of the week. Those chefs come into our territory, our kitchen. We’ve adapted to the time constraints and it plays to our advantage a little bit.”

Known for his dessert-making prowess, Hignell is keen to show the judges that he is not a one-trick pony. 

“When I went into the competition I wanted to be well-rounded but the fact remains you’d be silly not to play to your strengths,” he said.

“Dessert is definitely a strength of mine and something I want to be known for but I really want to show the judges that I’ve got diversity. I want to impress the judges with unique flavours.

”The competition can be so stressful but it’s like a crash course in confidence building. Already I feel so much more relaxed and able to think about ideas more clearly and be more creative. That’s what is helping me at the moment.”