A former MasterChef contestant takes on a Barossa restaurant

SARAH HUDSON
The Weekly Times

Foodie heaven: Former MasterChef contestant Tracy Collins and business partner Pete Little have launched Harvest Kitchen — a seasonal and communal eatery in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.

Foodie heaven: Former MasterChef contestant Tracy Collins and business partner Pete Little have launched Harvest Kitchen — a seasonal and communal eatery in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.

BEING a MasterChef contestant is a form of incarceration.

But of the most rewarding kind, says 2014 top-five contestant Tracy Collins of Channel 10’s top-rating cooking show.

“You’re away from home almost six months and in that time you have no TV, no phone, no internet,” Tracy says. “It’s like being thrown into Big Brother. You only have the other contestants and cookbooks.”

It was that long confinement, combined with the intense learning, that has given the 39-year-old mother-of-three the confidence and skills to launch her own restaurant.

Harvest Kitchen opened in March in the Barossa Valley and draws on Tracy’s reality television experiences, and her lifelong love of food to create a seasonal eatery.

Celebrating the Barossa’s produce, the most recent menu features fig and stout short rib beef empanadas, roasted baby carrots with harissa and labneh and pecorino and local smoked hock croquetas.

While Tracy is owner and head chef (alongside business partner Pete Little), Harvest Kitchen also has wines from her own label, Massena, which she started with her winemaker husband, Jaysen Collins, in 1999.

In 2008, Tracy and Jaysen joined with six other small winemakers to open a cellar door called Artisans of Barossa.

It’s next to Artisans that Harvest Kitchen operates.

It’s all a long way from her early career as a hairdresser. Tracy grew up as a fifth-generation Barossa local and says it was her German grandparents who inspired her love of food. “They were largely self-sufficient and made everything from scratch,” she says.

Tracy — who is a lifelong friend of celebrity chef Maggie Beer — began working as a hairdresser but says she applied to be on MasterChef to “throw caution to the wind” and “shake things up”.

The result was life-changing.

MasterChef was such a pressure-cooker environment. When I got out I said, ‘Wow, I have learnt so much, at such an accelerated pace’. The judges are always teaching.”

She says one of the best outcomes from being on the show has been talking to other women.

“I get asked to speak at charity forums now about motivation, having a dream, going for it. A lot of women at home with kids can lose their confidence. People have seen me vulnerable on TV and they tell me they’ve been inspired and supported.”