Breaking bread with Masterchef contestant Filippo Silvestro
Life after Masterchef: Filippo Silvestro hopes to use his skills in cooking and finance to promote food in the Far North. Picture: BRENDAN FRANCIS.
FILIPPO Silvestro is on a culinary mission.
Fuelled by his recent stint reaching the top 17 in the MasterChef kitchen, the Cairns cook is passionate about doing big things on a local scale.
On the show he was the confident cook, whose poker face would crack into a slight smile when a challenge involved bread or pizza, which he excelled at.
Always dressed neat as a pin, his hair slicked back, Filippo was the quiet operator, hardly breaking a sweat, who always carried the underlying threat he was there to take out the MasterChef title.
But his dream was not realised when he was eliminated on June 17 during a quiche lorraine pressure test where gruyere cheese, or lack of, got the better of him.
Now temporarily based in Brisbane with his family, Filippo, 38, has stepped into Cairns on a whirlwind visit for a photo shoot, an interview and to meet TTNQ and Cairns Regional Council representatives.
The cool and calm character from MasterChef is gone, replaced by enthusiasm, a fierce loyalty to Cairns and a great deal of adjustment to his newfound fame.
On Abbott St out the front of The Cairns Post, a passenger leans out the window of a car and waves at Filippo, “Hello MasterChef,” they call out.
“It’s not about being on TV and being famous because I am still finding that hard to come to terms with,” he says. “It’s hard to go to the supermarket now because everybody recognises me.”
The eloquent fast talker has a lot to say but it’s not surprising considering how much is on his plate.
“Apart from running my business (Silvestro Financial Services) and bringing up my family I am talking to TTNQ and Cairns Regional Council about what we can do to promote the food scene in Far North Queensland,” he says. “I really want to get started on a slow food movement in Far North Queensland.
“In the long term I would like to look into getting a more prominent food festival in the Far North so we can hopefully get Matt Preston up here. To even use what’s there (events wise) in existing capacity, if I can use my profile to help with that and get some real foodies up here...”
The man with a plan has a long-term vision to write a cookbook and he has even flagged the idea of a foodie television series with MasterChef producers and fellow contestants. In the centre of all his ideas is a focus on the Far North. But the financial planner, who says he has strengths in writing business plans, is still unsure of how to tie these elements together.
A “disastrous” dinner party in his 20s was Filippo’s incentive to improve his culinary skills. Years later and the “traditional Italian foodie” knows all the local haunts for fresh produce and was on the cusp of applying for MasterChef.
“I needed something to do so I wasn’t sitting on the couch watching TV all the time,” the financial planner says. “My wife applied for me last year and they never called me back. Then I applied and I had to audition and cook for them several times before I got anywhere near a camera.”
Filippo says the audition process was tough. Despite a common perception that contestants are selected based on looks and personalities, Filippo insists the show’s producers are deadly serious about food.
“If you don’t have good food knowledge then they screen you out (in auditions),” he says. “They are very serious about the food and that’s what I really respect. I really love the show and the people behind it.
“The judges are very good chefs and the calibre of the show is arguably one of the toughest in the world. They expect very good food put up on a consistent basis.
“I have to say that Matt Preston is a real gentleman. He will have a chat with you after the show and give you feedback on your dish and how you can improve it.
“You are under intense scrutiny because you have 15 cameras on you. They are expecting very good things but you get used to the pressure, you adapt.”
The family environment in the house among fellow contestants was where Filippo says he actually did the most learning.
“We all practise in the house. It’s the other contestants who teach you everything. It is still competitive but we love each other. I got on so well with so many people there.
“The vibe was cool. I put on 10kg when I was in the house. Lots of people lost weight, who I won’t name. It’s a very healthy environment and there isn’t much alcohol there so we can be at our best to perform.”
Contestants, who are paid a small wage during the show but “not enough to live on”, face from eight to 18-hour days on set but they were well looked after, according to Filippo. They were never short of fresh food, with Coles regularly making deliveries to their “huge pantry”.
“We had hairdressers who would come to the house every so often because we weren’t allowed to leave,” Filippo says.
“There were no phones and no internet. You do get bored in the downtime. I think people just filled that with cooking and the boys liked to watch sports. There’s also a gym there.”
Filippo counts meeting Jamie Oliver – who was “greeted like a rock star”, made “all the girls go nuts” and is a “really lovely guy” – as one his most memorable MasterChef experiences.
He was chuffed about being complimented on his superb roti bread by celebrity chef Rick Stein and he thrived in the French champagne and caviar challenge.
Labelled as the man who makes just bread and pizzas, Filippo says there is a lot more to his culinary repertoire, which he demonstrated during a masterclass quail cook-off against judge George Calombaris.
“I tried to look away when they were going to pick somebody for the challenge,” Filippo says. “But I am really glad I did it now. That quail was sensational. I think it was better than George’s.”
As for who will win the competition, Filippo’s money is on Queensland physiotherapist Mindy Woods.
“Some of the contestants are unbelievably good,” he says.
“Amina (now eliminated), Mindy and Audra are so good. The Indian food Dalvinder (also eliminated) would cook... she had beautiful, delicious food.”
But the world of MasterChef is one tenth of his food passion, according to Filippo.
“I’m genuinely grateful for the opportunity. I went there very focused and trying to win so I’m a bit disappointed I got out early. I would not have taken my time out of my business, away from my wife and children and I would not have made the financial sacrifice if I did not think I had the ability (to win).
“I’ve had such a good time and it’s been so much fun. If people are willing to take a risk and back themselves then they should just go for it.”