Food & Culture

Collette Dinnigan: ''I never wanted to go on Celebrity MasterChef''

The designer talks Nutella wedding cakes, lockdown in Italy, and the joys of a good roast chook.

By As told to Hannah-Rose Yee
Collette Dinnigan, fashion designer and Celebrity Masterchef contestant.
My first memory of learning to cook was with my mum. I can remember her making tomato sauce and always reducing it. It would take her hours to make a simple sauce. It was always sweet and flavoursome and tangy.
I never wanted to go on Celebrity MasterChef; I said, "No way." Then they called again and they said, "You're going to have so much fun... As long as you can read the recipe, you'll be fine." I thought, "Okay, I'll do it. I'll throw myself right outside my comfort zone, I'll throw myself right into reality television, which I thought never in my life I would ever do. What have I got to lose?"
When I was in Melbourne shooting I went to Marion on Gertrude Street, and it was absolutely fantastic. I went to Gimlet and the building reminded me of New York. Just going from Sydney to Melbourne was like a trip in itself! It felt like being back in Europe: the food, the restaurants, the delicatessens. I felt truly blessed to feel like a resident of Melbourne for a few weeks.
My perfect meal would be an amazing roast chicken with smashed potatoes and a great salad. I love, love, love the best tomatoes with salt and pepper, extra-virgin olive oil, fantastic sourdough, crunchy bread crust, all mopped up with some aged parmesan cheese and
a good glass of Barolo. That is perfect to me, rather than something more spectacular. It's about being in Italy, being in heaven and being hungry.
Italy, without a doubt, would be my favourite country in the world, next to Australia. I'm in bed with them both! We were in lockdown the whole of last year in Italy. There were no government handouts, it was very strict, there was a curfew, but everybody was very mindful, people were generous, everyone grew their own vegetables and shared them over the fence. There was a huge camaraderie and community spirit.
We have this gorgeous apartment in Rome. We're about one minute from Roscioli, where everyone goes to get coffee. I miss it so much. We've got three go-to restaurants: Marigold, which is a little bit like Moonacres down here [in the Southern Highlands, where we now live]. It's younger, more contemporary Rome. We would often go there for breakfast. We love Pierluigi and Armando al Pantheon, which is tiny, but they make everything themselves and the food is just sensational.
I do love travel. A world without travel is very sad for me. But at the same time, I've been very lucky to have spent most of my life travelling, from the age of three. I'll definitely be back to Italy. And then, also London. The other place I'd love to go back to is New Zealand, I miss it! And I haven't been to Tasmania. What I wanted to do when I got back to Australia] was go to Tasmania, and I still haven't been able to do that.
The best holiday I've ever been on would be my time in Sicily with my husband Bradley. Felix Forest and Edwina [Robinson, of fashion brand Aje] came and stayed with us on their honeymoon, which was great! We travelled, we took photos, drank great wine, ate good food. It's always about food and wine. But possibly my most favourite was when we eloped in Positano. It was just Bradley, [my daughter] Estella and myself, and we just had the best wedding ever. We took a boat to Capri and went swimming and ate our favourite food and drank our favourite Champagne. It was a day of absolute freedom and indulgence.
Estella got to choose the cake, so we had a Nutella cake for the wedding cake. We went to La Fontelina in Capri for lunch. We had spaghetti vongole and burrata and tomatoes and bread. It was quite simple. When you have the spaghetti vongole and it's that sweet taste of the Mediterranean sea – that's what always stays with me. You can never recreate that in Australia. It tastes different. There's a bitterness, whereas there's a sweetness to the vongole there, and that's the taste of the sea, that sweet, salty sea.
Celebrity MasterChef Australia is showing now on Channel 10 and 10 Play on demand.