She got her big break in 2009 on the first series of MasterChef Australia. But while Justine Schofield was eliminated in fourth place, her talent and vibrant, engaging personality provided a launch pad for a career that just gets stronger and stronger 11 years on.
Impressed by the young chef’s prowess and presence, Network Ten offered to produce a TV program of her own, Everyday Gourmet, in 2011, filming more than 90 episodes per year.
Aside from hundreds of hours of TV production, being an ambassador for major international brands and tourism destinations, and fulfilling a string of media and PR engagements that (until COVID, anyway …) saw her traversing the country on a regular basis, Justine, 35, has been the author of best-selling books, including the Weeknight Cookbook (some festive inspired recipes from which are over the page).
“I could never have imagined that MasterChef was going to be this incredible platform for me to create a new career,” she says. “Next year will be my 11th year of filming Everyday Gourmet and I’m just working on a new book.
“I still pinch myself at how lucky I have been, to be able to do what I truly love. Yes, being in the right place at the right time when the MasterChef phenomenon occurred did obviously play a role in my success, but there is no such thing as free lunch.
“I’ve always been a big believer in hard work, getting your hands dirty along the way and always being honest, grateful and committed to every opportunity that has fallen in my lap.
“Looking back 12 years, when I sitting at a desk attempting to sell security camera (I didn’t sell many!), daydreaming of the next dish I was going to cook when I got home … never would I have imagined that it would have become a reality and my new career.”
However, the price of such a busy and successful career has, at times, been high.
Justine once told chef and former MasterChef judge on his A Plate to Call Home podcast: “I’ve had two terrible break-ups over the past 10 years, and it all comes down to not being around because I’m always on the road.”
But it motivated her to find a much better work-life balance and Justine is now in a happy place with retired AFL player Brent Staker, with whom she lives in Brisbane (although Sydney is officially her home).
“Now I’m in a loving relationship and I remind myself that I do need to say no to things sometimes,” she told Gary Mehigan.
Justine and Brent, 36, were first pictured together on Instagram on March 14. Brent played football professionally for 13 years until his retirement in 2015. In June, the former West Coast Eagles and Brisbane Lions star took Justine to visit his relatives in Broken Hill, NSW.
Of course a good diet and dedicated vitamin regime (Justine is ambassador for Microgencis vitamins, stocked at Chemist Warehouse) have also supported finding a healthier balance amid juggling frequent travel around the country with an ever-changing schedule – such as flat-out filming and book development periods one week with long days on her feet, and then the “quieter” periods where its recipe-writing, sitting at the computer for long periods.
“I take whatever vitamins I feel my body needs at the time,” she says. “At present I’m taking Ultra Magnesium, Vitamin C and an all-round women’s multi-vitamin.
“There’s nothing worse than getting a cold or feeling unwell when travelling so I ensure I always pack premium vitamins in my suitcase. This is just to ensure I have the best chance to have a healthy and strong immune on the road.”
Justine’s love of good food and cooking was instilled early.
“From a young age I was drawn to the kitchen,” she recalls. “I was always so curious in the way a few simple ingredients can be transformed into such a scrumptious dish.
“My Mum is a fabulous cook and cooked for us all the time. Even though she and Dad both worked very busy full time jobs, they would still cook dinner 95 percent of the time for my two brothers and me. The only time I ever really experienced ‘delivery food’ was when I stayed with friends.
“It was also very important in our family to eat at the table, together and share one meal (if you didn’t like, you learnt to like it! Haha). I think we are all so close in my family because eating around a table every night gave us the opportunity to catch up properly, share a meal and just talk.
“Food also always evokes memory and keeps heritage alive. Mum is from France so the dishes she makes remind me of my grandmother (Meme) and I hope one day if I have children I can pass these recipes down and keep them alive. I feel the only way they will stay relevant is to cook them regularly, and that’s exactly what I do.
“So my recipes are designed for busy people who want inspiration for fast and easy recipes. They really showcase how to get the most out of your fridge, freezer and pantry to ensure you feel empowered in the kitchen, to be able to cook a great meal for yourself, family or partner any day of the week.”
With the festive season fast approaching, what’s Justine’s perfect Australian Christmas lunch? Should we be roasting a turkey?
“We haven’t roasted a turkey in our family for ages. I feel it’s sometimes not suited to the hot summer and, to be honest, it can sometimes be a bit underwhelming.
“I prefer to change it up every year, but there is always lots of fresh seafood and wonderful summer produce, like tomatoes and mangoes.
“One thing that is always a staple at every Schofield Christmas lunch is foie gras (goose or duck liver), a French specialty, usually served at aperitif with drinks). For Mum and I it’s non-negotiable!”