DB pilot Brett Carter charts a course for a second career as a restaurateur after wading into the reality TV fray. Elizabeth Kerr reports.
It’s highly likely that most of us have a preconceived notion of what a reality show contestant is. They’re thirsty for attention and wholly immersed in the modern culture of over-sharing, they lack basic life skills and, ironically, are totally out of touch with reality. That’s not the case with Discovery Bay resident and seventh-place finishing MasterChef Australia contestant Brett Carter.
“My old man was air force. He didn’t fly, he was air traffic control, but I grew up on military bases. I was always a fan of military aircraft. I got a flying scholarship and it went from there,” Brett explains of the roots of his current job.
The 44-year-old pilot, like many of his co-workers, simply has a side passion he indulges in when he’s not flying the friendly skies. And he couldn’t be less attention-thirsty if he tried. Sitting in a boisterous coffee bar in Central, Brett, a Melbourne native, is jovial and relaxed, and falls on the right side of ‘unserious’ when the occasion calls for it.
A Cathay pilot by profession, Brett would be just as happy spending his days tooling around a kitchen and serving up food as in a cockpit, and though he’s quick to stress he’s an amateur and not a formally schooled chef, he does refer to himself as a lifelong foodie. After 18 years in DB he’s still a fan of the resort – “it’s easy, it’s convenient, relaxed” – though he says “the restaurant scene needs a bit of work”.
Brett counts himself fortunate that he has a job that takes him around the world and enables him to try out all sorts of cuisines. Work frequently took him to the US just as cable television was proliferating and giving the world things like The Food Network. However, he’s also a father – to teenaged daughters Jamie, 17, and Dylan, 14, currently living in Perth. “When the kids came along I… found myself in the kitchen cooking for them,” Brett says. “Like any good parent I wanted to get good nutrition into them and was trying to come up with different ways to make them eat green stuff.”
It may sound clichéd, but Brett truly lights up when he talks about cooking – and conquering misconceptions when he can. “Cooking dinner for me never felt like a chore. You put some music on, have a glass of wine and it’s enjoyable,” he says. When it came to the aforementioned ‘green stuff ’, Brett was determined not to repeat his own boiled Brussels sprout childhood with his girls.
“Your food inspiration is often your food memories. I did a dinner party the other night and the birthday girl rattled off this big long list of things she didn’t eat – because her food memory was boarding school. So in her head she hates fish,” Brett boggles. “That’s so wrong but that’s how food works.”
Ready for primetime
Brett’s stint on the eighth series of MasterChef Australia is rooted in a two-minute conversation he had with his daughter last year. “I was at my sister’s house in Brisbane watching MasterChef with Dylan,” he explains, “and she looks at me and says, ‘Dad, you should do that’.” It was that simple. Brett completed the intense, seven-page application from Hong Kong and got an audition the following week. So off he went to Melbourne, armed with his gear and a couple of favourite recipes (think snapper with clams in a saffron butter sauce), to see if he could beat 2,000 other aspiring master chefs.
Strangely, Brett was surprised by his own reaction to the first bit of criticism from one of the judges after making it past the first round. “It hit me quite hard. And I was quite disappointed,” he recalls with a laugh. “So I had my moment to myself and I finally decided that at the end of the day I’d done the best I could. But I was really surprised how hard I took it. I’ve been in aviation a long time and I’ve got quite a thick skin.”
As wallflowers need not apply, it’s no surprise Brett made it to the Top 24, and his job as a pilot served him well on challenges, especially when it came to working under pressure and managing time. “They are making a TV show, and for one of the first team challenges I was a captain. And they said to me, ‘What’s the pressure like? Is this worse than your flying job?’” Long story short, no story producers (and reality shows indeed have story producers) want to hear that being responsible for hundreds of real lives is more pressure-packed than their show. The magic of TV and all that.
Nonetheless, Brett made it all the way to seventh place. He was ultimately eliminated in Los Angeles while cooking at Maude, Curtis Stone’s restaurant in Beverley Hills, after having won a Mystery Box Challenge, reached the top three in two Invention Tests and competed for immunity twice. Brett’s level-headedness may have rankled with his producers, but it kept him unflappable when facing eliminations. “I have a career, so if MasterChef didn’t take me it wasn’t the end of the world,” he reasons.
Still, hanging out with celebrity chefs like Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal, Nigella Lawson, Maggie Beer, Shannon Bennett and Curtis Stone was a buzz. “To eat at some of these places and cook with some of these chefs… and have my family watch. It really was such an experience,” he says. “Getting to the top three in the Heston elimination was probably one of my favourite moments.”
Regardless of how memorable Brett found being sequestered, he almost didn’t go. He does, after all, have a full-time job. Thankfully, a WhatsApp group and some cooking fans at work saved the day. “There are so many people I owe,” Brett says, dishing out credit where credit is due. “My co-worker Joel Crawford managed to organise my whole roster and life while I was away, and my beautiful partner Lisa stood by me through the whole experience. She even flew to Melbourne to see me audition in front of the judges and was the first to congratulate me when I received the coveted white apron.”
For now, it’s back to flying – andconsidering a second career for down the road. “I’m making the most of MasterChef, putting myself out there and going off to do some work experience with [Michelin-star chef ] Jason Atherton at 22 Ships in Wanchai. I’ve got some stuff lined up in Australia, so there’s plenty on the boil,” Brett finishes. “One day I’d love to own something – something better than the average restaurant.”