WE’VE seen, heard and almost smelt their talents in the kitchen.
Junior MasterChef’s Isabella and Sofia from All Hallows School, Brisbane, cooked their way into our homes and hearts, graciously supporting each other in the competition which heralded “Issy” the winner and “Sof” part of the “final four”.
The twins have spoken candidly of friendships forged, of a love for cooking passed on from both sides of the family and most poignantly of all, of their admiration for each other, Isabella saying “it was mostly Sofia who always helped me as she was always by my side”.
Displaying a constant and certain mix of compassion, generosity and sheer joy, the twins have yet another ingredient adding to their strength, not known to the wider MasterChef audience.
“Our faith, Catholic education and Catholic community are something we were born into and grew up with,” Dad Simon said, adding that he and wife Sylvana’s faith “has been handed down … for generations from Italy, Ireland, Germany and now Australia”.
“We have been part of parishes at Holy Spirit, New Farm; St Joseph’s, Corinda; St Francis’, West End; St Mary’s, South Brisbane; St Therese’s, Monto; St Columba’s, Pentland, and now, St Agatha’s, Clayfield,” he said of closer connections.
Also with a past or present affiliation with just as many Catholic schools including St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace, and their local state school, the father of four said the family “have met many holy men and women, priests, brothers and nuns”.
“We have enjoyed the guidance of these holy men and women of the Church and now share that passion with our children,” Simon said referring also to sons Ruben, almost 5, and Roman, 9.
“They are fortunate to have these people around them who love them.”
Simon, who was acting principal in a country school near Rockhampton for the duration of Junior MasterChef with his sons also heading north, spoke excitedly of an aunty “going back five generations”.
“In our own family we are blessed with religious … Sr Annie Bliss, Sister of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, buggy driver and travelling companion to Saint Mary MacKillop (was) great grandfather Jack Bliss’s aunt and the girls’ great, great, great aunt,” he said.
Simon also named two Marist Missionary Sisters and two priests who were cousins of his daughters’ great-grandfather, a sister who was a Presentation Sister, and a “third cousin to the girls” who is a Franciscan Missionary of Mary.
Franciscan Father Stephen Bliss, “third cousin to the girls”, baptised the boys and lives in Box Hill, Victoria, while Christian Brother Denis Hernon is “a welcome visitor” in their home.
Not only does Isabella and Sofia’s heritage stretch to saints in the making but their “great granny Jean” was “twice head cook” at Queensland’s Parliament House, Brisbane.
“Her sister Betty, daughter Margaret and friends all formed part of her close knit team in the kitchen and restaurant,” Simon said.
“She always provided warm hospitality … her cooking style was hearty, tasty Australian fare with a country flavour since she grew up on a dairy farm.
“The girls have been cooking her recipes and hope to perfect more of them.”
“Our Great granny was a great cook,” Isabella agreed.
“We loved her sponge cakes, lamingtons (and) vanilla slice.
“She always made something for our birthday parties as well.”
Speaking of parties, the Brisbane twins began stirring up their culinary talents early, under the watchful eye of Mum Sylvana and “Nonna (grandmother) Rosa”.
“We both started cooking when we were one,” Sofia said.
“Mum has a photo of us both stirring a batter together.”
The 12-year-old delights in recounting tea party menus and experiences in infancy.
“Mum would say, ‘Would you like to have a tea party today?’ and then would actually make the food for the tea party,” she said.
“Biscuits, cut up fruit, sandwiches … Mum would use her good tea pot and tea cups and we’d have fun pouring our drinks.”
Isabella said she “will never forget” those early learnings – the foundation for entry into the nationwide competition.
“Once we found out about Junior MasterChef Sofia and I thought it would be really cool to have a go … wow, and it happened,” Isabella said, her twin soon recalling the “heaps of fun” audition.
“I made my signature dish Falsomagro cooked in sugo (sauce) and crumbed eggplant,” Sofia said.
“Falsomagro is a traditional Sicilian dish and my Nonna makes it for Christmas every year and will make it again this year.
“My bis-Nonna (great grandmother) taught my Nonna who taught my Mum.
“Mum and Nonna taught us.”
Nonna Rosa was made just as popular as the autograph-singing girls during and post airing of the show Sofia adding she “loves” learning about her Italian heritage through cooking traditional foods.
Asked Nonna’s reaction to her grand-daughters’ success, Isabella was animated saying, “She thought it was ‘bellissimo’ (beautiful)”.
“Nonna was so thrilled, proud and excited we were on the show displaying our culture and heritage,” Sofia said.
“She said she felt we represented the Italian community and this moved her.”
The girls also made pancakes during the audition and “plated them up in 30 minutes”.
They spoke of the stress of the competition – to cook or invent dishes with expertise in limited time – as almost non-existent.
“The competition wasn’t actually that stressful for me,” Sofia said.
“I really enjoyed being around all the kids who shared the same passion as me.
“I also made heaps of great friends in all the kids and met some inspiring chefs.”
Isabella spoke of the family’s support to counter any challenges.
“Everyone in my family was very supportive, especially Mum and Sofia,” she said.
“I’d chat to Dad every night and other times with my Nonna, grandma, aunties and close friends who encouraged me.”
Sylvana was with the girls for the duration of the taping of the show in Sydney while Simon attended the finale.
The level-headed Brisbane Mum spoke proudly of the way her twins conducted themselves.
“In a competition like this you take each day as it comes,” she said.
“You focus on building confidence and encouraging your kids to do their best along the way and at every phase because at the end of the day that’s what matters – to give it a good go – and they did.
“Because they love cooking I knew they would be in their element and really enjoy it.
“I am really happy for both of them.”
Noting a maturity in Isabella and Sofia throughout the culinary experience, Sylvana remained proud. “I saw them grow in so many ways,” she said.
“In their confidence, in themselves as individuals, with each other and in closeness as sisters, in bonding with the other lovely kids on the show and the wonderful people who looked after them.
“They loved the experiences and really enjoyed meeting so many interesting people who are role models and mentors like the judges.
“They also learnt so much in the process – what an amazing learning experience on so many levels.”
Director of Middle School at All Hallows School, Brisbane, Glenda Rodgers agreed the girls had displayed a growth in confidence.
“The show has exposed them to a variety of talented chefs and to the world of reality television,” Ms Rodgers said, soon speaking of their “homecoming”.
“Isabella and Sofia brought their trophies to school – so we visited each of the Middle School classes to show the other girls,” she said. “There was spontaneous applause when we entered each classroom.”
Such recognition and Sylvana’s constant and “amazing dishes” continue to inspire the girls towards a dream of owning their own restaurant – “Is-Sofia’s”.
“Probably traditional Sicilian dishes and Italian inspired food (will feature on the menu),” Sofia said.
“Definitely gnocchi, falsomagro, pasta di mandola, ravioli, cannelloni.”
Christmas will also be bountiful in their household.
“We always cook as a family for Christmas,” Sofia said.
“We laugh, we make jokes. I can’t wait.”
Isabella said Christmas is one of her “favourite times of the year because it brings the family and culture together”.
The duo also enjoys song writing and Isabella plays the cello and her sister the violin.
The new year brings a start in their high schooling at All Hallows and while they’ll be “back to the books” Sofia said she’ll “never stop cooking”.
Isabella is “looking forward to all the new things Year 8 brings”.
Collectively they “look forward to gathering as a family” for meals.
“It is one time of the day when we are truly committed to being together, share a meal and chat about our day,” Sylvana said.
“When we eat we also try talk about all the good things that happened to us during the day.”
So who washes up in this now famous Brisbane household?
Sylvana said that’s something they “all do together” too.