My introduction to hospitality was nothing short of a baptism by fire. At 22, a politics student at the University of Otago, I placed third on MasterChef New Zealand. Since then, I have worked as a pastry chef at Baduzzi in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter, Amisfield in Queenstown and currently I am at Paris Butter in Herne Bay, Auckland. These achievements are in large part due to an exceptional amount of luck and the wonderful people who have looked after me in this industry.

I met my first female influence long before I entered the hospitality industry. No decision in my career is made without consulting my mum. She is my level head and my voice of reason. And an exceptional mother.

As a child, I was fascinated by the food industry and the women who worked in it. One of the first influences was my food technology teacher, Louise Clouston, at Westlake Girls High School. I was always wanting to do more than NCEA level 3 asked of me, and Louise gave me license to do that.

Nadia Lim was another superstar to me. Nadia used MasterChef as a platform to propel herself and evolve the food industry as we know it. Since I met her – I almost passed out in that process – she is now a mentor to me. The 14-year-old me wouldn’t believe it.

Being a MasterChef contestant, I am very aware that I had a greater advantage than most and was fast-tracked into some of the country’s best kitchens very quickly. For other female entrants to the industry, the path to get into these kitchens is much more strenuous. In saying that, it has been a challenge to be taken seriously in the industry as a MasterChef contestant, especially as I was incredibly out of my depth when I started at Baduzzi. There was a period where I had no confidence in my ability as a chef, but luckily I am a quick learner and Mum was there to dry my tears and send me on my way – back to work. Eventually I realised that the most important woman in my life and my career was myself. I worked exceptionally hard to be good at my job and even more importantly, believe in myself.

My time in hospitality hasn’t been without its bad experiences. I have encountered some difficult people, both male and female, who have told me that I don’t deserve the opportunities I have received. A thick skin was essential, helped by the people that have my back: Kelli Brett, editor of Cuisine; food writer Lauraine Jacobs; the incredible chefs that I have worked with; and those people front-of-house – all made sure I was on track.

Some could be quick to say that it’s a man’s world, but some of the best people supporting me have been men. My dad told me I could do anything in this world if I worked hard and believed in myself. I have a partner who is not only the best chef I know, but supports me and my goals more than I could ever ask for. In cheffing, often we work in teams that are male dominated, but I really have been completely welcomed and supported by several men. It started when Michael P Dearth gave me a job at Baduzzi and I wouldn’t be a chef today without my first head chef at Baduzzi, Federico Schincariol. Then Vaughan Mabee and his partner Julia gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to work at the leading New Zealand restaurant Amisfield, where it felt like I was a part of his family. He has put together a sensational team including chef Er Sun Peng; I was terrified to work with these chefs, but they couldn’t have been kinder and more supportive.

The preparation I received at Amisfield allowed me to join the team at Paris Butter and perform at the level I need to. Chef Zennon Christain Wijlens, Catherine George and the rest of the team are exceptional. We all have unique personalities and differing skills but a common goal, and it’s such a joy to be a part of it.

A lot of us in hospitality – especially us chefs – see ourselves as oddballs. There is a diversity of people that can work in hospitality and thrive in it and that is exactly what makes this industry so wonderful. Hospitality is the first place where I felt like I could fit in and be myself.

I am reminded of two pearls of wisdom my mum always tells me. First, in order to succeed find the people that have done it and learn from them. Second, as you succeed never forget your roots and who helped you on the way to get there.

So, to all the people in this industry that have fed me, taught me, and inspired me, thank you. ■ @alicetayloreats