A taste for family food
ANNA Polyviou may have bright pink hair, but it's her generous spirit that will shine through in Family Food Fight.
Sydney's punk princess of pastry, best known to many viewers for setting weird and wonderful pressure tests on MasterChef like the Death Star and the Firecracker, is a judge on Nine's new cooking competition.
When I meet her in Melbourne during filming for Family Food Fight, Anna has an Esky in tow - it's her mother's home-made haloumi to share with the show's cast and crew.
Then when I arrive on set at Abbotsford Convent, the setting for a wedding for which the teams will provide the catering, the Melbourne-born chef's happily chatting away in Greek to one of the contestants.
"I feel like I'm their family," Anna tells The Guide.
"They're always like, 'Anna come over for some gnocchi' or 'some Lebanese food' and it's like you're judging a competition, you can't go to their house until it's all over.
"You get to love each family for different reasons."
With four members in each team, it's a literal and visual feast when it comes to the show's challenges.
"You get lost in their food," she says.
"If you don't see me saying too much, that's because I'm eating."
Ranging in heritage from Italian to Greek, Lebanese, Vietnamese and Australian, the show's six foodie families represent the country's diverse food influences.
"That's what Australia's all about," Anna says.
"Watching these families makes you go back to your heritage; it's good to get back to your roots."
Growing up in a Greek household, Anna's family life was steeped in fresh, traditional food.
"I was very spoiled growing up," she says.
"One of my uncles is a hunter so we used to get wild rabbit; another uncle is a fisherman so we could get fresh octopus. We would go out on a Sunday morning in our gum boots and we'd go hunting for wild mushrooms."
After gravitating towards pastry during her kitchen apprenticeship because she "didn't want to smell like meat or fish", Anna is now an award-winning pastry chef who has transformed patisserie in hotels across the country thanks to her innovative work at Sydney's Shangri-La hotel.
"When I was an apprentice I found out all the executive pastry chefs (in Australia) were European, so I headed overseas, learned as much as I could and then came back to train more Aussies," she says.
With the feel-good format of Family Food Fight, she hopes to inspire the home cook.
"You never want to deflate people," she says.
"I don't want people watching at home going 'That's too hard; I don't want to give that a go'.
"It's about getting people in the kitchen with their family again."
The show is hosted by Matt Moran and also stars Hayden Quinn and Tom Parker Bowles.
Family Food Fight premieres tonight at 7.30pm on Channel 9.