Sisters Tasia and Gracia Seger make as much of an impression now as they did when they stole the spotlight (and emerged victorious) in the seventh season of mega-successful Australian reality cooking show My Kitchen Rules (MKR) last year.
When I first meet them, the girls are in the middle of an animated discussion about how they survived – and eventually thrived – on MKR.
“I just told Gracia we should do our best,” says Tasia, at 27, the older of the two. To which Gracia, 25, replies: “Actually, you were psychotic – pure evil!”
Tasia denies this, and the girls end up having a cute little disagreement which inevitably ends in peals of laughter.
It is this dynamic that captured the attention (and affection) of millions of Australians who tuned in to watch the Indonesian-born girls win the show. The sisters were constantly bickering, but they somehow came off as adorable.
“Tasia and I are very close in age and we’re also really good friends. So going into the show, sometimes we forgot that yes, everyone sees us as sisters but we interact as friends as well. There were moments when we were really, really angry but everyone found it funny and we were like, ‘OMG, this is sooo frustrating!’” says Gracia.
The sisters grew up in Indonesia before their whole family (there are five sisters in total) moved to India, before finally settling in Melbourne, Australia.
They remain firmly tethered to Indonesia, as they make frequent trips back to visit their beloved grandmother, who is one of their major culinary influences as well.
The girls’ mother made Indonesian meals an everyday staple, ensuring that they never forgot their culinary roots.
When they moved to India, the sisters started cooking Indonesian dishes for friends and family – but by the time they moved to Melbourne, their culinary concoctions had taken on a more experimental tone.
“We were already eating out at restaurants and coming up with new ideas. So I think Melbourne represented an experimental side of things for us, whereas when we were growing up in India and Indonesia, it was about developing our palates and knowing what we liked and didn’t like,” says Gracia.
In Melbourne, the family often watched MKR together and the girls thought of signing up to be on the show; however, that only happened when they had some time on their hands after both finished their degrees – Tasia has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and Gracia has a Master’s in biomedical research.
“Tasia was doing part-time work for a year after she left uni and as soon as I graduated, it was like ‘Oh now what do I do with my career?’ So we had the time, and we dedicated that to being on MKR, and everything after that kind of fell into place,” says Gracia.
The show starts off with teams of two hosting three-course dinner parties in their homes. Each team’s meal is judged by the other contestants as well as the show’s hosts and judges Pete Evans and Manu Feildel.
This goes on for some time as there are multiple groups and teams, and often a redemption round. Once the final teams have been assembled, the show progresses to a series of challenges and cook-offs.
The whole series often comes up to a total of 40 to 45 episodes, which is lengthy for viewers at home – but even longer for the contestants.
The girls agree that it was a “looong” production period, but they loved the experience and ended up meeting a lot of people, making a lot of friends and learning new things.
And they cooked a lot, improving at every turn and impressing with dishes that ranged from lobster tail in yellow curry sauce to crispy fried barramundi with apple, coriander and tamarind dressing to chicken ribs with chilli and sweet soy. The girls’ predilection for fiery food even earned them the moniker “spice sisters” on the show!
“On MKR, we cooked a lot of traditional Indonesian dishes. We owed it to our mum and grandma to not deviate too much from the original recipes, but we love to modernise things.
“When you’re trying to win a competition of such a high standard, you can’t really serve as you would on a day-to-day basis. I think that was a big challenge for us – trying to make it more sophisticated, which I think Indonesian food can be, it just needs to be more refined,” says Gracia.
Tasia says that nobody, not even their family, expected them to win, so they strove hard to take things as they came.
“To be honest, Gracia and I didn’t expect it at all. Our family and friends were like, ‘Oh, yeah, we knew you would win!’ And we were like, ‘No, you didn’t. Don’t lie, you didn’t!’
“Our goal was to be in the top 10. And then we made it into top 10, so we took it day by day. I think even if you fail but you do your best, you don’t have any regrets. So I tried to push Gracia that way,” she says.
The girls have since thrown themselves into learning as much as possible about the F&B industry. Their MKR win came with a A$250,000 (RM817,000) cash prize, but they say that money is still safely in the bank, and they’ve only spent a tiny portion of it on a camera.
While their ultimate goal is to one day open a restaurant, they still feel like fish out of water in the industry, so they’ve taken a softer approach – by launching their own range of satay sauces, available online via their website tasiaandgracia.com. A chilli sauce range will soon be introduced.
“Gracia and I really want that restaurant, but for now, we’re still in the process of learning. Opening a restaurant is very expensive and to a lot of people, we are just home cooks.
“So if we open one, we would like to collaborate with someone, because that would mean we would be learning from them,” says Tasia.
The eighth season of MKR is currently airing, and the girls say it is surreal to watch other contestants on the show now, simply because they have a much deeper understanding of what goes on behind the scenes.
“It’s very different now – we’re more appreciative of the people on the show.
“In the past, you can criticise people for making simple dishes and be like, ‘How did you not manage to do that?’ But now we know how fast time goes, and we feel their pain because it could be as simple as two elements on a plate and one could fail because you don’t have the time, and it’s very stressful,” says Gracia.
The sisters think MKR continues to be a fan favourite because it has such a strong family element, which draws viewers of all ages and ethnicities together.
“There are people who just love cooking and want to show their traditions to everyone else, so I think a lot of people can relate to MKR,” says Gracia.
My Kitchen Rules Season 8 airs Mondays to Wednesdays at 9.25pm on Diva (Astro Ch 702/HD Ch 723).