From MasterChef finalist to corporate cooking queen, when avid traveler Vanessa Baxter put herself forward as a contestant on MasterChef, she had no idea that it would lead her to becoming a specialist for adults and kids alike in nourishing relationships through food. “I am simply passionate about food and cooking and wish to share that love for food with others and encourage youth and others to enjoy the process of cooking from scratch,” she told Restaurant & Café. “I love everything and anything to do with food.”

Baxter is a Ronald McDonald House Ambassador, an active supporter of KOTO Charities, which help educate street kids in all areas of hospitality, and has recently been involved with Bridge the Gap, teaching some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable youth how to cook. In all of these endeavours, she is driven by her own passion for cooking. This year she is a guest chef at the Electrolux Chefs’ Secrets at Taste of Auckland. “It will be an amazing opportunity to be able to cook hands on with some of the visitors,” she said. “Anyone who is a lover of food and who has made it their business can come together to connect and chat over delicious food and drinks.”

While living in London in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Baxter got her hands on a copy of the newly released White Heat, the cookbook-cum-memoir of celebrity chef Marco Pierre White. “All anyone could talk about was the young bad boy chef who had just opened a restaurant around the corner,” she said. “I couldn’t afford to eat there but I bought the book and cooked and learned so much from it.”

Baxter rose to prominence through her appearance on the 2013 season of MasterChef NZ, then went on to further work in the industry and charities such as RMH Charities, Bridge the Gap Project and KOTO. She has just released her first cookbook, titled The Fearless Kitchen, which encourages parents to bring their children into the kitchen and bond through cooking together.

Baxter doesn’t follow trends, but rather plays with what she enjoys and experiments with combinations and new ingredients. “My dishes are rich with the cultures and history from the people that I’ve been lucky enough to live with, whose experiences I’ve shared and whose passion for life I’ve enjoyed, as if those cultures were my own,” she said.