Over a million of us watched Masterchef Australia every night, which means you’re probably familiar with the work of award winning Melbourne-based pastry chef, Philippa Sibley.

Being a HUGE dessert fiend, I’ve been a fan of Philippa’s work ever since I moved to Melbourne and she was cooking at three-hatted est est est.

Her latest venture is taking over the reins at iconic café Il Fornaio (2 Acland St, St Kilda +61 3 9534 2922) as Executive Chef. Philippa has developed the mouthwatering breakfast and lunch menu (I have my eye on the country pie and her famous smoked salmon, pea and dill quiche) – but what I’m most excited about is that the dessert bar. Yes, a place to go where it’s ok just to order dessert!

Philippa is one busy lady so I’m thrilled that she’s taken the time to have a chat with me today. Thanks Philippa!

Philippa, tell me a bit more about your background?

My passion for pastry emerged early on, but it was during a stint overseas, where I worked at Le Gavroche, Est, Quaglino’s, Harvey’s and three-starred La Cote Saint Jacques, that I honed my dessert skills.

When I arrived back in Australia in 1996, I decided to focus on desserts at est est est, Luxe and Ondine, and all three restaurants collected three hats in The Age Good Food Guide.

In 2005 I was appointed Head Pastry Chef at Circa, The Prince, and then in 2009 I moved to Bistro Guillaume.

What’s do you consider to be your cooking philosophy?

Desserts are the nursery rhymes of eating. They are silly and frivolous, and no one ever died from not eating pudding.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your years as a chef?

I feel like I’ve faced every challenge there could be. I have terrible wheat allergies to start with!

At La Cote Saint Jacques, being the first Australian in the kitchen in 25 years and the first ever woman who had worked there was a novelty for a while, but once I started to excel and eventually overtaking the skill levels of the male staff, things changed and they were not so nice. Of course the language barrier made working there even more challenging because once I began to learn French and understand what they were saying, they could now longer talk about me!

What advice would you give to someone who wants a career in the kitchen?

Say goodbye to your social life. Don’t become a chef unless you are really passionate. It involves a lot of blood, sweat and tears, literally.

I have to ask. What was it like being on Masterchef Australia? Was it just like we saw on TV?

It was very exciting and the producer and all the people involved where lovely and very helpful. It took a really long time to do such a short section and I was very nervous. I’d seen other chefs loose the challenge and I’m not so arrogant. I was scared. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Moving onto your latest venure, what approach have you taken with the new menu at Il Fornaio?

Fresh, seasonal French and Italian bistro food. It’s similar to what I did at Luxe (St Kilda) and I would describe it as things that I personally like to eat.

As Executive Chef, what are you next plans for Il Fornaio?

Purveying. As the weather warms up we will have picnicables, where you can come in and buy a baguette, some terrine or house smoked salmon, chutney, cheese and wine, plus a few slices of tarte. Instant picnic! We’ll also be selling ice cream. There’s nothing else like it in St Kilda.

Finally, you’ve worked around the world but you’re born and bred in Melbourne. What HOT places and things do you love about your home town?

As I live in Richmond, I love Victoria Street as a casual dining destination. My favourite would be the mud crabs at Pacific Seafood BBQ House.

I love all the hospitality regulars such as the Supper Club, The European and Siglo, because I’ll always see someone there I know.

Attica is a wonderful dining destination. I like Maze as it was special and very accessible. Lucky for me my son is a little gourmand so we always enjoy eating out.

Philippa’s daily-changing desserts and cakes will be available in the pastry case of Il Fornaio along with speciality coffee from St Ali. Il Fornaio will also offer a made-to-order cake service with 24 hours notice. I know where I’m getting my next birthday cake!

Images via Masterchef Australia and Philippa Sibley