Alice Zaslavsky remembers her earliest food-related thrill as a little girl growing up in Georgia, in the former Soviet Union. She was five when her brother returned from a school trip to Switzerland bearing a kiwi fruit and a banana. Living in a climate “where tropical fruits only appeared in stories”, it was a revelation.

“Mum cut the banana and kiwi into slices so the whole family could try it,” Alice recalls. “I’d never tasted anything like it.”

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As a young girl, she would spend time with her grandfather Boris at his dacha (weekender). “It was filled with fruit trees and I would sit in the garden and just eat ’til I was sick,” she says. “Grandpa was the first one to instil in me this love of fresh produce. He taught me how to toast sunflower seeds. When people ask me what my favourite food is, I still say toasted sunflower seeds.”

Alice arrived in Melbourne from Georgia with her family when she was almost seven, settling into Sandringham with no English and a bowl haircut: “I was such a tomboy. People would assume I was a boy.”

Her deep love of food and great produce endured and thrived, becoming central to her life and, more recently, to her status as the “it” girl of the Melbourne food scene.

Since she emerged from season four of MasterChef in 2012 as one of the series’ most recognisable and popular contestants, she has parlayed her irrepressible enthusiasm and megawatt smile into a burgeoning multi-media career.

There has been a book (the best-selling Alice’s Food A-Z: Edible Adventures), TV (three series of children’s game show Kitchen Whiz on Channel Go and a brand new kids’ series Crunch Time, due to premiere on Go later this year), radio (a regular Tuesday afternoon stint on 774 with Rafael Epstein) and a hyperactive social media presence with more than 44,000 followers – and rising.

She is the official “face” of the Prahran Market, a fixture at food festivals across the country and VIP guest at restaurant openings and food launches around Melbourne.

And this week she starts as The Weekly Review’s food editor, on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest food trends and tricks, the tastiest morsels, restaurant openings and general gourmet goings-on around town.

Photo shoot fun with Alice:

Asked about the food she loves, Alice gravitates towards unusual ingredients. She mentions deep-fried school prawns: “They’re the ones you can eat the head and all”.

“We cooked some for Rick Stein [on MasterChef]; we won the challenge. I wasn’t sure if that was TV or not but then I got to compere for Rick at a gourmet escape a year later. It’s still easy to be doubting the whole thing. I said, ‘Rick, I need to know: did you really like those school prawns?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I really enjoyed them’.”

Alice was teaching at Haileybury Grammar in Brighton (English, humanities, classics and geography) when she auditioned for MasterChef.

“Teaching really suited me because I felt the classroom was my stage and I could encourage them – encouraging anyone! – to be adventurous,” she says. “Those light-bulb moments for me are just priceless. I miss it but I still get to visit schools with my book, and I still get to be on stage at food festivals.”

She was eliminated a week out from the MasterChef finals but says the experience was invaluable. “It gave me the opportunity to do what I was doing before the show, on a bigger stage. It was a fantastic springboard.”

Alice has always tried to find roles where food intersects with education. She has launched food-ed.com, a resource hub for teachers where food is used as a vehicle to teach other subjects.

“When I was teaching I would always use food as a way to engage the kids,” she says. “I spent most of the humanities resource budget on a suckling pig and a lamb for the spit for Mediaeval Day and Ancients Day. The kids were going past saying, ‘What’s that? I’ve never seen that before’.”

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In her new role with The Weekly Review, Alice is excited about the opportunity to continue her food adventures. “I’m an adventurer by nature,” she says. “I love trying new food. I get really excited when someone says, ‘Try this’. Eating is a perfect way of experiencing more and more new stuff.”

Her eating out is “dish-led” and she always wants to experience a restaurant’s “signature dish”.

“I want it to be cuisine-centric. I love restaurants that have their own point of view. I love beautiful food, not necessarily chef-y food. I like food prepared by people who’ve got a lot of experience and come from somewhere else. There are some amazing talents in Melbourne who have been doing this for decades.”

Alice sees food as a reminder and reference point for life experiences. “My life is a series of dishes, so I’ll say ‘I hung out with Peter and I ate stonefruit’. It’s like you connect things with your senses.

“I was a very early adopter of taking photos of my food. In the early noughties. I would share them as albums to my friends and for myself.”

But there are risks with this. “I think there can be a real sense of showing off when you’re putting up photos of these luxury dishes – ‘How much money I have, all these places I get to go to’. For me it was all about sharing. That was the number one.”

For TWR she wants to write about food as an experience, to find out what the chef is trying to convey in the dish. “You can tell when a chef is cooking with their heart or if they’re cooking with their ego,” she says. “There’s a total disconnect in terms of the dish that comes out. It shouldn’t be all about technique, it needs to be flavour first. What is the story they’re trying to tell? And that is my new role as food editor of The Weekly Review. I want to be able to tell that story.”

Melbourne is a great place to do this exploring. “It’s innate for Melburnians to talk about food. When people find out I’m from Melbourne on a plane, the first thing they’ll ask is, ‘Where do I eat in this town?’ It’s a great question. It’s hard. I will always tell the dishes rather than restaurants.”

Nicknamed “Alice in Frames”, her famous spectacles have become a visual signature. “I said to Igor (my optometrist), ‘I’m teaching, I want glasses that are fun … I want the kids to see that I’m still young and fresh’. I just picked the weirdest frames I could find in the shop, tried them on and said, ‘These’ll do’. If I’m going to be a four-eyes, I’m going to embrace it!

“At the MasterChef audition the executive producer said to me, ‘Do you need those glasses? Do you wear them all the time? You have to wear the glasses all the time’. I tried to wear contact lenses at events after the show but no one spoke to me because they didn’t recognise me.

“Parents of little kids have come up to me and said, ‘Thank you so much for wearing glasses in a public sphere because you make them OK for my little girl’.”