Mutton may have disappeared from most of the dinner tables in urban Australia over the years but thanks to Sarah Tully, it could make a comeback.
The nurse with a surname synonymous with Quilpie is going to have every household in the south west town, and beyond, glued to their television sets on Sunday night when she makes her first appearance in the ratings-topping reality TV cooking show, My Kitchen Rules.
It will be a similar scene at Sarah’s Brisbane home, where her proud mum is sure her talents for an impromptu party will be well in evidence.
“She’s just one of those natural cooks; she doesn’t need a recipe,” Ann-Maree Tully said. “Sarah gets in the kitchen and amazing dishes just appear.”
The nurse who specialises in indigenous health has teamed up with construction lawyer Della Whearty, and dubbed themselves the “Foodie Friends” to pit their cooking skills against contestants from around Australia for the reward of being crowned the country’s best amateur chefs and a $250,000 prize.
The pair is one of six taking part in the second round of MKR’s instant restaurants, in which teams take turns to transform their home for a pressure cooker night, plating up a three-course menu designed to impress the judges and their fellow contestants to avoid elimination.
Sarah has made lots of friends from her days at St Finbarr’s at Quilpie and then at Stuartholme College in Brisbane, and she says they all find it hilarious that she’s going to be on television.
“They’re expecting me to say some crazy things – we get to have a few bubbles at the table,” she laughed. “I hear Quilpie’s going off too.”
On the show, Sarah is known as “Tully” to differentiate her from another contestant with the same name, but her country personality shines through, especially in her choice of signature dish of 12 hour mutton and lemon potatoes with a fancy salad.
“I grew up eating cheaper cuts of meat with my large family so I love being able to make them really delish,” she said.
“I think people on the show were shocked at the thought of me using mutton, and some didn’t know the difference between that and lamb.
“I think Pete (Evans, series judge) had had some once.”
Unlike them, Sarah lives for visits from her mum and dad from home with an esky full of chops and shoulders, and she happily announces her fridge is once again full of choice Quilpie cuts.
On the show, she takes a supporting role – cleaning, chopping, grinding, preparing and being the gofer – while Della is the driving force.
“Some say we’re extroverts and the life of the party and while we both enjoy a good laugh we do take our jobs very seriously,” Sarah reveals.
Like most relationships, they enjoy robust discussions, but Sarah said she had learnt a lot about cooking from working with Della.
“I learnt a lot about human nature as well,” she added.
“It took close to half a year to film the show. We had long days, and it was quite exhausting, but the fun you have offsets that.
“And you meet people you’d never meet otherwise.”
Opening a restaurant isn’t on Sarah’s to-do list as a result of going on the show, but she loves hosting events and talking to people, so she’s looking forward to doing that with a few new stories to tell in future.
“I’m still a nurse and I love that, but I also love entertaining. MKR encompassed that and cooking, and it was nice to do something out of my comfort zone.”
The first outback Queenslanders to feature on the show were Mount Isa’s Jac and Shaz, who finished as runners-up in 2015 and had a billboard erected in their honour at the city airport welcome sign.
Quilpie mayor Stuart Mackenzie said the idea of a billboard for his town hadn’t been suggested yet.
“No doubt Sarah will add to the legend of the Tully family, our original Irish family who came out with the Costellos and the Duracks and are still here,” he said. “We’re getting ready to celebrate our centenary in April, so we can add Sarah’s cooking feats to our list of achievements.”
Sarah and Della will make their cooking debut next week.
Mum, Ann-Maree said she and husband Andrew were extremely proud of Sarah, and would be glued to their screens on Sunday night with the rest of Quilpie’s 500-strong population.