News / Food & Drink

A world of flavours in every bite: Brunswick’s rising star in baking

A Greek Cypriot background and overseas travel make a heady mix

Ilona Nicola surprised herself by advancing so far in the latest season of The Great Australian Bake Off. Photo: supplied

Poppy Searle

IN the bustling heart of Brunswick, a new culinary star has risen.

Ilona Nicola, a runner-up in this year’s season of Lifestyle channel series The Great Australian Bake Off, is winning hearts with her artful bakes, each telling a unique story of her multicultural journey, accompanied by her feline sidekick, Bernard.

Ilona’s Greek Cypriot background stands out, adding a delicious layer to her story.

“Growing up, we always had just the most delicious abundance of food, especially when there were bigger family gatherings. It was a way to express love,” she reminisces with a gleam in her eye.

“Every Easter, my Mum would get together with her sisters to bake and cook. My Mum is such an amazing baker, and both of my aunts were incredible cooks. It’s no surprise it wore off on me and inspired me.”

Brunswick holds a special place in her heart. Having lived there twice, she likens returning to the suburb as “returning to my first home”. The convenience, the vibrancy, and, most importantly, the explosion of Japanese businesses like Ima Pantry and Kura are testaments to her fondness for the area.

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Given the title of this year’s ‘quirkiest baker’, Ilona’s journey to The Great Australian Bake Off finale was nothing short of remarkable.

“I was expecting to go out in week one,” she confesses, still astonished at the incredible strides she made. And with 30 bakes under her belt by the show’s end, she’s become an inspiration for many.

Each of her creations is a passport stamp of her globetrotting adventures, with a significant nod to her Middle Eastern travels. The ‘Memories of Persia’ cake stands out—a tribute to her sojourn in the Middle East, embodying aromatic cardamom caramel and a design reminiscent of the region’s intricate architecture.

Her culinary curiosity, fuelled by her travels with her equally adventurous husband, revolves mainly around food.

“Where are we going to eat next?” is the question that starts the day, she chuckles, highlighting their obsession. And as someone who has lived and breathed food, watching shows with Rick Stein and diving into Anthony Bourdain’s biography as a teenager, this doesn’t come as a surprise.

Three of Ilona’s creations for The Great Australian Bake Off. Photos: supplied

The magic of her bakes also traces back to her time in London, where she worked as a physiotherapist. This experience significantly influenced her baking.

“It was about wanting to live overseas but mostly about wanting to really explore Europe. Everything to do with my stomach and eating my way across Europe,” she laughs.

Ilona Nicola’s world is a rich tapestry of baking, travel, and a deep connection to her beloved Brunswick. Anchored by the love and experiences of a supportive family, she represents the essence of a passionate baker.

For aspiring bakers, Ilona’s story is a shining beacon—bake from the heart, embrace diversity, and let every creation be a tale of your journey.

To keep up with what Ilona does next, follow her Instagram account.