Tell us about your Grand Finale cook in the MasterChef kitchen last year; what was going through your head?
Adrenaline was pumping, and it was an emotional time with the competition coming to an end and seeing my family for the first time in months; the buzz was incredible. At the end of the day though, that challenge was no different to any of the others we had been a part of. The clock was still ticking and we still had to focus on putting up an incredible dish.
What have you been up to since MasterChef 2016?
It’s been a crazy year! As soon as MasterChef wrapped up, my business partner Moe Rickard and I created our business, Ten Piece Cutlery. We were operating a food stall out of a shipping container at Brisbane’s Eat Street Markets, focussing on street food with an Asian twist. It was a great learning experience for us, and we finished our stint there late last year. Since then, we have teamed up with two other local boys to begin our new venture. Our restaurant, Sum Yung Guys in Sunshine Beach, will be open at the end of May.
Can you describe how you felt about returning to the show as a guest chef this season?
I was honoured when I was asked to be a part of this year’s season of MasterChef. It was very humbling to be back in the kitchen as a mentor for the new contestants.
What was it like to interact with the judges as a guest chef, rather than a contestant?
It’s always a laugh with the boys [judges Matt, Gary and George]. It’s a really fun time with the three of them, more so this time because I was on their team!
How did it feel to meet and mentor this year’s aspiring cooks?
I could empathise with them, and I understood the pressure they were under. It was great to be a guide for them, help them settle their nerves and support them through the challenge.
What did you enjoy most about your experience this season?
It was amazing to look at this year’s contestants knowing that they are unaware [of] and are yet to experience the incredible world outside MasterChef. It’s an awesome feeling being on the other side of it all, knowing everything [the show] has done for me, and how it changed my life completely.
How did it compare with your time on the show last year?
I still had that anxious feeling. There’s so much pressure and adrenaline in the MasterChef kitchen; it was infectious. It felt special though, being able to give back.
You host a Team Challenge where two teams cook for and run pop-up restaurants; now that you have your own pop-up-style food truck under your belt, how did it feel to mentor the contestants during this challenge?
The contestants had some great ideas, and they all have a sound understanding of food. My job was to try and give them advice on how to execute those ideas practically.
How (or when) did you know that your future was in food and cooking?
I’ve always known that my life would revolve around food. The pivotal moment though, for me, was when I made the decision to quit my job and apply for MasterChef. I knew from that moment on that, even if I didn’t make it that far in the competition, I was going to be a part of the food industry regardless.
Who or what keeps you inspired?
I have always looked up to the incredible talent within the industry, and still do. My aim is to one day get to their level, which is a constant work in progress.
If you were a contestant this season, would you do anything differently?
I wouldn’t change a thing. It was an awesome experience, and I am forever thankful for everything it has done for me.
Do you have any advice for our contestants or any aspiring chefs out there?
If food is your passion and you decide to embark on a new venture, do it wholeheartedly or not at all. It’s a huge sacrifice to make, but if you’re serious about fulfilling that dream, the rewards are certainly there.
Do you have any exciting new projects on the boil that you can share with us?
Our restaurant, Sum Yung Guys in Sunshine Beach, will be open at the end of this month. It will be our take on casual, modern Asian cuisine in our home town of Noosa; a fun, high energy, full-flavoured spot for locals and visitors to gather.