After a huge week, the remaining contestants entered the kitchen to compete in another all-in elimination which would determine who would be joining Linda in Finals Week.
The judges revealed that the challenge would take place over two rounds, the first focused on fast food, the second on fancy ‘fine dining’ food. Ahead of the first round, the contestants had to select one ingredient that they would hero in both rounds.
Selecting beef, a decision he says still haunts him, Tommy set out to first make Bo La Lot, attempting to do everything in his power to avoid the second round.
“Knowing if I didn’t do well enough in the first round I’d have to do fine dining was terrifying,” Tommy told 10 play.
“Growing up, what I classified as ‘fine dining’ was generally western food. I can’t get that out of my head,” he added.
Having spent a lot of the competition serving the judges Vietnamese flavours, Tommy still wanted to play to his strengths, but a slight overcorrection of his beef saw it overworked, which sent him into the second round alongside Pete and Elise.
Playing with the idea of ‘fine dining’, Tommy went into the second round attempting to make a fancier version of Bún bò Huế, a spicy, rich beef soup.
It wasn’t the first time Tommy had applied his Vietnamese flavours to what could be classified as ‘finer’ dining, having won the Lune croissant challenge with his Bánh mì Danish — a dish so beautiful it should belong in a museum AND our mouths.
“I was actually quite proud of myself when I plated up that second dish,” Tommy said about his fine-dining dish. “It was something that I never would have imagined making, it looked like something from a fine dining restaurant which surprised me because I had never made anything look fine dining.
“I just pack heaps of flavour into something, chuck it onto the plate and hope that my flavours hide the fact that it doesn't look so amazing,” he said, laughing.
Once again it came down to the cook on his beef, with the judges this time saying it was slightly under, ending Tommy’s time in the competition.
“Every little detail matters near the end,” he explained. “I thought I cooked [the beef] to the way of my liking but it probably should have been cooked a little more.
“Anybody can go at any point in this competition, it’s just the little things that really kill you,” he said, adding, “I’m not dead, but… you know.”
Having won the hearts of audiences very early on in the competition, tearfully calling his mum to let her know he had won an apron and a spot in the top 24, Tommy’s time in the kitchen saw him cooking from the heart and speaking about how his family and baby son were constant motivators for him to strive for greatness each and every time he stepped behind a bench.
“I didn’t realise how good the food that I had growing up was,” Tommy said. “Being on the show and being able to serve that kind of food to the judges on the show, them loving it, means that the food that I grew up with… I have a new appreciation for it.”
Learning a lot about himself as a cook through the competition, Tommy again spoke about how much his mum had taught him, even if he wasn’t aware of it.
“She always balanced food perfectly and I took that on my palate and learned how to balance food so well from my mum’s cooking,” he said, adding, “I didn’t realise that was such a skill. It was like a natural instinct for me.”
Since the show began, Tommy said the response has been more than he could have ever imagined.
“It’s weird to hear strangers say they’re proud of you,” he said, laughing. As he brought more and more Vietnamese food to the MasterChef judges, speaking about the origins and how meaningful it is to him, Tommy said many people have reached out, blown away that he was putting Vietnamese cuisine onto a global stage.
“I didn’t realise that food would be so powerful in moving people, and it’s amazing to see that support.”
And though he wasn’t able to make it to finals week, Tommy said despite being 100 percent heartbroken that his time in the competition was over, there was someone waiting for him at home that made it all worthwhile.
“Being able to see Miles, all of the feelings of disappointment just disappeared. I got to see him smile and it just puts things into perspective. All I really need to see in life is that smile and I think I’ll be okay.”
Follow Tommy on Instagram @tommyphameats
Watch the new season of MasterChef Australia, Sunday to Thursday at 7.30 on 10 or watch on demand on 10 play