The youngest of the competition this year, Montana Hughes knows what it takes to launch your own online empire. Having applied for MasterChef a few times in the past, the content creator decided to take matters into her own hands and begin creating content for TikTok.
“I was cooking all the time at home and thought, why not film it?” Montana told 10 play. “I posted a video on TikTok one day, it did pretty well, and then it just sort of escalated.
“It’s definitely something I wanted to do for a long time, and never had the guts, but one day I was like you know what? If I never start, I’m going to kick myself for the rest of my life. Have the guts and do it.”
After posting regularly on the app, her videos continued to build traction, with her Pici Pasta video gaining over 8 million views, despite it being a draft she wasn’t even sure she wanted to post.
“One day I had nothing else to post so I just did it and it took off like crazy.” For the first time, Montana realised this could be more than just a hobby, but a career. After that, she began receiving sponsorship opportunities.
While it initially started as a way for Montana to record the food she was already making, soon she began to see what an undertaking it is being the director, producer, editor and star of her content. “The credits roll at the end and it’s just all me,” she said, laughing.
When Montana finally got the call to join the upcoming season of MasterChef Fans & Faves, she was understandably thrilled, but also intimidated by the idea that half the chefs would be returning contestants from across the show’s many seasons.
“I mean, it’s scary! More than just the cooking ability, to have that experience in the MasterChef kitchen beforehand,” Montana said. “To have that experience already over us, trusting your gut, your palate, not doing dishes that take too much time. Those little experience bits they have over us is a massive advantage!”
She also acknowledges the stigma around her age, and didn’t mind if people underestimated her because she was the youngest this season.
“Even I can say it myself, the amount of experience I have compared to someone like Julie Goodwin… I mean, that’s something you can’t change,” she said. “But I credit a lot of my foundation in cooking from learning from MasterChef, making the recipes from 10 play, experimenting and stuff like that.
“I think, having taught myself from that creative style of cooking is a very different sort of style, and something that I think is a bit of an advantage.”
Inspired by the kind of fine dining, modern cuisine that prioritises a creative approach, Montana said she also loved going out and exploring new restaurants, then attempting to almost reverse engineer dishes she loved with her own spin on it.
“That’s formed a lot of the basis of inspiration for how I cook. Things I want to recreate in my own version… making my own recipe from their dishes.”
Though she’s already started her own online empire, Montana’s current food dream is to just be open and ready to take on whatever comes her way.
“I’d love to open a small 10-seater restaurant where I have complete creative license over the kitchen,” she said. “If I want to change the menu daily, or weekly, I can do that and be inspired by whatever is fresh at the moment.
“But I just think, with this experience, this time around I’m open to anything that comes to me. If it’s working on a cookbook with someone, doing a show, opening a restaurant… I’m open to whatever can come to me from this experience!”
MasterChef Australia Fans & Favourites premieres on Monday, 18 April at 7.30pm on 10 and 10 play on demand