‘I Fought To The Very Last Second’: Mimi Wong Battles A Bitter Gourd, Narrowly Misses Final Four

In a challenge to ‘tame the beast’ things fell apart for Mimi, but she admits her elimination was bittersweet.

With the finale so close in sight and just five chefs battling it out to be crowned MasterChef Australia for 2024, Harry, Sav, Pezza and Mimi faced an elimination challenge that would test their ability to balance some of the toughest flavours.

The judges revealed five ingredients – aka ‘beasts’ – that are so extreme in their flavours, one of the world’s hottest chilli, a debilitatingly stinky cheese, sour plums, sweet monk fruit concentrate and finally the bitter gourd. Each chef had to pick one ingredient and balance it in a dish, earning them a spot in the Top 4.

Mimi picked the bitter gourd, attempting to temper it by making a soft-shell crab slider in a brioche bun with bitter gourd and apple kimchi slaw.

“I was nervous but quite confident,” Mimi told 10 Play, “previously in Poh’s mystery box I was told I was pretty strong at twisting ingredients to my will, so I was going into it with stride and I was pretty excited. I felt like this was a difficult challenge, and I was ready to take it on,” she added.

She planned to use the sweetness of the brioche to work against the bitterness of the gourd, harmonising all her flavours to create a really tasty dish. But she ran into a hurdle when her buns went for a second rise in her warm oven. Unfortunately, the oven was too warm and the buns began to cook, killing the yeast and making the bread tough and unusable. Without enough time to remake the dough, Mimi had to make one of several emergency pivots.

“From a certain point onwards I knew I had to treat every cook as my last and, as the time was ticking down, rather than freaking out I just tried my best and did everything in my power to get something on a dish that looked presentable and that I would be happy with if it was going to send me home,” Mimi said.

“I fought to the very last second to make sure that would be done.”

In the final moments, she created a soft-shell crab don bowl with the bitter gourd and apple kimchi and a yuzu mayo. But without the sweetness of the buns, the judges felt like the dish just didn’t come together as harmoniously as they would have liked.

“In that moment, given the amount of reparations needed for that dish, I was decently happy with what I had plated up. It didn’t look unappetising and it didn’t look like a mess so I was pretty proud of it,” she admitted.

But when it came time to announce that her time in the MasterChef kitchen had come to an end, Mimi said her first reaction was a sense of relief.

“It is such a magical experience to be on MasterChef,” she explained, “the competition itself is brutal and stressful because you’re up against some of the best people, cooking Michelin star dishes for very respectable people, and I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to do perfectly.

“One of my first thoughts in the moment was just the biggest, deepest breath I could take in the time that I was in the competition.”

Looking back, Mimi felt an enormous sense of pride reflecting on what she was able to achieve throughout the competition. “There is no way that I could have, in my own kitchen, let my brain go to the places that it did,” she said, adding, “the recipes I pulled out of the bag, it’s been pretty miraculous and spectacular.”

And while she constantly demanded excellence from herself, being in the competition and reaching the Top 5 also allowed her to grapple with that perfectionism.

“I’ve been more comfortable in my own skin and who I am as a learner, as a cook, a teacher, a public speaker,” she explained. “This whole experience has made me a more open person and a more comfortable person… it has unlocked this new experience for me in my personal life and professional life. “When I started to have fun and forgot about competition, that’s when the cooking and the food had a magical change. I really tried to take advantage of that as much as possible.”

Mimi also had a full circle moment when the competition spent a week in Hong Kong, where she was born, and celebrated the culture and cuisine she was brought up with. Initially, she thought it would be the most relaxing week of the competition so far, but it turned out to be one of the most emotional.

“I was torn apart for multiple reasons, I was so passionate about cooking but cooking for me has been equally challenging because there are a lot of feelings tied to culture and family that I have tried to navigate for a very long time,” Mimi explained.

“Going home as part of this competition, and as someone who’s trying to forge a career in cooking and with food, it was incredibly meaningful and hit every vulnerable point in my soul.”

Having people around her cheering her on in Cantonese, telling her how proud they were for competing and representing Hong Kong really affected Mimi. The whole week culminated in one of her favourite dishes of the whole competition, her fish agnolotti with sour fish broth and chilli oil.

“It’s ironic because I’m Cantonese and Australian and, of course, where I perform my best is fusion cooking.

“I have a never-ending love for innovative cooking, especially to do with injecting Asian flavours into contemporary cuisine. I have been reading a lot, writing a lot, cooking a lot and that’s still where my passion and interests lie,” she continued. “I know that’s something I do really well, and I’d love to keep pressing at that as much as possible.”

While there have already been invitations for Mimi to launch into the culinary world, she’s returned to her teaching gig for the time being.

“I’m young and, now there’s so much out there, I’m trying to navigate it carefully and find the people I can collaborate with that fit the best with me,” she explained.

“I’m just really excited about the amount of creativity that I’m allowed to put out there into the world outside the world of teaching.”

MasterChef Australia continues Sunday - Tuesday at 7.30 on 10 and 10 Play