Having just returned from London in 2019, the self-described “young Greek gay boy with a mullet” began managing a restaurant in Melbourne. But when COVID hit, the restaurant closed, giving Conor a rare break from working nights.
Though he had worked in the restaurant industry for several years, Conor told 10 play he had “never really cooked before” — at least not in the capacity that would see him vying for the approval of MasterChef judges Andy Allen, Jock Zonfrillo and Melissa Leong.
“I just started cooking during COVID for me and my housemate,” Conor explained. “We just had time off and… I thought I’d just see if I could get up to the judges auditions. What an incredible thing!”
His background in the restaurant industry had given him a solid understanding of building flavour combinations and plating dishes.
“But actual cooking was quite new to me,” he said, laughing.
When it came to deciding what dish to cook for the judges, Conor was completely lost.
“I sat down with my mum and I was like, what speaks to me? I asked mum, ‘What’s very me?’ and we ended up on spanakopita, which reminds me of food and nostalgia, of growing up,” he said. “It’s the purest form on food to me, so we settled on that, but try to give it my own spin.”
Influenced by his yaya and his mum, a lot of Conor’s cooking has flairs of his Greek heritage.
“I’m very close with my mum and dad. As a queer person, I’m extremely lucky. My father and mum are very parental but very close friends of mine as well,” he explained.
“My dad’s Irish so… I wasn’t going to go to the Irish side for food, was I! I went to the Greek. A lot of my food comes from my grandmother and my mother.”
Hoping to take those traditional Greek flavours he grew up with, Conor said he wants to modernise a lot of traditional dishes in a way that brings it into 2021.
“I’ve never been a recipe person,” Conor added, echoing the preview of his audition where he seems to be winging it slightly.
“I think, with savoury food, you build flavour and you cook over time, so recipes were a new format for me to begin with.”
And while some dream of stepping into the MasterChef kitchen and wearing one of the few aprons handed out each year, for Conor it was all new to him.
“This is so bad,” he said, sheepishly. “Going into it I had never watched MasterChef, I won’t lie… I was working nights for the last ten years! Which is the amount of time MasterChef’s been on!”
Attempting to cram in some research before his audition, Conor laughed again and said, “Episodes are long!” There’s only so much I could take in. I got halfway through last season before I was like, oh crap… auditions are coming up now.”
Which also means, if Conor secures himself an apron and a place in the competition, he has very little idea what’s in store for him.
“It’s a blank canvas, going in. I was hustling in the process just to catch up on episodes! I was nervous about the format because I knew what I did but I didn’t know if that would translate to a brief per episode.”
With all that being said, walking into the room and meeting the judges for the very first time, Conor couldn’t help but simply think, “What a bunch of three nice people!”
“If you see my face when I walk in to bring my dish it’s just happy because I’m like, this is cool! But I also view them as colleagues… I’ve worked at top restaurants in a management sense so they felt like people I would work with generally.
“I work with incredible chefs so I felt like walking in I was saying hi to colleagues I hadn’t met before,” he said before laughing again, adding, “They may not see it that way.”
Find out if Conor has what it takes to earn himself an apron when MasterChef Australia Season 13 premieres on Monday, 19 April at 7.30 on 10 and 10 play.