In a difficult three-round challenge, both Alvin Quah and Tommy Pham found themselves in a final face-off where only one would continue on in the MasterChef kitchen.
“I was feeling pretty good,” Tommy told 10 play, “I had been having some really, really good cooks leading up to this point and I thought wow, I could possibly get to the end of this.
“Going into this day, I didn’t think I was going home for sure. I thought I had a really good chance of being safe but the cards just didn’t fall my way,” he added.
In Tommy’s original season he faced this exact challenge before but was lucky enough to find himself safe in the first round.
“The mental toll of going to all three rounds is next level,” Tommy said. “I don’t think I’ve seen anybody go to the third round and, even making it out of it, being chill about it. Everyone that I’ve spoken to going through those three rounds is like, ‘That was absolute hell’. And it was."
The mental roller coaster of thinking you had done enough each round, only to get feedback from the judges and find yourself cooking again on top of the physical stamina of racing around the kitchen definitely took its toll.
“You get to the third round and you don’t know how much you’ve got left in the tank,” Tommy added.
Though he had plans for the second and third rounds, Tommy said he had hoped he wouldn’t have to use them. On top of the pressures of the challenge at hand, when it came to the third round Tommy said cooking against Alvin had its own difficulties.
“We both cook from these Asian heritage backgrounds which makes us a little bit closer in the sense that we have the same kind of goal, the same kind of energy in the MasterChef kitchen,” Tommy explained.
“Having both of us at the end there it was like, oh man how can it be just us two? At the end of the day, it’s going to be one of us, and neither of us wants to see each other go home. It made it a lot harder.”
Serving up his third and final dish, Tommy said he was resigned to the fact that it was the best he could have done at that point.
“In hindsight, I wish I could have stayed a little bit calmer and produced a more quality dish, but I guess… hindsight is a b**ch, isn’t it?”
Despite coming into the kitchen that day confident he wouldn't be going home, after his third dish was served up Tommy said he had a feeling that his time could be coming to an end.
“I knew the kind of energy I had in the last cook was very, very frantic and very, very stressed and worried. I know whenever I cook that way I don’t always produce my best,” he said.
Alvin, meanwhile, decided to bring back his Drunken Chicken, a dish that made him a household name and became an internet sensation when he originally cooked it in Season 2.
“Hearing that Alvin was doing a reimagined dish of what kind of made him who he was, I had a feeling deep inside that I just didn’t quite cut it.”
Having just competed in Season 13, Tommy barely spent months between seasons as he came back into the MasterChef kitchen for Season 14.
“I think going back-to-back like that, I didn’t realise how mentally draining it would be. After a couple of months, I was just like wow, I haven’t stopped thinking about MasterChef for so long, it’s like consumed me,” he said, laughing.
“At first I was like… what if I don’t do well at all in general and I just completely flop and ruin my image from [my] first season. But once I got back into it, I realised I just love MasterChef so much that not going back into it would have been silly for me.”
This time around, Tommy continued to showcase a variety of Vietnamese dishes from his childhood but also showed how much he had learned in his handling of big, bold flavours.
“I reflected on my time the first time around and I thought, how can I continue to improve my flavours, especially with my heritage and the kind of food I’ve cooked my whole life,” he explained. “I learned so much, and that you can just do tiny little tweaks to make things taste even better.”
Having just hung up his apron for the second time, Tommy let out a big laugh when asked if he’d consider going back to the MasterChef kitchen in the future.
“I think it would have to be at least five or six years before I’m ready to go back! Three years in a row… I don’t know anybody that would be mentally strong enough to do that!”
MasterChef Australia Fans & Favourites airs Sunday - Thursday at 7.30pm on 10 and 10 play on demand