But there was a catch. The top eight dishes would be safe from elimination, with the remaining seven chefs heading into a second-round where they’d need to use the remains of their cod. Again, the best four dishes would grant their makers safety with the bottom three dishes battling it out once again for one last dish using what was left of their cod.
After a week of watching returning contestants fight for their spot back in the competition, Dan said he felt confident heading into Sunday’s all-in elimination, having been in a black apron a handful of times before.
“With every elimination I went through I just felt like I was getting better and better,” Dan told 10 play.
“Then we started with the Master Class with Josh Niland… I was just like, oh here we go. This is going to be a wild ride.”
Not entirely confident with breaking down a whole fish, Dan said the challenge ahead of him was daunting, to say the least.
“My strategy going into this was [that] I was going to try and play it very safe in the first round,” Dan explained.
“Cooking a fillet with some braised fennel and a slice, I thought maybe that’s safe enough to keep me safe, but when you leave bones in your fillet and serve it skin-side-down… probably not the safest thing to do.”
As he went into the second, and then third round, Dan became more and more rattled with the multi-round cook. Having competed in several multi-round cooks in the competition so far, Dan admitted this was by far the hardest yet.
“Theres’ something about a cook where you get bad feedback in the first round and it’s like, okay now you have to come back and cook after that bad feedback. Getting that twice in a day and then having to recoup?
“Props to Pete and Amir for pulling it out of the bag. I just couldn’t hack it on the day,” Dan added.
“I was trying to fight as much as I could in round three [but] towards the end of that cook I was as dead as that Murray cod that was laying in front of me,” he said, laughing.
“I specifically remember looking up at the gantry and seeing Tommy, Linda and Depinder staring down at me already writing my eulogy,” he joked.
Dan decided to apply for MasterChef after 2020 made him reevaluate what he was doing with his life.
“I was always interested in having a career in food and when COVID hit I was just like, what do I really want to do for myself?”
Having finished his PhD in Health Information in Social Media in 2018, Dan had been working at a University but still held onto his dreams to change directions and work in the food industry. Throwing his hat into the ring and applying for MasterChef, Dan said he felt like he was “flying blind” as he made his way through the competition.
But over the last few weeks, Dan’s time in the competition saw him hone his skills in the kitchen and finesse the food he was plating up for the judges.
“I leave with my head held high,” Dan said. “From all the talk about me being in a few eliminations I also got some top dishes as well and I was in a few immunity cooks.”
After his time in the competition Dan said he’s just fallen more and more in love with food, and despite his run-in with the Murray cod, he hasn’t given up on mastering fish.
“Every time I’d go to the fishmonger I was the kind of ‘pick the best looking fillet’ guy, not taking an entire fish and breaking it down,” he said.
“Since then, every time I’ve gone I’m like just give me the entire fish because I really need to learn how to do this, obviously!”
Promising to become “the best fish filter and Murray cod Laksa maker” ever, Dan also said his kitchen has become a full-on fish fantasia.
“There are scales all over the kitchen now, fish guts everywhere. My husband is like please stop! I’m like… no.”
Throughout his time in the competition, Dan routinely spoke about cooking for his husband, Paul, who he married last year. In his cooking, Dan was able to not only represent the Chinese heritage of his mum but during his time on the show he was also able to proudly represent the LGBTQ+ community.
“Being seen is so important, especially in our community,” Dan said.
“I came out very late, I went through my entire childhood very confused as to who I was so I think one of my goals when I was on the show — I was like, why not just constantly speak about my husband?
“You see people on TV constantly talking about their partners, I was like no, I’m using the H-word because he’s my husband. I’m super proud of that.”
Since starting the competition, people have been asking Dan if he’s sick of cooking but it’s quite the opposite. Now more than ever Dan is focused on his dream of one day opening up a wine bar or food truck on the south coast of NSW.
“I have such an affinity for that place, that’s where I proposed to my husband, that’s where we got married and it’s such a lovely community.
“I’d love to own just a small wine bar down there where people come in and have a good time. Maybe I’ll serve them some Style Rebellion lollipops, some bread balls… some of my greatest hits,” he laughed, adding, “have a couple of glasses of wine and have a good time!
“I think that’s why I really love food. Every time you go out to eat and you look around, people are having the best time. I just want to give that to people in what I do.”
Follow Dan on Instagram @dandumbrell
Watch the new season of MasterChef Australia, Sunday to Thursday at 7.30 on 10 or watch on demand on 10 play