‘Like Being Slapped In The Face’: Gill Dinh On Fearlessness, Her Dad’s Legacy And Sweet Week

After narrowly missing out on immunity all week, Gill’s final Sweet Week hurdle was the one obstacle she couldn’t quite overcome.

Guest chef Adriano Zumbo had been in the kitchen, guiding our remaining chefs through Sweet Week as they attempted to win themselves immunity from Sunday’s elimination.

The remaining chefs, Gill, Darrsh, Pezza, Sav, Harry, and Locky, had to face a Macaron taste test where the first three to incorrectly identify the flavour of one of Zumbo’s macarons would go into the second round.

It had already been a tough week for Gill, who told 10 Play that she had been stressed about a Sweet Week from the get-go. “I avoided desserts like the plague,” she added with a laugh.

“I’m not a fearful person at all, but it’s daunting when something means so much to you as MasterChef does to me and, coming into it, I knew I’d face this at some point,” Gill added. “I just didn’t know when. It was always some big cloud looming over us… and that big cloud ended up being a croquembouche tower.”

Despite her trepidation, Gill managed to fly through Sweet Week, narrowly missing out on immunity multiple times. In the croquembouche challenge, the judges loved her avocado and jackfruit choux with ginger caramel. In the twin challenge, Gill and Locky managed to make near-identical Pandan Swiss rolls.

But when it came to the taste test, one slip-up meant Gill was cooking against Pezza and Darrsh in a challenge designed to test her. The chefs could use any ingredients from the first round but had to pair it with coffee — a flavour Gill really doesn’t enjoy.

“It was like being slapped in the face from the start of Sweet Week to then, here you go! Here’s an ingredient that you don’t drink and never loved eating, trying, consuming,” she laughed. “So desserts aren’t my thing and coffee is not my thing, two of my worst challenges I’m facing right now in Top 10. Couldn’t be a bigger recipe for disaster.”

Making a coffee creme caramel, Gill was banking on the timing being but after taking a bit of time to decide what to make she was already racing against the clock. Unfortunately, in a risky move to make sure the dish was set perfectly, Gill’s dessert was over-baked.

“I think you can see the moment that my heart shatters into a million pieces,” she said. “Honestly, I couldn’t have been more proud of myself at the end of that week and… the elimination made me feel so heartbroken because I was so proud of all my efforts.

“The fact that I tackled something that was pretty much destined for me to lose… it just felt like it wasn’t in my favour to win, and the one time I tried my hardest to study, practice, and be on top of that it still didn’t work in my favour,” she continued. “It was, in all honesty, very deflating but reflecting back now it was the best week I’ve ever had.”

Gill said while it was the most exhausting week, it was also the most exhilarating and every challenge was an opportunity to learn more. “It was just so much to take in and be grateful for that I couldn’t possibly be that sad about it. I learned so much in that one week that I can only be proud.”

Serving up what would be her final dish to the judges this season, Gill opened up about her journey and how her late father, Tommy, had inspired her.

“The final words that he did say when he was conscious before he passed away was that he didn’t want me to be scared, and I really felt that in that moment, because I knew how much my Dad worked tirelessly every day to support us as a family and to make sure that we were able to carry on and do what we wanted,” Gill said.

“I’m not a fearful person. I like to try and take every opportunity as a learning one and tackle it with all I’ve got.

“Fearless in the pursuit of anything we wanted to achieve. The fact that him being such a fearless warrior, battling through three years of Leukaemia to then say to me, ‘Don’t be scared’ even though I knew he was scared to leave us behind, it really taught me so much about fear and perspective and it’s something I was able to carry through MasterChef, and my entire life.”

Gill said that she didn’t want people to think she was just another “sob story” on TV, but hoped that seeing her open up about her Dad, the legacy he left behind, and hopes to connect with people across the country — and the world — through her story, and her food.

“It really is beautiful that I can connect with food in this way because of my father, despite his absence, and to be able to share that with full transparency, vulnerability, and honesty… I’m so glad that I had the platform to be able to do that.”

In a full-circle moment, Gill was able to cook for her food icon, Luke Nguyen, a chef both she and her Vietnamese Dad shared a love for. In cooking for Luke, Gill felt like she wasn’t just cooking for her food idol, but she felt like her Dad had walked through the MasterChef doors.

“I cried instantly when I saw him, and that’s because I was meeting my idol, cooking for him in the MasterChef kitchen, but also it felt like my Dad was present and it was just so many things at once,” she explained.

“It was also a huge realisation that I’m here to win, and I’m here to battle it out as far as I can get,” Gill continued. “Obviously I’m not there to win anymore, but even though I didn’t get to lift that golden plate at the end of it, the whole experience was a huge win for me. And that day was the beginning of the win.”

Despite hanging up her MasterChef apron, the experience has thrown the Wollongong artist fully into the world of food. Admittedly, before MasterChef, Gill said she never wanted to work in hospitality because she was scared it would sour her love of food and cooking. “But, if anything, MasterChef has just fuelled my fire even more and it has shown me that food can be a part of my life as a career,” she said.

"Since leaving MasterChef, I’m now working in two kitchens — a restaurant in Wollongong and a bar in Surry Hills,” Gill said. “Even though there are so many different opportunities out there for me, and so many ideas I have in my head, I know this is just the beginning.

“To be able to intertwine art and food is the ultimate goal. I’m really excited for what’s to come.”

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