‘Taste Tests Were My Biggest Fear’: Aaron Sanders Narrowly Misses Out On MasterChef Australia Top 10

An unfamiliar pantry saw Aaron stumble at the final hurdle to the Top 10.

The contestants welcomed Nick Holloway from Palm Cove’s Nu Nu back to the MasterChef kitchen on Sunday where he set the ultimate taste test challenge of three dishes from his restaurant.

Featuring 50 ingredients showcasing some of the best produce to come out of Far North Queensland, the contestants had to correctly identify as many ingredients correctly or they’d find themselves in round two of the elimination.

With five contestants facing elimination, the judges revealed that they had to cook a dish using only the 50 ingredients from Nick’s three dishes.

“Taste test challenges were my biggest fear,” Aaron told 10 play following his elimination.

Growing up, Aaron battled severe food allergies which saw his diet greatly restricted for a lot of his life.

“When they did the allergy tests it came back with numbers for pretty much everything,” Aaron said. “They were very confused… I think mum was down to lettuce at one point.”

Over time, Aaron grew out of his allergies but was later diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that can commonly be triggered by certain foods.

“The only thing I can’t eat now is chickpeas, other than that I’m completely allergy-free,” he said, adding, “because my food journey didn’t start until my late 20s… my palette is still very young in terms of learning a whole heap of flavours.

“While I know things are absolutely delicious, naming what they are is sometimes difficult without reading them off the menu.”

Nick’s dishes were tiger prawn, peanut, pomelo and root crisp, BBQ Lamb, Green Marsala Rice with ginger and whey and a dessert of young coconut, banana, passionfruit and hibiscus. The Asian-inspired pantry was not exactly what Aaron wanted to see.

With a passion for modern Australian cuisine, Aaron struggled to come up with a dish he felt strongly about, especially after he identified the protein in the main.

“I honestly still thought there was pork and not lamb so there was a quick shift to another dish which, in hindsight, probably tripped me up a little bit,” he said, laughing.

“I had a great pork dish to do but it wouldn’t have worked with lamb so I had to think on my feet very quickly,” he added.

“The pantry [had] such big and bold flavours and, because I was so limited for so long, that sort of flavour profile is taking a lot longer for me to get used to,” Aaron said.

“Even chilli was something that I really struggled with for a very long time, so just working with those flavours was not something that I had gotten myself comfortable with while I was learning how to cook.”

During the cook, the judges noticed a change in Aaron’s demeanour and body language, which Aaron said was just his feeling pushed too far out of his comfort zone during the challenge.

“The thing I had really succeeded with was being able to stay calm and composed in the kitchen and manage my time and it didn’t feel like it that day,” he admitted.

“I probably let the fact that it was top ten put much more pressure on me, but I still had an absolute ball in the elimination. I wasn’t sad.

“I felt very fulfilled for where I had managed to get to even without knowing the result at the end of the cook. I was very much at peace with whatever happened.”

Serving his coconut fried prawns with a pineapple and peanut salsa and coriander and lime mayo, Aaron said there was one element missing from the dish that he knew would tie it all together perfectly.

“I wish I could have had some beers,” he said, laughing.

“I felt like because of where my dish and my head had led me — bar food, and that’s what I wanted it to be — I wanted to serve it with some beers but obviously they weren’t in that amazing pantry.

“Jock did ask me why don’t I go and get them and I was sort of like, um because they’re not on the list!”

While he still hopes to open a dinner party restaurant in his own home, Aaron has also started to work on Heaps Local, a series where he’ll partner with local producers from South Australia and showcase skills he finessed during his time on the show along with the award-winning produce from his home state.

More than anything, Aaron said his time in the MasterChef kitchen allowed a better understanding of who he is and where he’s at in his life.

“I went through a lot of mental health battles through my early 20s,” he revealed. “Going through the MasterChef competition really solidified that I’ve grown to a point where I know exactly who I am, and I’m very happy with who that person is and how I want to live my life.

“I’m very happy with that.”

Follow Aaron on Instagram @sanders25

Watch the new season of MasterChef Australia, Sunday to Thursday at 7.30 on 10 or watch on demand on 10 play