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Sentimental I am.

There’s so much I’d like to talk about my time on MasterChef Australia 2011, but it is these little tangible tokens that I’ve collected that makes the whole experience – real. Peter always joked about stealing items from the MasterChef  house and putting them on Ebay and be rich.

Imagine how much Hayden’s undies will fetch?

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1. Journal & Masterclass Notebooks

Swapping the keyboard for a pen. There were a few of us who chose to document our time in MasterChef (including Hayden and Kumar) and started writing journals since Top 50. When we were not filming in the studio, we would be in total lock down in the house and keeping a journal was the only way to pass time and kept me sane. My journal is mainly a log of my experience in the house and in the MasterChef Kitchen; keeping tracks of all challenges, from dishes I cooked down to the outfits I wore. Yes, the outfits! I was notorious for being a boofhead who kept forgetting to bring my outfits back to studio for interview the very next day until the producers threatened me that I’ll be straight into elimination if I forget to bring my clothes again. Oops!

Apart from cookbooks, the notebook is your second best friend. Apart from jotting down recipes from Masterclasses, I also used it to write down mise en place during challenges, planning menus, sketches of dish presentations, and also copying down recipes from food magazines that I liked. Now I have three notebooks filled with ideas and recipes that I want to try in future.

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2. The Cook’s Book signed by Top 23

If you are serious about your cooking, then you might like to look into getting The Cook’s Book. It is filled with pictorial step-by-step techniques, tips and tricks from top chefs around the world. It is one of my most used cookbooks in the MasterChef house and it helped me get through challenges. I’m very lucky to have this book signed by the Top 23 (excluding myself) contestants very early in the competition. (It got awkward asking contestant who already being eliminated to sign my cookbook further down the track, so best to do it sooner than later.) But sadly when I took this photo I only then realised that there are only 22 signatures on the book and Mat’s autograph is missing. Nevertheless, it will be the cookbook I cherish the most.

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3. Recipes

I collected most of the MasterChef printed recipes whenever possible. From Maggie Beer’s pressure test to Heston Blumenthal’s perfect burger challenge, I have them all. You never know, it might come in handy one day. Among them all, the most sentimental piece has to be the hand-written recipes by Merle Parrish, handed to me herself during the immunity challenge. As much as I’d like to have won the immunity pin, Merle definitely wasn’t going to make it easy for me and took home the little gold pin. Besides, what are people gonna say if I beat an 80yo granny in a baking challenge on national TV? When it comes to baking, don’t mess with Merle, I say.

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4. Trinkets from locations

These are a few props and trinkets I collected from off-site challenges at various locations:

Red Pebble – For our 24 hours challenge at Sunrise Dam Gold Mine in WA, all contestants were actually given a commemorative coin as souvenir which I thought it would be nice for me to post the coin to The Pom as a gift. Unfortunately some selfish bastard decided to open my letter for The Pom and stole the coin. Shame on you! Hence, the next best thing I got from the mine is this small red pebble I collected from the miners accommodation we stayed at. It will always remind me of the grueling 24 hours in the kitchen cooking for 400 miners.

United Nations access pass – Despite doing poorly in the challenge, being inside United Nations has to be one of the highlights in New York and also on MasterChef. So far there has only only been one movie has been filmed inside the UN, and now MasterChef Australia. Never in my life would I have thought that I would be standing right inside the UN General Assembling Hall being grilled by the judges by delivering the least favourite dish.

1st place blue rosette – Best in show yo! Matt Moran’s family farm challenge was one of those challenges that I seriously thought I was in real trouble but turned out to be one of my favourite off site challenges. I was totally out of my comfort zone – I don’t cook lamb very often, let alone breaking down a whole one; I’ve never cooked over an open fire before in my life; it was a cold wet miserable rainy day and we had to feed over 150 guests! At that point I thought to myself, “Bugger it! If I’m going to cook badly today and end up in elimination, I may as well have fun and enjoy the whole experience!” which I did and surprise, surprise! Who’d have thought I received the most votes from the crowd and won the challenge?! The moral of the story – when in doubt, cook a curry.

Access wristband – Never in a million years would I have thought I’d say this and without disrespect to His Holiness, “Holy Macaroni! I met Dalai Lama! I shoke his hand and I even cooked for His Holiness!” The little wristband is probably insignificant but it is the access pass for us to be in the kitchen to cook for Dalai Lama. Despite doing poorly in the challenge and leading to my elimination, I have no regrets on offering His Holiness my version of Buddha’s Delight, a simple, humble dish that I felt comfortable to offer to a Buddhist monk whilst staying true to my integrity and selflessness.

Gum nut – Okay, this is rather a random one, a gum nut I picked up from the garden at Cape Lodge that we stayed at in Margaret River. No, I have no intentions of starting a hobby of scrapbooking.

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5. Photos

Cameras and any recording devices are forbidden in the MasterChef house. Some of these photos were taken at the MasterChef media launch party, publicity photo shoots and also some polaroids from our NYC trip. Ahh good time…
“Memories… like the corner of my mind….” something like that.

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6. Chefs that I’ve met

Okay, which chef inspires you most? For me, Tetsuya Wakuda with his humble, Zen-like personality and Heston Blumenthal with his mind-blowing creativity. I felt like a kid in a candy store when I met these world famous chefs in real life, nervous and excited at the same time. Surprisingly most of them are extremely humble, helpful without attitude. I still remember after we finished the Qantas challenge, Thomas Keller came over and had a chat with us, he said, “We all have passion, but passion comes and goes. For instance, I can be passionate about cooking lamb, then I’ll start cooking lamb for the next few weeks until I get bored. Then I want to try something else, that’s desire. It’s great that you have passion to cook, but it is the desire that keeps you going.”

I collected quite a few of their autographs including Stefano Manfredi, Mark Best, Heston Blumenthal, Neil Perry, Thomas Keller, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Elena Arzak, Eric Ripert, Anthony Bourdain, David Chang, Thorsten Schmidt and few others. Call me a chef’s groupie if you insist.

“Work more cleanly, don’t forget.” … … … Mr Chang, I don’t understand?

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7. N. Y to the C!

New York! New York! The Big Apple! The city that never sleeps! Totally unexpected, one day I was out of the competition and the next I found myself landed in the city of dreams! That particular week has to be the highest point and also the most emotional time for me in MasterChef. Everything happened so quickly and I hardly had time to digest. I am forever grateful that I was able to experience the New York trip with the other seven contestants but oh boy, did we have a blast or what? But whatever happened in New York, stays in New York. 😉

It was a whirlwind trip with a very tight schedule. We spent most of the time filming and I still can’t believe we were literally standing right under the Statue of Liberty on our first day of shooting. To top it off, I also got to visit The Bronx and Harlem, and United Nations! Seriously, pinch me now! In the mean time, we also got to check out a few restaurants while we were there and did some shopping, here’s a few worth mentioning:

Vintage stores in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – Trust me, prepare yourself for a shopping spree but you do need some elbow grease to go through racks and racks of clothing. But within hours, I managed to score 2 pairs of sneakers including the red high top shown in picture which I got the contestants to sign them for me, and also 2 pairs of cowboy boots – nothing over $50. The stores I’ve visited are Buffalo Exchange and 10 ft. Single.

Fette Sau BBQ, Williamsburg, Brooklyn – If you love meat, then this is the place you must visit. Hole in the wall setting, feels like a meat debauchery joint set up in someone’s garage. The place is packed, a queue snakes around from the entrance to the counter where you order your choice of slow-cooked meat from ribs, pulled pork, beef briskets, sausages to pork belly – by the pounds, and beer by the gallons. It is a meaty happy place.

Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant, Chinatown NY – Best Xiao Long Bai I’ve had to date. The little flimsy dumpling parcels are not filled with clear broth, but instead thick porky gelatinous that lubricates the back of your throat as you swallow.

CORTON, Tribecca NY – Hands down the best yet also the most expensive dinner we’ve had in New York. My very first 2 Michelin Stars restaurant experience. The food is creative, complex and every dish is truly a work of art. The flavours were almost flawless. I just wish I had my camera with me and able to blog about it. So the only way for me to remember the night, I pocketed the dessert spoon! Sorry! (Oh! I was also a little star struck that night, Tom Colicchio from Top Chef was sitting at the table next to us!)

Despite not making it to the final week, I can definitely say that I have lived the MasterChef  experience to the fullest.

And no, I do not have Hayden’s undies.