MasterChef Australia

Callum Hann
Student (SA)
AGE: 20

The youngest contestant in this year’s competition, Callum has put aside his engineering degree to compete in MasterChef Australia. Determined to soak up as much culinary knowledge as he can, he would love a career as a chef whether he wins or not. “I don’t think the judges look at me and think this is the winner of MasterChef,” he confesses. “They see me as an unmoulded block of clay and hopefully they can sculpt me into a good chef. I’m hard-working and have the ability to learn. I don’t have as much experience as some people but if you look at Julie from last year, her dishes at the end were so different to the start and I hope that will happen with me.”

Inspired by his father who passed away a few years ago, Callum says he took over a lot of the cooking at home for his mum and sister. Having always followed the academic path, becoming a chef had never occurred to him until this point. “I like to experiment with food and that’s what my dad liked to do – see what’s in the fridge and try out new things,” he says. “In a short period of time I started cooking all the time and I really enjoyed it, and then about a year and a half ago I got a job as a kitchen hand in a restaurant in the Barossa Valley. Being in a kitchen environment seeing what the chefs do really started me thinking that this is maybe a job that I want.” The long hours slaving away near hot ovens and stoves has been an eye-opener for the student. “I’ve not worked as many hard days in my life as some but I’ve done a lot of kitchen shifts and have seen how it works,” he says. “If I hadn’t worked in a kitchen I wouldn’t think I’d be able to cope. I do long hours and on a Saturday night when all my mates are at the pub I’m scrubbing ovens!”

Supported by his long term girlfriend Chloe who he met at school, Callum decided to apply for the show after not missing an episode of the first season. “I really liked Andre last year,” he says. “I think he legitimately wanted to be a chef. I liked that about him, that even if he got kicked out he was quite serious about the competition. “I went onto the MasterChef website a lot last year and when I saw you could apply for this series, I did it almost without thinking about it.”

Claire Winton-Burn
Lawyer (VIC)
AGE: 31

Working horrendously long hours as a lawyer, Claire would often come home exhausted and disillusioned, dreaming of the day she could open a small gourmet café attached to a winery. While her head was buried in a pile of legal documents in the wee hours of the morning in her role as a construction and major projects lawyer, she decided that enough was enough: she applied for the second series of MasterChef Australia.

Ever since she was a child and helped her grandmother prepare family feasts, Claire has come to realise that cooking makes her feel special. “It was the one chore I actually enjoyed!” laughs Claire. “I made a big thing of helping out in the kitchen because I loved it. My love affair with food started in earnest as soon as I had finished school and suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands.” She bought her first cookbook – The River Café Cookbook – at age 17 and cooked her way through every recipe. But she really got the foodie bug at 18-years-old when she deferred her first year university studies to travel to Europe, and enrolled into a cooking course. “I went overseas and took myself off to Le Cordon Bleu for a month,” explains Claire. “I’d done a fair bit of travel in Asia but travelling Europe was a turning point for me and having that month learning the basics of cooking was the moment that I started to become really serious about it.”

Returning to her Melbourne home, where she lived with her parents and younger sister, Claire suppressed her passionate feelings for cooking to follow through with her law studies. “I made a conscious choice at that point that I wanted to keep cooking as a passion,” she says. “I was scared that if I did it as a job, then it would become a slog and I’d end up hating it. But I now know that as time goes on, you’re better off following a career you’re absolutely passionate about, rather than doing something that you like but don’t love. Life is too short.”

She is now determined cooking will now play a major part of any new career path she chooses. “Long term I want to write about food,” she says, naming Stephanie Alexander as her favourite chef and admitting she has a “slight crush” on Neil Perry. “But I think you can’t do that without real authority, so I’d like to work as a chef and learn skills, and maybe have my own café as well. “The food dream is to own a little café next to a winery selling local produce that’s cooked really well – not pretentious or anything fancy.”

Courtney Roulston
Bar manager (NSW)
AGE: 29

It was a 10 year school reunion, and an upcoming milestone birthday, that were the catalysts Courtney needed to shake her life out of the rut she realised it had become. “I’d been working at the local bowling club for over 12 years and to be honest I lost track of time,” Courtney says. “It hit home at the reunion when no-one could believe that I was still there, running the same club. I felt like I’d been in a time warp. “Plus I’m about to turn 30 which I know isn’t old but it’s a marker in the sand. You have a big party at 30 and it’s a real celebration of your life so far and I want people to think I’ve done amazing things.”

An applicant for MasterChef Season One, Courtney was unsure about applying again, but was encouraged by her friends. “I’ve been waiting for something to come and change my life and what I’ve realised is that it isn’t going to happen,” she explains. “I applied in year one and didn’t follow up my application. This year my girlfriend made me ring and chase it and that made me realise you don’t wait for people to get back to you. You do things for yourself.” The youngest of six children, Courtney grew up on a small farm in Kellyville. She describes her family as being like that of “The Castle” and her childhood was characterised by pitching in and learning the importance of being resourceful. “We grew up making the best of what we had in the fridge,” she remembers. “We learnt to go out fishing and put crab pots in, and to do all sorts of things to make good meals. I’m not scared of pulling the guts out of a fish, and definitely was never a prissy little girl. We didn’t have a lot of cash growing up but we didn’t miss out on things.”

Inspired by her father, who worked a second job as a chef, Courtney became addicted to watching cooking shows on TV, and used to adore reading The Margaret Fulton cookbook. “I quickly realised that if I was the one to create an evening meal for the family, I wouldn’t get too grilled about my homework!” she laughs. As for her MasterChef dream, Courtney is realistic. “I know running a café is hard, expensive, and cafés open and shut all the time so I don’t know if that’s for me,” she says. “But having cooked for friends, I’d love to get into events catering for parties.”

Daniel Aulsebrook
Recently made redundant (VIC)
AGE: 32

He is covered in tattoos, but Daniel is hoping that it’s his cooking that will leave a permanent impression on the MasterChef Australia judges. “I have upwards of 25 tattoos,” says Daniel. “There’s a point where you start to lose count! I don’t mind getting a tattoo when it comes to the pain factor – plating up for the judges is certainly a lot more nerve-wracking.”

Daniel discovered the kitchen when he was 21-years-old, after he moved into his own digs from his Melbourne family home that he shared with his parents and two younger sisters. Far from living on a diet of pot noodles and all day breakfast in a can, Dan- iel immediately took a shining to gourmet cooking. “I started cooking properly right from the moment I moved out, and discovered that I actually enjoyed it,” explains Daniel, who names Melbourne’s Greg Malouf as his favourite chef. “I don’t have a signature dish, but my mates always ask if I can cook them chicken tagine. I also love to cook a lot of Asian influenced meals, and experiment with fish.” “I pretty much do all the cooking,” he says. “I cook for Katie [his girlfriend of five years], our mates and my family. When we go to my parent’s house, I try to give mum a break from the kitchen and I’ll do the cooking. “The food I cook at home is quite simple. For me, it’s more about the social side. It’s about having mates around for dinner and having a laugh.”

Daniel applied for MasterChef after being made redundant from his administration job at a wine wholesaler. He has had a long held dream of working in a kitchen but life just took another direction. He studied classical music at Melbourne University, where he played the trumpet, but dropped out shortly before graduating and has since fallen into a succession of office jobs. “I’m happy with my life, but I’ve never really had a proper career as such,” he admits. “Before I was made redundant, I was fairly settled and it seemed like a too dramatic change of direction.

Now the time is right, and I’m ready for the commitment.” As he prepares to take the judges constructive criticism on board and use it wisely, Daniel is edging closer to finding how he can blend a passion for cooking with a new direction in life. “Some people here have a very clear idea of what they want, how their restaurant will look and the name of their business but I haven’t thought that far ahead,” he says. “I really hope to get some opportunities out of this, maybe some work in a kitchen; a foot in the door of the industry which is more realistic than me thinking I’ll leave this com- petition and immediately open a restaurant.”

Devon Headland
Builder (QLD)
AGE: 30

Devon is more emotionally invested in winning MasterChef Australia than most, given that he postponed his wedding to his childhood sweet-heart to take part in the series. “We’ve been engaged for a couple of years,” says Devon of his fiancée Catherine. “Our wedding was booked for February, which was when filming was happening, so we’ve had to postpone it. That was a really hard decision. Catherine had been planning our dream day, friends were going to travel from overseas and we’d progressed on a lot of the details. But Cat was very understanding that this is a once in a lifetime opportu- nity, and we’ll re-schedule the wedding.”

Devon grew up in Auckland and met Catherine, who is a nurse, when he was 15-years-old at a party, with the carpenter saying “it was love at first sight”. After several years living in New Zealand and a stint in London, the couple has lived in Queensland for nearly three years. The other true love in his life has been food. He and younger brother Blake and older brother Conrad have big appe- tites and he fondly remembers how his grandmother inspired him to cook, and reminisces at the thought of after- noons spent in his grandma’s kitchen watching her cook old favourites like roasts and carrot cakes. “When I was a teenager I had a part time job as a kitchen hand in a restaurant, where I was mainly washing dishes,” he says. “During school I was offered a building apprenticeship, which was great because I was good with my hands and couldn’t see myself finishing school. “At the same time I was offered a chef apprenticeship but I was young and didn’t think I could handle the rough hours of working in a kitchen, so I took the building apprenticeship.”

Close to 15 years has passed, but Devon’s interest in cooking has never waned, and he dreams of one day open- ing his own restaurant. He has even lived in the food capital of the world, France, where he indulged his love of fine wines. “I went to Alsace for six months when I was in my 20s and worked through a wine harvest,” he says. “Learning how to make wine was fantastic. But it was a bit of a hazy blur to be honest!” Devon hopes his time on MasterChef Australia will be anything but a blur, and is hopeful that he can win over the judges with his country rustic cooking.

Fiona Inglis
Student (VIC)
AGE: 24

Put Fiona in a market filled with exotic food, and the recently graduated teacher is chomping at the bit to eat as much produce as she can. But her love of food comes after years of refusing to eat nearly everything her mum served up at dinner. “My poor mum and dad had a real food battle with me when I was a kid,” laughs Fiona, who grew up in Melbourne as the middle child of three sisters. “I hated my vegetables, and used to hide them, give them to my sisters, anything I could do to get rid of them and I made my parents life miserable when it came to the dinner table. “I didn’t like things mixed in with food like bits of onions and I ate very little red meat. I liked bland foods and potato was about the only thing I really liked! I was terrible and my mum’s worst nightmare!”

Now Fiona is making up for lost time when it comes to indulging her tastebuds. She loves wandering through Melbourne food markets, cooks up a storm for her family and friends, and dreams of one day becoming the next Stephanie Alexander. “I’ve just finished my primary school teaching degree,” explains Fiona, who now bonds with her ‘foodie’ lawyer dad and teacher mum over their latest dinner creations. “My food dream is to be able to combine my passion for working with children with food. I’d love to be involved in something like the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden National Program – which teaches children how to grow, cook and share fresh food – or a similar aspiring program.” It wasn’t until Fiona moved out of home when she was 19-years-old with her older sister that she started to open her mind to food. “I took a turn and started tasting all these fresh foods that I’d spent years missing out on,” she says. “I started cook- ing for my sister and I loved going to the markets. I loved everything about food – shopping for it, smelling it, staring at products, cooking it and reading about it.”

She may be a sizzling home gourmand, but can she cut the mustard against a group of highly skilled competitors? “There are some amazing cooks here and the level is really high,” she says, adding that appearing in MasterChef and living in Sydney marks the first time she has ever been separated from her parents. “I know that I’m a little bit younger than most of the contestants, and I don’t have as much experience, but you never know. It’s a little bit daunt- ing but I just have to remain positive and learn as much as I can. Just being in the house I’m learning so much – we talk about food 24/7.”

Dominic Corrigan
Company director (NSW)
AGE: 46

While some of the MasterChef Australia contestants find having their meals critiqued by the judges daunting, Dominic faces his toughest crit- ics every meal time. The father-of-four regularly cooks dinner for his family – and the kids don’t hold back telling him what they do and don’t like to eat. “It’s challenging to find a repertoire of surefire dishes that the whole family like so I don’t have to cook separate meals every dinner,” says Dominic, who lives in Sydney with his wife Kate and their children Madeleine, 16, Nicholas, 14, Benjamin, 11 and Matthew, nine. “I love Asian foods and spices, but not all my kids agree with me, so sometimes I find myself doing hot versions and then a calm version of the dish. And my daughter is on to me about presentation of dishes too.”

Growing up with four older sisters, Dominic was inspired by his parents when it came to cooking. “Food to me is symbolic of family,” says Dominic, who dreams of running a restaurant one day. “I have great memo- ries of my family sitting around the table eating, and my mum loved to have a lot of dinner parties. I used to love hanging around the kitchen watching her cook. “Dad influenced me too. He was a sports doctor and travelled a lot for work, so was culturally aware and he wanted us kids to try as many different foods as we could. Mind you, in those days, having a Chinese meal or trying some- thing like garlic prawns was a big deal!”

Although his parents instilled a love of cooking in him, it wasn’t until mid 2008 when he was made redundant from his executive position that Dominic truly got to indulge his passion. “I wasn’t the main cook before I was made redundant, but I finally had the time,” explains Dominic, who has also helped to set up a charity called Fighting Chance which supports families with disabled children. “I’ve always loved watching cooking shows and I’ve been privileged to have eaten in some amazing restaurants, so to be able to spend time in the kitchen was fantastic.” His family is certainly reaping the benefits of his culinary skills. “I cook a lot of stir-fries and big dishes like curries, Irish stew and lamb shanks that I can cook in a large amount to feed six of us,” he says. “My cooking style is often driven by my requirements to feed a big family. I have two kids who are adventurous with spice and heat, and there’s my wife and two who aren’t too keen on spicy food.” His family is very supportive of his dream, and can’t wait to see him on their favourite show.

Jake Bujayer
Cement renderer (NSW)
AGE: 29

Jake might love to cook, but for him the real thrill is in the catch. Out on the open water, beer in hand, this is the place where this fishing enthusiast feels most at home. “I’m pretty obsessed with fishing and I’ve had some great catches,” Jake says. “From snapper to kingfish, I like to get out onto the water and catch something at least once a week. I’d say I’m addicted to seafood.”

A cement renderer by trade, Jake has had his own business for the past few years, but despite his passion being food, he never would have thought to apply for MasterChef Australia. With modest tastes, and totally settled in his life on NSW’s Central Coast, cooking was a hobby that developed hand- in-hand with his love of fishing. Never did he think it could become a career. “My girlfriend’s mum suggested that I apply for the show and then my girlfriend filled out the application for me,” he says. “I love food shows and watched MasterChef last year as well as the English version, but didn’t really think about giving it a go. “I’m a bit worried about being in this competition and all the things I’ll have to try and make, although I do like to try new things. I do a lot of seafood, Italian and Asian and I had a Greek girlfriend for four years so have picked up a lot from her.”

Having been with his girlfriend for the past two years, Jake does all the cooking at home. While she is excited about him competing in the show, Jake knows it’s a big ask to be away from his relationship. “My girlfriend was a bit nervous about me coming here,” he explains. “She’s a bit scared about the whole thing. I tell her about the long, hard days that I’ve been doing here in the kitchen but she doesn’t believe me – she says I’ve always moaned about that!”

With his trademark honesty, Jake confesses he’s unsure on what exactly is his MasterChef dream. “I’m not sure what I want to get out of the show,” he sighs. “I don’t want fame, I wanted to get out of the life that I’m in. I want to get into the food industry. I’ve done plastering for long enough. It’s physically demanding, and while being in the kitchen is the same, I love it.”

Jimmy Seervai
Food ingredient researcher (NSW)
AGE: 31

Jimmy has a bold aim for his time in MasterChef Australia. He is determined that his hot Indian cooking will influence the notoriously chilli shy judge George Calombaris into adding a spicy curry onto the menu in one of his restaurants. “I really want to work his tastebuds,” Jimmy says. “Most of my cooking knowledge is about hot and spicy food. I am convinced my parents used to put masala in my baby formula to add some flavour, so I now favour dishes that are full of spices and chilli.”

Having moved from India to Australia when he was just six months old, Jimmy’s parents opened a spice shop in Sydney. He spent the majority of his childhood working there, so it was only natural that this love of spices that led to Jimmy’s career as a food ingredient researcher. His ultimate dream is to inspire people to be more adventurous with their cooking, and he recognises that this is something that is important to learn as a child. “I’d like to set up educational classes for kids to get them to appreciate sweet, sour and salty notes in food,” he explains. “It would broaden their palates. Flavours are like language, that’s why people eat things that they did when they were kids because it reminds them of happy times and memories.”

Describing himself as “the clown of the pack,” Jimmy has always reverted to humour to cope with stressful situa- tions, and says this characteristic developed as a result of being overweight as a child. “I lost 60kg about six years ago having been overweight as a child, and since I lost the weight I’ve never looked back,” he proudly says. “I do tend to revert to jokiness to cope with situations; life is about having fun and I won’t forget that in the competition.” Jimmy is engaged to Jem, who he has been with for over five years, and she’s certainly understanding as their wed- ding has gone on hold to allow Jimmy to compete in MasterChef. “I drive her nuts with my cooking talk and she was actually the one who recommended that I enter,” he says. “I do all the cooking at home, and I know she wants me to come back with a whole stack of new recipes.”

Concerned that he needed to broaden his culinary horizons before MasterChef, Jimmy turned to Jem’s family for help. “I’ve been on a MasterChef bootcamp,” laughs Jimmy. “Jem’s mum has spent some time helping me with cakes and soufflés and dishes you don’t find in Indian cooking. Plus, I’m remembering all of my mum’s tips because she is the best cook. Cook with her heart, your tongue and your taste. And that’s the most important thing.”

IT consultant (NSW)
AGE: 33

Even for a diehard sweet tooth, Jonathan surprised himself with just how far he could go to create the perfect ice cream dessert during a trip to Italy a few years ago. “I lived in London for a while and did a trip to Milan, where I didn’t buy any- thing you should like clothes, leaving there instead with an ice cream ma- chine,” he says. “It was quite an effort stuffing that in my suitcase! I really was on a mission to make the perfect ice cream and I have experimented a lot with it, even using savoury flavours.”

Jonathan’s hunger for cooking developed while he was living in London when he was 22-years-old. After growing up on a diet of fairly simple meals, he relished the chance to experiment. “I discovered how great cooking was and that I had a creative side,” explains Jonathan, who married his wife Mandy during the filming of the Top 50 episodes. “My dad is Moroccan so I started to look towards that style of cooking and asked him about different flavours and dishes. “The first major meal I cooked was for a group of friends in London, and it was a huge Moroccan banquet. There were piles of couscous, piles of tagine, Moroccan desserts and dips. The kitchen was a bombsite but it really was a defining moment for me.” It didn’t take him long to infuse his Moroccan heritage with his love of all things French. “I trained myself, trying to capture the classic French style of cooking and then blend it with the Moroccan style,” says Jonathan, who spent a year in Bordeaux, France, to study the language.

What started as an interest in food is now an obsession. He dreams of one day working as a fine dining chef and names Gordon Ramsay as his favourite chef. In fact, he’s such a fan of the Michelin Star chef that when he ate at his London restaurant Petrus a few years ago, he was so in awe of the food that he rang up the following day and asked for a job as a trainee chef. “The food was just mind blowing,” he says. “I thought I’d give them a call, and I said that I noticed they trained chefs of all levels. They asked me what level I was at and I told them that I wasn’t a chef and that I hadn’t worked in a kitchen.” Despite being knocked back for a fulltime job, Jonathan was persistent and asked for some unpaid work experience in the kitchen. “I went into the kitchen for a few Saturdays and it was fantastic,” says Jonathan, who moved back to Australia shortly after his experience. Now, he’ll have his dishes judged by the MasterChef Australia judges, but Jonathan isn’t daunted.