Returning for its incredible 15th season, MasterChef Australia is back and ready to turn up the heat to deliver a series full of twists and turns. On this season of MasterChef Australia: Secrets & Surprises, expect the unexpected.
At the helm, judges Jock Zonfrillo, Andy Allen and Melissa Leong are ready to welcome a brand-new bunch of contestants, who will also be inspired by visiting world-class guest chefs. A who’s who of the Australian food scene alongside international guest chefs will showcase their incredible skill as they challenge and teach.
The competition wastes no time cranking up, with the one and only Jamie Oliver kick-starting the series, guiding the contestants through two very special episodes. Right from the get-go, there is a game-changing secret advantage up for grabs that will alter the path of the competition for one talented cook.
With only 18 coveted aprons on offer this year for the nation’s most passionate amateur cooks, there is a lot on the line. Each challenge is designed to push them to their limits as they learn and grow as cooks. With optometrists, carpenters, nutritionists and youth workers among the hungry hopefuls, each of our Top 18 contestants are here to prove they have what it takes to claim victory.
As a doctor working on the front line of a busy Melbourne hospital during the global pandemic, Adi knows how to stay calm under pressure, but how will her scientific background assist in the face of creative challenges?
Antonio’s a software developer from NSW who moved from Venezuela to Australia in 2015 to pursue a better life. Learning to cook from his mother and grandmother and confident in both the sweet and savoury categories, does Antonio have what it takes to translate his home cooking to the MasterChef kitchen?
An electrician by trade, Theo’s passion for baking bread saw him move to France and work in a Parisienne boulangerie, despite not speaking the language. He spent three years there honing his baking skills but will he be able to hold his own when it comes to savoury dishes?
The Top 18 will be put to the test like never before, as the MasterChef kitchen, the great equaliser, continues to expose the strengths and weaknesses of all who enter its doors.
The season winner stands to walk away with not only a life-changing experience and the title of Australia’s MasterChef 2023, but $250,000 in prize money. We’re thrilled to introduce the MasterChef Australia: Secrets & Surprises Class Of 2023:
MASTERCHEF AUSTRALIA: SECRETS & SURPRISES – TOP 18 CONTESTANTS
Adi Nevgi, 31, Victoria @adi_nevgi Occupation: Doctor
Had she not been needed full time on the front line of a busy Melbourne hospital during the global pandemic, Adi Nevgi may have been in the MasterChef kitchen much sooner. Largely self-taught through cookbooks, websites and watching cooking shows, her passion for cooking has grown as she’s experimented, practiced and developed her palate by visiting a whopping 55 countries. Adi thinks her determined and unflappable nature will keep her in the kitchen, though admits baking is a weakness given her savoury preference.
Alice Han, 29, New South Wales @alicesqhan Occupation: Economic Researcher
Born and raised in Sydney, Alice Han grew up with an east meets west mix of language, culture and food, following her parents’ emigration from Shanghai, China. A gifted academic, Alice attended both Harvard and Stanford universities, but it’s the balance of the cerebral and the creative that draws Alice to cooking. With a meticulous eye, a love for exploring the traditional and adding a modern, fusion flair, expect Alice to showcase her skill across not only Chinese cuisine, but French and Italian too, with skills spanning both sweet and savoury.
Amy Tanner, 26, Victoria @speeedysmom Occupation: Medical Administrator
Growing up watching MasterChef with her mum, this competition holds a special place in Amy Tanner’s heart. For many years she has been inspired by the show’s home cooks and attempted to recreate many of their recipes. Now it’s Amy’s turn to learn, grow and inspire others as she dons her MasterChef apron. A self-confessed anchovy fiend, Amy is eager to showcase flavours from her recent travels to Turkey and Vietnam.
Andrea Puglisi, 36, Western Australia @Andreapuglisi_it Occupation: Rope Access Technician
Born and raised in Turin, northern Italy, Andrea Puglisi has spent the past 10 years in Melbourne and Perth, but his cooking style still sits squarely in his Italian roots. From a large family of big personalities and as one of five siblings, a busy kitchen was always a feature in Andrea’s family home. Big flavours will be a strength for this intuitive cook, while he hopes to refine his dessert skills. For Andrea, the competition is all about pushing himself to see what he is capable of.
Antonio Cruz Vaamonde, 34, New South Wales @acruzvaamonde Occupation: Software Developer
Hailing from Caracas, Venezuela, Antonio Cruz Vaamonde moved to Australia in 2015 to pursue a better life. His biggest influence and supporter, his grandmother whom he called ‘Mamucha’, encouraged him to make the move and the pair often spoke about him applying for MasterChef. Antonio will lean into his sweet and savoury strengths in the kitchen which include desserts, pastries and sweets, as well as Italian flavours, Asian cuisines, barbecue methods and showcasing his South American culinary heritage.
Brent Draper, 32, Queensland @brentdraper_ Occupation: Digital Content Creator
Having stepped away from the competition in Season 13 (2021) to prioritise his mental health, Brent has since worked hard to change both his and his family’s lives, for the better. Following his dream, Brent purchased and renovated a bus to hit the road with wife and their young son for the adventure of a lifetime travelling around Australia. He remains passionate and committed to inspiring others to also tackle their problems head-on. Back in the MasterChef kitchen, we can expect seafood and meat over coals, South-East Asian and Middle Eastern flavours, and always as much umami as possible.
Cath Collins, 54, Victoria @cathskitchen_au Occupation: Administration Manager
Cath Collins has long dreamt of applying for MasterChef and was inspired by Julie Goodwin’s return to the competition last year. Hailing from a big Aussie family, Cath is one of 10 children. As a proud mum to two adult daughters, Cath was inspired to step up her cooking when her girls were born, and to focus on making delicious food that nourished and excited them. In her spare time, Cath enjoys music and art, and loves running. She has completed half marathons and triathlons, so rising to a challenge is familiar territory. Cath joins the competition armed with life experience, good humour, and a healthy dose of tenacity to go after what she wants.
Declan Cleary, 24, New South Wales @declancleary Occupation: Carpenter
Declan Cleary’s love for cooking was born to ensure no meal was ever a dull one. Though one of the youngest in the competition at the ripe age of 24, Declan shouldn’t be discounted. He is a qualified carpenter with his own business, so he knows a thing or two about hard work and will not be afraid to put his head down throughout the competition. Whatever the cuisine, fish and seafood are a firm favourite, stemming his confidence in the savoury space. Finessed desserts may threaten to derail Declan, but he won’t let the pressure of the MasterChef kitchen phase him.
Grace Jupp, 24, Victoria @gracejupp Occupation: Olive Producer
At just 24, Grace Jupp wears many hats. Wife, step-mum, business owner, University graduate, cooking enthusiast, and 2023 MasterChef hopeful just to name a few. Born in Victoria and growing up in Queensland, Grace spent countless hours in the kitchen with her mum and Baba, and remains inspired by her family’s rich Croatian heritage. Her husband, a former chef, has also provided much inspiration in the kitchen, introducing her to a new world of food, flavours and techniques. Grace loves discovering new restaurants and making memories through food. Currently, the two own and operate an olive oil company on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
Jessica Perri, 35, Victoria @jessica.perri_ Occupation: Optometrist
To Jessica Perri, food is many things. Not simply nourishment, but love, passion, comfort, tradition, education and much more. Jessica is most inspired in the kitchen by her two Nonnas who taught her to cook from the age of three. The method wasn’t to follow recipes, but to cook “alla buona”, or “effortlessly, with minimal fuss”. Only after her Nonna passed away did Jessica realise the gift and responsibility she had been given to continue the family legacy through food. It’s a task she doesn’t take lightly. Working in a scientific field and juggling the demands of motherhood, Jessica often craves a creative outlet, and she finds it in the kitchen.
Larissa Sewell, 38, South Australia @feastwithlarissa Occupation: Stay At Home Mum
Inspired by her Ukrainian and Russian heritage, Larissa Sewell’s biggest influence has been her babushka, whose sharing of traditions has shaped Larissa as both a woman and a cook. Having fled their homeland during the Russian Revolution, three of Larissa’s grandparents resettled in China. This fusion of cultures meant that Larissa was raised on a unique melting pot of flavours. Alongside her husband and twin boys, she lives an urban farm lifestyle in Adelaide, complete with heirloom vegetables and heritage chickens while running a small fruit and vegetable co-op, and a successful grazing platter business.
Malissa Fedele, 28, South Australia @malissafedele Occupation: Nutritionist
As a clinical nutritionist, Malissa Fedele knows the importance of good food for good health. Being from an Italian family means she also knows that good food means good times. Born and bred in Adelaide, Malissa’s big, loud family influenced her interest in food from the get-go. Her parents owned a fruit and vegetable store where she and her siblings worked, and both her Nonnas and her mum encouraged her to get into the kitchen. Food is a huge part of her work too. Malissa’s own clinical practice focuses on women’s health needs and offers nutritional consultations to help create healthy lifestyles and make better dietary choices to best support women’s health and wellbeing.
Phil Conway, 33, Victoria @philconway_ Occupation: Fitness Studio Manager
Growing up in Galway, Ireland, Phil Conway has fond memories of cooking with his nan in the kitchen and making her famous apple tarts. His move to Melbourne 12 years ago sparked an interest in food and as a result, has him eating out regularly with his wife whose Italian heritage provides the pair a deep affinity with the country and cuisine. Turning his passion for fitness into a career, the pandemic left Phil unable to train clients. Instead, he spent a great deal of time cooking, reigniting a joy for being in the kitchen and giving him clarity about his future. In 2022, Phil spent a month in the Veneto wine region in Italy for wine harvest, learning traditional recipes, making pasta and sauces.
Ralph Kahango, 32, Western Australia @ralphkahango Occupation: Auditor
Growing up in a big family in Zimbabwe and South Africa, Ralph Kahango moved to Australia aged 17 to focus on his studies, going on to achieve his Master of Accounting. Working for five years as a government auditor and kicking professional goals, Ralph now feels that the time is right to put his passion for cooking first. Being in the kitchen is Ralph’s creative outlet and he cooks to relax. With a love of Italian food, Ralph looks up to chefs like Marco Pierre White and has built knowledge through cookbooks, YouTube and recreating restaurant dishes. He looks forward to sharing his Zimbabwean food, culture and traditions with the judges. While baking may be a weakness, Ralph plans to hone his skills during the competition, always being open to feedback.
Rhiannon Anderson, 46, Queensland @rhiplenish Occupation: Administration
Rhiannon Anderson is ready for her moment. With her daughter and stepchildren now grown, Rhiannon plans to prove to her kids that anything is possible, at any age. Without doubt, Rhiannon’s biggest inspiration in life has been her mum, who sadly lost her battle with ovarian cancer in 2021. Her mum became a chef when Rhiannon was 11 and taught Rhiannon all she knows in the kitchen. She told Rhiannon that she must apply for MasterChef, which makes Rhiannon’s spot in the Top 18 all the more special. Rhiannon is an accomplished water-skier, holding the title as the 2022 national women’s 45+ champion, arming her with an unbeatable competitive spirit.
Robbie Cooper, 65, Northern Territory @unclerobbiecooks Occupation: Youth Support Worker
For proud Iwaidja man Robbie Cooper, entering the MasterChef kitchen is not simply an opportunity to share his food, but also his rich culture and history. Growing up in Darwin, he’s recognised as an accomplished AFL and rugby league player and is now a youth support worker in a supported bail program. Like many Aboriginal families in the Northern Territory, Robbie’s ancestry incorporates Asian heritage, including Malaysian, Indonesian and Filipino, along with Torres Strait Islander. Labelling his cooking style ‘Aboriginal Asian fusion’, Robbie is equally at-home cooking on country as he is creating modern Australian cuisine. As the eldest contestant in the competition, Robbie will relish the opportunity to be an Uncle to the group and share his wisdom.
Rue Mupedzi, 29, Western Australia @Ruetendom Occupation: Oral Health Therapist
It was Rue Mupedzi’s first fine-dining experience in Sydney in 2014 that set her on the path towards the MasterChef kitchen. In 2021, Rue took a break from her role as an Oral Health Therapist to pursue her passion for baking, launching a macaron business. A model of persistence, it took her 10 months of trial and error to perfect her recipe. Moving to Australia from Zimbabwe aged 15 with her parents, older sister and younger brother, Rue loves food because in her culture, it brings people together. Her mum taught her the basics of cooking, and she has layered this learning with her library of cookbooks. A calm presence in the kitchen, Rue anticipates working well under pressure and is ready to learn all she can.
Theo Loizou, 37, Victoria @theegram Occupation: Electrician
A sparky by trade, Theo Loizou couldn’t be happier to now be working with different tools. In 2019, after 12 years in his trade, Theo moved to France to follow his dream to work in a Parisienne boulangerie, despite not speaking the language. Planning to stay for six months, he met his partner and stayed for three years, taking time to hone his baking skills before the pair relocated back to Melbourne. Having a deep connection with the food and culture of his Greek and Cyprian ancestry, Theo learnt from both his parents and grandparents in the kitchen, before beginning to experiment himself. Theo is a confident cook who trusts his intuition, he would rather cook by feel than follow a recipe. He will be showing off his bread skills and leaning into his Greek heritage wherever possible.
MasterChef Australia: Secrets & Surprises. Premieres Monday, 1 May At 7.30pm On 10