The highly anticipated new season of MasterChef Australia has returned bigger and bolder than ever, boasting the best batch of amateur chefs set to deliver the most extraordinary cooking the competition has even seen.
Scouring the country to handpick Australia’s best home cooks, MasterChef Australia judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris will relish their chance to mentor these home cooks, one of whom is destined to become Australia’s next MasterChef.
In what promises to be the most extraordinary season ever, the Top 24 contestants will take part in some of the biggest challenges and deliver some of the finest dishes ever seen.
A doctor, a photographer, a crane operator and a theatre nurse are among the Top 24 who have claimed the coveted MasterChef Australia apron for season nine.
Some of Australia’s and the world’s best chefs are set to challenge the Top 24 contestants, including the master of Middle Eastern cuisine Yotam Ottolenghi, Heston Blumenthal, Maggie Beer, Anna Polyviou, Curtis Stone, Ben Shewry and David Thompson.
The winner of MasterChef Australia will walk away with a life-changing experience, the title of Australia’s MasterChef 2017, $250,000 and a monthly column in Australia’s leading premium food magazine, Delicious.
Get set to see some inspiring cooking as the contestants fine-tune their skills, compete under pressure, meet some of their culinary idols and face some of the biggest challenges of their lives in their new home – the MasterChef Australia kitchen. The MasterChef Australia Class of 2017:
Arum Nixon, 34, NSW, Advertising Strategist
After cooking for the judges three times during auditions and securing the last apron of the competition, Arum definitely feels the pressure to prove himself worthy of the Top 24. Raised in the idyllic countryside of Worcester in the UK, he has studied at Oxford and performed in the Birmingham Royal Ballet. He now lives in Sydney with his wife, Fiona.
Ben Ungermann, 32, Queensland, Retail Manager
Banking on his strong Dutch heritage, father-of-three Ben is hoping his love of and passion for European cooking will give him the edge to take home the trophy this season. Sporty and creative, Ben modelled in his younger years and now works in retail sports management.
Benita Orwell, 57, Queensland, Ex-Ground Staff
While she might be the oldest cook in this year’s competition, Benita will not be letting any of the younger cooks stand in her way, using her wisdom and experience to keep her focussed at the bench. Benita hopes to kick-start her food dream of hosting a regular ladies’ lunch event in Brisbane, where she lives with husband Michael and two daughters.
Benjamin Bullock, 27, Western Australia, Lawyer
As one of nearly 30 close cousins, Benjamin says holidays and family celebrations were always big affairs growing up, with food featuring as the primary focus point. Raised in the Perth hills, he developed an early love and appreciation for sustainable food production from his father. Now a partner in a law firm, Benjamin hopes to one day open his own small restaurant.
Bryan Zhu, 23, NSW, Photographer
At school, Bryan excelled in creative arts including drawing and painting. He loved fashion and photography, and he uses his strong creative streak in the kitchen, creating extravagant and decorative desserts designed to impress. After school Bryan completed a commerce degree, but he has been drawn back to his love of the arts and now owns his own photography business, shooting weddings, parties and events.
Callan Smith, 18, NSW, Student
He is the youngest recruit this season, but Callan’s growing talent should not be underestimated. Few other 18-year-olds dream of one day opening their own five-star molecular gastronomic restaurant. Completing his HSC exams on the eve of the MasterChef Australia judges’ auditions, Callan says he wanted a place in the Top 24 more than anything else.
Diana Chan, 29, Victoria, Accountant
The youngest of three children, Diana grew up in Johor Bahru in Malaysia with her parents, who cooked traditional home meals and also experimented with other cuisines. Always keen to lend a hand in the kitchen, Diana moved to Kuala Lumpur at 17 before making the move to Melbourne for university. Diana loves how food brings people together.
Eliza Wilson, 30, Victoria, Theatre Nurse
Working as a nurse in one of Melbourne’s busiest hospitals, Eliza spends her day monitoring and caring for patients coming out of surgery. At night, she is dreaming of food, cooking dinner parties for friends and thinking about recipes and ways to create new and exciting bold flavours. This young
cook sums up her style in the kitchen as modern and well-rounded, confident with both sweet and savoury.
Eloise Praino, 32, South Australia, Graduate Law Clerk
Eloise has finally made it into this year’s Top 24 after four previous unsuccessful attempts. Always looking to improve her cooking skills, Eloise has worked hard to earn her place this year and says she has reached her “now or never” moment in creating her food future. She hopes to one day open a lounge-style dessert and whiskey bar with her brother.
Jess Butler, 29, Victoria, Nurse
No matter how exhausted she is at the end of her day working as a nurse, Jess unwinds by cooking, finding solace in the kitchen. With a speciality for savoury-style desserts, she describes her cooking style as imaginative and loud, with a focus on raw and true flavours. Her dream is to one day move to regional Victoria and operate an environment-friendly food venue, showcasing local and sustainable produce.
Josh Clearihan, 32, Victoria, Senior IT Administrator
A lover of wine, Josh has completed work experience at several of Australia’s premier wineries in central Victoria. He even took annual leave to work for a winery in Wanaka in New Zealand’s Central Otago. Josh lives and breathes for the finer things in life. When he is not hunting for truffles in Tasmania, fishing for trout or diving for abalone, Josh may just take a break riding his mountain bike in the alpine regions.
Karlie Verkerk, 26, NSW, Copywriter
Karlie works as a copywriter for a home furnishings company, but her love of interior design pales beside her true passion: writing about food. She loves to cook for friends and family, and takes after her father, Dirk, in the kitchen, after he introduced her to big flavours and spicy dishes as a child. She hopes to combine her love of writing and her passion for food to become a writer in the culinary industry, developing recipes and critiquing food.
Lee Behan, 29, Western Australia, Hospitality Manager
Irish lad Lee has heard it all in the kitchen before but while he can cook a mean spud, he says potatoes are just one part of his extensive repertoire. Born in Dublin, Lee, his parents, sister and brother relocated to the small country town of Blessington in rural Ireland when he was 15. Now living in Perth, he wants to open his own brew pub specialising in delicious food and beverages.
Michelle Lukman, 19, Victoria, Student
One of the youngest contestants this year, Michelle is vying for the title of dessert queen, wowing the judges at auditions with her golden chocolate ball. Born in Indonesia, she was 11 when she relocated to Melbourne with her parents and sister. Growing up, Michelle loved to watch her grandmother and mother cooking traditional Indonesian food in the kitchen, but her real passion is sweets and she dreams of one day opening her own dessert bar and café.
Nicole Stevenson, 24, Queensland, Medical Secretary
Born in Ipswich and inspired by her Dutch family, Nicole says it was her mother and Oma who taught her how to cook in the kitchen. With a passion for healthy eating and nutrition, Nicole is driven to create fresh and healthy food with hearty flavours in the kitchen. She loves to cook big and bold tastes with favoured cuisines including Vietnamese, Italian and Mexican.
Pete Morgan, 31, Western Australia, Crane Operator
Cool, calm and collected, crane operator Pete says his larrikin and laid-back approach in the kitchen should not deceive his fellow competitors. This blokey bloke is very much at home in the kitchen. Supported by his girlfriend Kayla, Pete says he hopes to one day open a café in Perth and, later, own and operate a small farm in Tasmania, hosting guests in cabins and cooking for them during their stay.
Pia Gava, 49, Victoria, Contracts Officer
Growing up in a typical Italian home, Pia’s family celebrated every occasion in great culinary style and she says the smells of her childhood linger to this day. The family would routinely sit down for big family dinners and it is a tradition Pia has maintained with her own family today. Pia dreams of putting her closely-guarded family recipes, which have been handed down from generation to generation, in a cookbook so her own children can one day enjoy it.
Rashedul Hasan, 35, NSW, IT Program Director
Growing up an only child in Bangladesh’s bustling capital Dhaka is a long way from the MasterChef Australia kitchen but Rashedul says cooking is a welcome stress relief after a busy day in the office. A self-described experimental dessert cook, Rashedul says he is at his strongest in the kitchen when presenting dishes and has a good intuition for balancing flavours. Outside of the kitchen Rashedul enjoys watching and playing cricket with his son, cooking and taking photographs of nature, landscapes and food.
Ray Silva, 42, NSW, Doctor
Cooking dishes packed with flavour and punch is a necessity for Ray, who says he is drawn to foods with layer and depth to heighten the tastebuds. Born in Chicago, Ray spent his childhood years in the US before returning to his homeland of Sri Lanka with his family at the age of 10. He moved to Australia five years later and now works as a GP in Bondi Junction. Away from medicine and caring for his patients, Ray says one of his greatest loves is food.
Sam Goodwin, 25, Victoria, Construction Coordinator
Raised in Ocean Grove on Victoria’s beautiful Bellarine Peninsula, Sam has always relished surfing the best waves or fishing with mates. A self-proclaimed lover of “dude food”, Sam says he would love to get work experience in a kitchen after MasterChef Australia, with the goal of one day opening his own surf-inspired, community-orientated café in Ocean Grove, serving local produce.
Samuel Whitehead, 26, South Australia, Market Stall Owner
Growing up in the Adelaide Hills, life for Samuel was filled with outdoor adventures and a strong community spirit. It is a way of life he has not lost, now operating his own business selling fermented products at his local farmers’ market. When he is not spending time outdoors with his girlfriend Lauren fishing, kayaking or camping, Samuel is planning his next getaway.
Sarah Tiong, 26, NSW, Risk Consultant
Born and raised in Sydney, Sarah has always been involved in the kitchen and her mother would routinely teach her the recipes and techniques from her own childhood in Malaysia. She remembers fondly her cooking an array of cuisines and recalls the unique aroma of fermented beans, wine and ginger as a marinated pork belly was prepared for family dinners. As an insulin-dependent diabetic, Sarah is careful to manage her condition when cooking, particularly with sweet foods.
Tamara Graffen, 28, Western Australia, Engineering Officer
When Tamara and her partner Tim visited Broome on a holiday from their Queensland home in 2009, the couple fell in love with the pristine coastal spot, promptly relocating from Townsville to the other side of Australia. Known for her love of dessert cooking, Tamara’s other passion for Asian cuisine grew with her relocation to Broome. Away from the kitchen she loves photography, DIY projects and sewing.
Trent Devincenzo, 27, NSW, Systems Engineer
Growing up in Sydney’s west with his parents and older sister Melissa, Trent is passionate about health and fitness, and enjoys playing sport on the weekends and working out at the gym. A baseball fanatic, Trent admits his competitive streak is often prevalent in the dug-out and he hopes that drive and passion to win will help him in the MasterChef Australia kitchen. Trent hopes to own and operate a food truck which travels the shoreline, sharing his love and passion for food.