The MasterChef Australia judges’ auditions are known and loved for the emotional rollercoaster of tears, laughter and celebratory fist pumps, where food dreams are made, and this season’s instalment didn’t disappoint.
After two days of high-stakes auditions, MasterChef Australia judges Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen unveiled the 2021 top 24 contestants in a season boasting the best cooks ever and the best food ever.
From Brent the boilermaker’s middle eastern lamb shanks that Andy declared “perfect”, to Minoli’s six dish Sri Lankan feast that heralded the “biggest yes” from Melissa, to Therese’s mystical mushroom dessert that Jock boasted was “better than restaurant quality”, in 2021, MasterChef Australia is seasoned to perfection.
MasterChef Australia has searched the country far and wide, with 10 contestants representing NSW, six contestants calling Victoria home, two contestants from South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia, and a hopeful from both the Northern Territory and Tasmania who are cooking for their home state with pride.
A lawyer, a doctor, a medical student, a restaurant manager and a pharmacist are among the Top 24 who have claimed the coveted MasterChef Australia crisp, white apron this season.
Some of the biggest names in the world of food are set to challenge the Top 24 contestants, including the master of Middle Eastern cuisine Yotam Ottolenghi, Massimo Bottura, Queen of the kitchen Nigella Lawson, Clare Smyth, Heston Blumenthal and home-grown sensation Curtis Stone.
The winner of MasterChef Australia will walk away with a life-changing experience, the title of Australia’s MasterChef 2021 and $250,000 in prize money. We’re thrilled to introduce the MasterChef Australia Class of 2021:
Aaron Sanders, 34, Insurance Claims Manager, SA.
After securing one of the final aprons in the second chance cook, Aaron Sanders is out to prove he deserves his place in the kitchen. Aaron’s childhood was spent battling food allergies. After growing out of many of these allergies, he now relishes the opportunity to expand his palate.
Amir Manoly, 30, Construction Project Manager, VIC.
Locked down at home in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Amir Manoly wanted to take his regular Zoom catch ups with friends up a notch, opting to create an online mystery box challenge. Amir’s audition dish was inspired by a Middle Eastern dessert his father made for him as a child.
Brent Draper, 31, Boilermaker, QLD.
A hardworking Aussie tradie by day, Brent Draper is ready to explore life away from the tools, he’s ready to step into the kitchen and explore his passion. A master of remaining calm under pressure, Brent hopes his strengths in the kitchen will be working with proteins including fish.
Conor Curran, 27, Restaurant Manager, VIC.
Conor Curran may have spent ten years working in restaurants, but he is the first to admit he’s been on the wrong side of the pass. With a love of traditional Greek recipes and flavours from his mum and yiayia, Conor credits his grandmother with encouraging his love of food.
Dan Dumbrell, 31, Research Project Manager, NSW.
A latecomer to the kitchen, Dan Dumbrell started cooking with gusto only eight years ago when he moved out of home. With a mix of Chinese and Australian heritage, Dan cooks many Chinese dishes inspired by his mum’s Guangzhou background, but loves melding east with west.
Depinder Chhibber, 29, Pharmacist, NSW.
Born in New Delhi, Depinder Chhibber moved to Newcastle at the age of 11. Now based in Sydney, she still considers herself a Novocastrian, but her heart and soul remains in India. Influenced by the women in her family, Depinder grew up watching her grandmother, mum and aunties cook.
Elise Pulbrook, 28, Lawyer, VIC.
With both Italian and Sri Lankan heritage, lawyer Elise Pulbrook cemented her place in the MasterChef kitchen after securing one of the final aprons of the competition, with a bold and nostalgic seafood dish. For Elise it’s all about cooking for family, supported at home by boyfriend Adam and their dog Tibby, Elise credits her nonna as one of her greatest influences.
Eric Mao, 21, Medical Student, NSW.
At the tender age of 21, Eric Mao is already a veteran of the MasterChef kitchen. He auditioned for Junior MasterChef Australia some ten years ago at 10 years of age, and although he didn’t quite make it into the competition, the MasterChef magic stuck with him. One of two children born to his immigrant Chinese parents, Eric is inspired to share his passion for regional Chinese cuisine with Australia
Jess Hodge, 36, Landscape Architect, NSW.
For Jess Hodge, family is everything and she’s banking on the support of wife Emily and three-year-old twin sons Arlo and Lucca as her cheer squad. Describing her cooking style as explorative and creative, Jess says she learnt cooking by osmosis, from spending time with her German grandmother.
Justin Narayan, 27, Youth Pastor, WA.
Being the first generation born in Australia, Justin Narayan’s Fijian and Indian heritage has remained front and centre. His mum is among his biggest inspirations and Justin says she is the best cook he knows. He travelled to India in 2017 and fell in love with its culture and its food.
Katrina Dunnett, 25, Marketing Coordinator, VIC.
Inspired by cuisine diversity, Katrina Dunnett credits her Indonesian oma for teaching her about different flavours and her Australian grandmother for teaching her classics like pavlova. Born and raised on a berry farm in Beechworth, Katrina would sell homemade cakes from the farm gate shop and by 10 was routinely making family dinners.
Kishwar Chowdhury, 38, Printing Business Owner, VIC.
With dreams of sharing Bengali cuisine with Australia, Kishwar Chowdhury admits food is at the heart of her large Bangladeshi-Indian family. Having lived on three different continents, Kishwar’s knowledge of mixing spices and understanding ingredients from across the globe, gives her an edge in the MasterChef kitchen.
Linda Dalrymple, 38, Full Time Mum, NSW.
For Linda Dalrymple, inspiration come in equal parts from the generations either side of her. With her heritage a mix of Laotian on her mother’s side and Chinese Cambodian on her father’s, her unique cultural blend sets apart both her palate and food knowledge.
Maja Veit, 33, Executive Assistant, WA.
Growing up on a hobby farm in Tasmania’s Huon Valley gave Maja Veit an appreciation of food origins from a young age. In the kitchen before she could walk, Maja was always helping her parents cook, especially with her mum baking fresh stone-ground bread.
Minoli De Silva, 31, Chemical Engineer, NT.
Born in Sri Lanka, Minoli De Silva was six when her family moved to Melbourne, but the culinary delights of her homeland infused her childhood. Growing up, Minoli’s mother would use seasonal produce to prepare delicious Sri Lankan curries and often cooked with lesser-known ingredients.
Pete Campbell, 36, Tattoo Artist, NSW.
After hanging up his suit and tie, Pete Campbell sought a more creative way to make a living, moving to Los Angeles with his young family, opening a coffee shop and retraining as a tattoo artist. A self-taught cook, Pete has developed a deeper understanding of techniques and flavour pairings in the past two years.
Sabina Newton, 21, Commerce Student, TAS.
Proudly representing Tasmania in this year’s top 24, Sabina Newton hopes she can reap rewards in the kitchen, from a childhood spent outdoors fishing and cooking with her family. It’s been a long journey to the kitchen for the commerce student, who as an eight-year-old watched in awe as Julie Goodwin took her place as MasterChef Australia’s inaugural winner.
Scott Bagnell, 40, Commercial Interior Designer, QLD.
Supported by his partner Andrew and their maine coon cat Kingsley, Scott Bagnell says food was always at the centre of his childhood. His extended family grew their own vegetables and he fondly recalls helping his mum and nana pickle vegetables, bake tarts and biscuits in the morning, before catching mud crabs and fish in the afternoon with his dad.
Therese Lum, 31, Performance Data Analyst, NSW.
With a mix of Burmese, Taiwanese and Chinese heritage, Therese Lum is no stranger to bold flavours, pungent aromas and the art of balance in the kitchen. Therese also knows when she can flex more creative muscle in the kitchen. She has come to love desserts over the years and finds joy in learning new techniques.
Tom Levick, 24, Law Graduate, NSW.
Having grown up on the mid north coast of NSW and now based in Newcastle, in 2020 Tom Levick completed his law degree and is qualified to be admitted as a lawyer. Inspired to cook by his mum and older sister, Tom got started in the kitchen at the age of six.
Tommy Pham, 31, Kindergarten Teacher, NSW.
For new dad Tommy Pham, the hardest part of joining MasterChef Australia has been focusing on the competition and not what his baby boy Miles is doing back home. Being raised by his Vietnamese mum, Tommy says home cooked meals from his childhood are what has most inspired his cooking.
Trent Vu, 23, Marketing Executive, VIC.
When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, Trent Vu faced what many other Australians were battling and was made redundant from his job. He used the opportunity to launch his own food blog. Born and raised in Melbourne’s south east, Trent was immersed in the area’s vibrant Vietnamese community and credits his mum with teaching him the basics in the kitchen.
Wynona Davies, 27, Marketing Coordinator, NSW.
Part of a big, blended family with a sister and two stepbrothers, Wynona Davies grew up in Victoria, but made the move to Sydney seven years ago. Wynona applied to be part of MasterChef Australia two years ago and while unsuccessful, it has been part of the road which has led her back here.
Yo Yo Yang, 19, Medical Student, SA.
After wowing the judges at auditions with her signature Korean, American and Taiwanese inspired fried chicken, teenage medical sensation Yo Yo Yang, now hopes she has what it takes to make it all the way to finale week. Crediting her father with teaching her spaghetti marinara and her mother with sweets and cakes, it was from her grandparents that YoYo learnt how to wrap dumplings, make steamed buns and scallion pancakes.