The MasterChef Australia Judges Auditions are known and loved for the tears, celebratory fist pumps, jumps for joy and huge group hugs, and this season did not fail to deliver as it returned with an emotionally charged two days of auditions.
As we all work out who we’re rooting for this season, our Top 24 have their sights set on being crowned Australia’s next MasterChef, a title that has seen previous alumni cook in the most esteemed kitchens in the world.
MasterChef Australia judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris delighted in tasting the signature dishes from our fresh batch of remarkable home cooks from all over Australia.
From a “bloody delicious” crispy pork belly that appealed to Gary’s love for crackling, to a pumpkin agnolotti that couldn’t be faulted and a Sri Lankan crab curry that left George licking his fingers, this year’s Top 24 took the calibre of cooking to new heights for season 11.
This year’s Top 24 are a varied bunch that boast vast experience from all over the globe. From pharmacists, travel agents, human resources and marketing specialists, criminal statisticians, teachers, receptionists and stay-at-home mums and dads to theatre and restaurant managers, they all applied with one common ingredient – their love of food.
Some of the best chefs are waiting in the wings to challenge the Top 24 contestants, including Curtis Stone, Rick Stein, Clare Smyth, Yotam Ottolenghi, Maggie Beer and the return of domestic goddess Nigella Lawson.
MasterChef Australia remains Australia’s premier cooking competition. The ultimate winner stands to walk away with not only a life-changing experience and the title of Australia’s MasterChef 2019, but also $250,000 and a monthly column in Australia’s leading premium food magazine, Delicious.
We are thrilled to introduce the MasterChef Australia Class of 2019:
Abbey Rose, 28, Kitchen & Homewares Buyer, NSW.
With her creative background, Abbey says she’s very visual, capable of measuring half a cup by sight as opposed to using measuring devices. She loves to draw and plate intricate dishes and often has an idea of how a completed dish will look before she begins to cook. She believes her strength is seafood which rang true for the judges at auditions after tasting her crispy skin salmon fillet with prawn bisque.
Anushka Zargaryan, 49, Optical Dispenser, VIC.
Growing up dining on Iranian, Russian and Armenian food, Anushka describes her own food style as a fusion of those cultures, and says she loves the technical challenge of cooking desserts, describing it as a creative outlet when working with sugar. Her Russian honey cake wowed the judges at auditions, landing her a spot (and a selfie with Matt Preston!) in the Top 24.
Ben Trobbiani, 24, Pharmacist, SA.
Confident in balancing and pinpointing flavours, Ben describes his food style as modern Australian. Inspired by Jock Zonfrillo for his way of preserving ancient dishes and bringing them to a modern kitchen, Ben says he also loves Jock’s passion for native ingredients. Also a fan of René Redzepi, Ben is in awe of the foraging movement and enjoys exploring modernist techniques.
Blake Werner, 23, Bar Manager, VIC.
Blake is confident in the restaurant game. His parents own a Spanish restaurant in bayside Melbourne and it’s where Blake now works as he manages the bar and works front of house. He was raised in Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula and grew up fishing in the summer and picking wild mushrooms in the winter around Red Hill.
Christina Laker, 29, Naturopathy Student, QLD.
A lover of desserts and sweet cooking, Christina says her cooking inspiration lies with fan favourite Maggie Beer. Working with seasonal produce and earthy flavours, Christina says she loves to use local ingredients, leaning towards bold, bright and colourful dishes with fresh and zesty herbs. Born on the Gold Coast, Christina grew up in Brisbane alongside a large combined family of 10 children.
Dee Williams, 37, Office Manager, VIC.
For many MasterChef contestants, cooking begins at home learning the basics. But for Dee Williams, attending boarding school in the Sri Lankan city of Kandy for 12 years meant everything was provided, and she rarely found herself in the kitchen making meals. But she relished going home on holidays, and it was there her mum encouraged her to read cookbooks, teaching her the basics of classic Sri Lankan and southern Indian dishes.
Derek Lau, 26, Financial Analyst, WA.
When Derek Lau set about making Katherine Sabbath’s acclaimed birthday cake from season 10, he knew he was in for a challenge. Despite the feat taking two days, he was thrilled with the outcome and admits following instructions in Pressure Tests could be his strength this season. With age he’s found himself developing a preference for sweets, however he was still able to blow the socks off the judges at auditions with his pork and prawn potstickers.
Huda Al Sultan, 34, Dietician, SA.
Passionate about inspiring young women, Huda is involved with local schools, teaching mindful eating to teenage girls. She wants to see people connect with food in a positive manner, creating awareness of the body’s connection with food. It’s a long way from Saudi Arabia, where Huda was born and raised. The move down under was an eye-opening experience for Huda in the kitchen. She enjoyed wandering the supermarket aisles and local farmers markets, experimenting with the different produce on offer.
Jess Hall, 28, Travel Agent, NSW.
As a child, Jess loved walking in the door from school and kick-starting dinner before her mum would arrive from work. It was time in the kitchen she relished, having learnt the basics watching cooking shows together. The pair would watch Nigella Lawson whip up dishes, and inspired by her culinary idol, Jess would take what she’d seen and in turn cook for her mum. Jess has set the bar high for herself after she left the judges licking their forks and knives with her caramelised scallops audition dish.
Joe Ahern, 22, Digital Production Assistant, WA.
Joe was sitting with friends watching Sashi Cheliah take out the grand finale last season when they encouraged him to stop dreaming and start applying. Lucky he took the risk, as Joe plated up a faultless pumpkin agnolotti dish that received an unanimous ‘yes’ from the judges. Joe admits while his mum is a great home cook, he’s mostly self-taught, learning through extensive reading, trial and error, TV programs and YouTube. A self-described methodical and precise cook, Joe hopes he may thrive in a feared Pressure Test, capable of following intricate recipes.
Kyle Lyons, 29, Brewery Sales Manager, WA.
Brewery sales manager Kyle knows nothing goes with a good beer like a good meal. Strong with balancing flavours and celebrating vegetables, it’s little wonder he cites the master of Middle Eastern cuisine Yotam Ottolenghi as his food hero. Describing his own food style as Asian inspired, Kyle says the Thai and Indonesian influences in Perth have shaped his cooking. Kyle enters the Top 24 as a judges favourite after amazing them with his audition dish that allowed vegetables to step up as the hero and left the judges singing his praises.
Larissa Takchi, 22, Restaurant Manager, NSW.
Born and raised in Sydney as part of a big Lebanese family, Larissa says weekends with her family have always revolved around food. With her dad one of nine children, Larissa and her three siblings spent their Sundays with all her cousins, enjoying big lunches and dinners. Her mum owns a restaurant north of the city, and it’s there Larissa works as a Restaurant Manager. With her mum a chef, there’s strong argument that Larissa has an ace in her pocket this competition. Affectionately known amongst her friends as Larry, she considers herself to be an all-rounder in the kitchen, with a flair for a wide range of cuisines.
Leah Milburn-Clark, 22, Theatre Manager, VIC.
After securing the last apron of the competition following a nail-biting cook during Judge’s Auditions, Leah certainly feels the pressure to prove herself worthy of the Top 24. But it’s a challenge the youngest in this season’s group is excited by, and as a graduate of the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, she hopes to steal every scene on her way to glory at the MasterChef grand finale. With her strength in sweets, Leah cites Heston Blumenthal as her inspiration, passionate herself about intricate desserts and molecular cooking.
Mandy Hall, 51, Stay At Home Mum, SA.
In April last year, Mandy Hall took herself to Tennessee in the United States to participate in a two-week residency with fermentation expert Sandor Katz. The coveted spots were routinely taken by chefs around the world, but for Mandy the time spent camping off the grid, spending time with his family and learning directly from him was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and she relished every moment. Passionate about meeting market producers and learning where food originates, Mandy hopes this desire to understand the process can take her all the way.
Monica Mignone, 27, Primary School Teacher, VIC.
When Primary School teacher Monica Mignone speaks to her students about the importance of a balanced lunch, it’s a motto she lives by in her own kitchen. After watching the response an unbalanced lunchbox had on her student’s behaviour, Monica completed an online diploma in Nutrition at the end of 2016. The following year she started a garden kitchen at school, running nutrition lessons and teaching children about vegetables and the difference between ‘everyday’ and ‘sometimes’ foods. Monica hopes to have a space where she can hold cooking classes for families, hosting workshops and food demonstrations. She also dreams of selling Italian street food sweets alongside a hole-in-the-wall coffee and cake stand.
Nicole Scott, 24, HR Associate, QLD.
Growing up in Queensland, Nicole says she’s most confident in the kitchen breaking down seafood and working with protein but worries about technical dessert elements like gels and foams. She finds savoury cooking more instinctual and easier to correct, and says she adores
the rich and buttery nature of French cuisine. She has left the judges hanging for more after plating up a perfectly cooked rib eye steak at auditions.
Sandeep Pandit, 37, IT Project Manager, VIC.
Growing up a Kashmiri Pandit, Sandeep’s large family would sit down together on huge carpets, feasting and laughing around dishes which often included lamb, lentils and vegetables. Born in Kashmir in the early 1980s, Sandeep spent eight years there with his family before militancy forced them south, leaving all their possessions and migrating to Bangalore in 1990. It was here Sandeep’s passion for cooking grew. His family didn’t have a fridge so his Mum taught him how to cook dahl without having it stick to the hotplate and how to boil food to prevent it spoiling. Sandeep says he is most confident in the kitchen using spices, hopeful of eliciting a drop of sweat from George Calombaris’ head this season.
Simon Toohey, 32, Cocktail Barman, VIC.
While living and working in London as a bar manager several years ago, Simon reached the pinnacle, taking out the titles of Best Cocktail Menu and Best High Volume Cocktail Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail awards in New Orleans. With a Masters in Gastronomy from Queen Margaret University under his belt, Simon hopes to showcase his knowledge of food sovereignty and sustainability, alongside indigenous farming and medicinal spices.
Steph De Sousa, 45, HR Specialist, NSW.
For mother of four Steph, there is nothing like cooking beautiful, wholesome and flavoursome food for those she loves. And it’s this passion she hopes to turn into her food dream, creating a place just like “going to Mum’s for dinner” while also hosting cooking classes and demonstrations. Inspired by Maggie Beer, Rick Stein and Sri Lankan Peter Kuruvita, Steph also holds a special place for Stephanie Alexander, her own maiden name.
Tati Carlin, 49, Receptionist, VIC.
Raised by her paternal grandparents, she grew up very close to her grandmother who she describes as a great traditional cook who taught Tati the intricate mild and sweet curries traditional to Java and Indonesia. Admitting Asian curries and cooking with intuition will be her strength in the MasterChef kitchen, she says following recipes are harder, and worries about desserts and feared Pressure Tests.
Tessa Boersma, 27, Criminal Statistician, QLD.
Self-taught from the age of six, Tessa loved fudge, toffee and sweet treats, likening her tastes to carnival fete foods. But the sweet tooth was lost over the years and she now describes her food style as classic with a twist, enjoying showcasing a variety of savoury foods with bold, bright flavours. A big fan of Rick Stein, Maggie Beer and Gordon Ramsay, Tessa hopes to open a farm café when her MasterChef journey comes to an end, focussing on seasonal produce in the south-east Queensland hinterland.
Tim Bone, 33, Cooking & Garden Educator, VIC.
One of five kids, Tim started working as an integration aide at a Ballarat primary school in 2008, helping children with special needs. It’s a role he loves, and now runs after school programs for under privileged kids several nights a week, alongside a community garden and café at the school. Nicknamed T-Bone by his fellow contestants and enjoying a striking resemblance to Prince Harry, Tim admits he is a fan of big flavours and honest food, nothing flashy or fancy, and cites a great paella as his go-to dish.
Walleed Rasheed, 38, Marketing Analyst, VIC.
Walleed knows leaving behind twin five-year-old daughters Evy and Alexandria won’t be easy but bringing home the title of MasterChef 2019 might soften his absence. When his MasterChef journey ends, he dreams of opening a fusion dessert bar, celebrating both Middle Eastern and Western sweet treats. It’s a move he’s already on track with, selling homemade baklava with flavours including Nutella and Tim Tam at local markets. His strength in this area was validated during auditions after he earnt an apron for his baklava inspired pistachio ice cream cones.
Yossra Abouelfadl, 36, Pharmacist, NSW.
In 2003, when Yossra moved from Egypt to Sydney, she was thrilled by multicultural melting pot of her new home. Inspired by the new cuisine options on offer, she broadened her skills in the kitchen, learning as she wandered the local stalls and markets. Taking her inspiration from culinary idols Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver, Yossra would watch their shows and buy their cookbooks, trying new recipes in the kitchen at the end of her day working as a pharmacist.