The Dummies’ Guide To This Season’s ‘MasterChef Australia’s Top 24
We have our early favourites, some potential villains, and the people we just want to hug.
The most wholesome television event of this week, MasterChef Australia‘s 11th season kicked off on Monday to a flurry of friendship and flavour. A parade of hopefuls presented unburnt offerings in the hopes of being clothed in white by the MasterChef trinity, vying for a coveted place in season 11’s Katy Perry montage.
But there are only 24 seats in season 11’s MasterChef kingdom, and only the chosen few may proceed into its hallowed hall. Now, with the second chance cook complete and all 24 white aprons bestowed, we finally have our first look at the top 24 contestants for MasterChef Australia season 11.
Abbey Rose, 28, Kitchen & Homewares Buyer, NSW
Abbey received her white apron in a montage, so we haven’t seen much of her yet. What we do know is that she hates food waste — hence the use of prawn heads in her bisque — and considers seafood one of her strengths. I could make an awful joke here about food television and “see-food” but I won’t, because I’m trying to be a better person.
Anushka Zargaryan, 49, Optical Dispenser, VIC
Adorable Anushka was already overwhelmed with emotion when the judges took photos with her for her Instagram. Then they gave her the last white apron of season 11’s first episode, and it was as though she’d already won the title of MasterChef.
She wasn’t quite happy with the honeycomb she added to her traditional cake, but fortunately it was good enough. I’m looking forward to seeing Anushka’s combination of Armenian, Iranian and Russian cooking, mainly because I know nothing about them.
Audition dish: Russian honey cake (medovik)
Ben Trobbiani, 24, Pharmacist, SA
The judges brought in Ben’s dad to hand him his white apron, presumably because they didn’t want to get too close to his scary intense face. Ben learned to cook from his dad and brother, and describes his food as “modern Australian”. We’re 11 seasons in and I still couldn’t tell you what that means.
Audition dish: Lamb with parsnips and beetroot
Blake Werner, 23, Bar Manager, VIC
Blake stated in the first episode that he is not Spanish, but enjoys cooking Spanish food. The judges scraped his plate clean in the first episode, but we didn’t get much more than that from his montage appearance.
Audition dish: Quail with jamon
Christina Laker, 29, Naturopathy Student, QLD
We didn’t see Christina’s audition dish in the first episode, and she didn’t get much screen time during the second chance cook either. She seems the most probable candidate for this year’s Dessert Queen crown thus far, but the lack of focus on her also makes her a probable candidate for an early exit.
Audition dish: Lavender ice cream with thyme, honey, lemon and blueberry
Second chance dish: Chocolate parfait sandwiches
Dee Williams, 37, Office Manager, VIC
Dee was the first grey apron to turn white last night. The judges had been stoically tasting all of the second chance dishes, but her Sri Lankan crab curry broke their poker faces and caused Matt to hand her an apron immediately.
This isn’t the first time that’s happened in MasterChef Australia, but I am always filled with joy when it does, and was stoked that Dee’s curry was the dish that got it. She seems lovely, and I’m always a sucker for a curry.
Second chance dish: Sri Lankan crab curry with coconut rice and pineapple salad
Derek Lau, 26, Financial Analyst, WA
Derek is this season’s fantasy boyfriend. This buffcake bakes for his friends, loves his parents, and has some frankly unnecessary arms. You don’t need that much muscle to mix cake batter, though Twitter certainly appreciates it. Derek auditioned with dumplings, but he considers his strength to be sweets. He’s well poised to become a fan favourite.
Huda Al Sultan, 34, Dietitian, SA
We only got a brief introduction to Huda, but she looks like a smiley sweetheart and I am already nominating her as one of my faves. Huda’s focus is on Middle Eastern cuisine, and she said she wanted to get into MasterChef to represent powerful women.
Audition dish: Meatballs in citrus tahini sauce with flat bread
Jess Hall, 28, Travel Agent, NSW
Jess has one of the biggest personalities thus far, and seems to know it: “I’m loud, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m all or nothing.” She got a good chunk of time during the auditions, recounting how a since-removed thyroid tumour caused her to take stock of her life, and how close she is with her family now.
Jess hopes to eventually open a market stall selling compound butters, but didn’t bring any to her audition. This should be a crime.
Joe Ahern, 22, Digital Production Assistant, WA
Joe was a montage apron, and is one of three 22-year-olds in this year’s competition. He’s a largely self-taught cook, having learnt a lot from YouTube and television. A Clockwork Orange is one of his favourite films, and he describes himself as “methodical”. Proceed with caution.
Kyle Lyons, 29, Brewery Sales Manager, WA
Kyle is a liar who said he was presenting scallops but instead presented mushrooms, like a dad who hides vegetables in your food. The judges didn’t mind because the mushrooms were delicious, but I did not care for the deception at all.
Sure, your mushrooms could be delicious, but if you induce me to stomach-promise myself scallops and then serve me mushrooms, I will 100 percent not enjoy them as much as I would have if you’d been straight with me from the start. Just tell me the truth, Kyle. I’m a big girl, I can take it.
Audition dish: Mushroom “scallops”, edamame, tamarind and apple
Larissa Takchi, 22, Restaurant Manager, NSW
Larissa was the second contestant to switch out her grey apron for a white one last night. We didn’t see her audition dish on Monday, and things were looking bad in the second chance cook when her pancake dough turned out too crumbly. Fortunately, though she only got one pancake up instead of three, crispy pork belly is a guaranteed judge-pleaser.
Audition dish: Chocolate “jaffa”
Second chance dish: Spiced crispy pork with scallion pancake
Leah Milburn-Clark, 22, Theatre Manager, VIC
The final white apron of the second chance cook went to the incredibly excited Leah, who has been absolutely stoked throughout the whole audition process. She is exactly what you’d expect from a drama kid who has been watching MasterChef for half their life, complete with enthusiastic attempts at fancy plating.
Leah seems the most likely to try getting experimental, though historically that doesn’t tend to work out for contestants. Still, it’ll be interesting.
Second chance dish: Lemon and white chocolate mousse with lemon curd and shortbread
Mandy Hall, 51, Stay At Home Mum, SA
The oldest contestant this year, Mandy nearly ended up in the second chance cook. Matt said “yes” though he considered her spices harsh and dry, and warned that his fellow judges would likely turn her down. They didn’t though, and she won a white apron in the first round. The circumstances make me question how long she’ll keep it, but maybe she’ll surprise us.
Audition dish: Middle Eastern feast
Monica Mignone, 27, Primary School Teacher, VIC
Poor Monica didn’t make much of an impression at all. Like Christina, we didn’t see her audition dish and there wasn’t much of a focus on her during the second chance cook. She also considers sweets to be her strength. And she is also likely to leave early.
Audition dish: Flavours of the Adriatic Sea
Second chance dish: Coconut panna cotta with mango gel and lime curd
Nicole Scott, 24, HR Associate, QLD
Nicole is a savoury cook who sliced up her hands in her audition cook as though she were serving them to the judges. She ended up having to put on blue gloves, presumably so she didn’t bleed all over her dish. However by the end of the 60 minute cook she managed to plate up a succulent meal of meat and mash. Honestly, just say the words “truffle mash” and I’m there.
Audition dish: Rib on the bone with truffles and red wine jus
Sandeep Pandit, 37, IT Project Manager, VIC
The lamb in Sandeep’s audition dish wasn’t quite tender enough, and then he became flustered in the second chance cook. Sandeep had eagerly gone straight for the prawns, recounting how he couldn’t afford them when younger, but then didn’t have the spices he needed. I wailed “Sandeep, noooo” at my television.
Fortunately he quickly pulled it together, working with the spices he had to balance the dish and earn a white apron. We’re only two episodes in, but Sandeep’s adaptability and understanding of flavours already reminds me of Sashi, last year’s winner.
Audition dish: Koshur thaal
Second chance dish: Prawn curry with cumin rice and raita
Simon Toohey, 32, Cocktail Barman, VIC
Simon’s dream is to open a vegan smokehouse. I do not endorse this dream. Like sure, vegans need love too. Power to them. But I will not be visiting Simon’s Emporium Of Smoky Asparagus. No thank you.
Steph De Sousa, 45, HR Specialist, NSW
Steph has the most interesting haircut of the season, which is fitting considering she’s a former hairdresser. She cooked an Indian dish for her audition, her husband having been born and raised in India, but as she was a montage apron we’ll have to wait to learn more about her.
Audition dish: Pani puri with chickpea masala and tamarind chutney
Tati Carlin, 49, Receptionist, VIC
Tati is one of my immediate favourites, not in the least because I have an emotional attachment to satay. Having learnt to cook from her grandmother, Tati said she wants to share the breadth of Indonesian cuisine. I completely trust her to deliver when it comes to food and am ready to follow her to Flavour Town. She also pays Sashi the respect he deserves, which wins bonus points from me.
Audition dish: Indonesian chicken satay, cucumber pickle and roti jala
Tessa Boersma, 27, Criminal Statistician, QLD
Montage apron. Seems nice. Seafood and meat are Tessa’s strengths, and her dish looks bright and fresh, but we whizzed past her in the auditions. I expect she’ll start to stand out more as the season progresses.
Audition dish: Tea smoked rainbow trout in a lemongrass and coconut broth
Tim Bone, 33, Cooking & Garden Educator, VIC
His Royal Highness Prince Harry was the first to cook for the judges this season, and the first to receive a white apron. He was smart with his dish choice as well, crispy pork winning the day once more. Why everyone doesn’t just audition with crispy pork is a mystery. Just as risotto is the MasterChef Australia death dish, I’d say crispy pork belly is the dish of life.
Walleed Rasheed, 38, Marketing Analyst, VIC
Walleed’s little ice-cream cones reminded me of Hoda’s Middle Eastern ice-cream from last season — by no means a bad thing. He drew on both his Egyptian heritage and childhood memories to create this charming dish, claiming MasterChef Australia‘s 250th apron in the process. I’m interested to see what he can do outside the confines of the apron montage.
Audition dish: Baklava cones with roasted pistachio ice-cream
Yossra Abouelfadl, 36, Pharmacist, NSW
Yossra served her audition dish wrapped in Arabic newspaper, which she said was “how we serve it in Egypt”. She likes putting twists on traditional Middle Eastern dishes, and hopes to one day open a restaurant serving traditionally-inspired dishes in a modern way. I don’t know enough about Middle Eastern food to identify a twist, but I am here for it.
Audition dish: Egyptian kofta pockets with tahini and eggplant
Now, at last, this year’s Hunger Games can truly begin. May the odds be ever in your flavour.
Amanda Yeo is a Sydney-based writer, lawyer and MasterChef enthusiast who still thinks Reynold should have gotten an immunity pin for his 30/30 dessert in season seven. Follow her on Twitter: @amandamyeo.