For the first time in the history of MasterChef Australia, this year’s season challenged 12 home cooks to go up against 12 returning contestants to see who would come out on top.
And while a number of viewers on social media have labelled the season as ‘unfair’, seeing as the ‘favourites’ already had experience in both the competition and professional restaurants, the final two ‘fans’ have a completely different perspective on the format.
Daniel Lamble and Keyma Vasquez Montero, who respectively finished in third and fourth place, tell Yahoo Lifestyle that there were a number of hidden advantages to competing against the show’s former stars.
“I don’t know if this is what helped me get through to the top three, but I saw it more as an opportunity to learn from them,” Daniel says.
“I remember after my first cook, I made tacos, and Michael Weldon came out of his way and said to me, ‘Mate, I do a lot of Mexican cuisine, would you be interested to learn a little bit more?’. And I jumped at it because I wanted to go back and cook for my friends and say, ‘I learnt these tortillas and this salsa from Michael Weldon and it was incredible’. I wanted that sort of experience.”
“They were all so so willing to teach, it was sort of like I’d gone into a gold mine,” he remarks.
“And next thing I knew, I was cooking in the competition and I was whipping out all these tricks that they’d taught me and it was just like this encyclopaedia at my disposal with all those incredible, talented cooks.”
‘An amazing experience’
Keyma, who had already applied once before to get onto the show, adds that she thought it was a “stitch-up” when the producers told her about this year’s format.
“I was a bit scared, but after a few weeks you understand that it’s a really special season because we have to push harder and fight harder and study harder if we want to really excel against these people,” she says.
“But at the same time, we have the experience from all these mentors and we were able to have an amazing beautiful collaboration and connection with all these people that also helped us grow throughout the season.”
Both Daniel and Keyma admit that they struggled with self-doubt in the early stages of the competition, but quickly learnt to trust their skills and their gut feelings.
“I was so so shy in the first week and so scared of showing myself as a cook,” the stay-at-home mum recalls. “And then I started getting more confident along the way and realised that it was my calling. I grew up so much so it was a fantastic experience as a person and as a cook as well.”
“I really loved being forced into a corner under that much pressure and stress and seeing what you're truly capable of,” Daniel adds. “It was such a cool feeling. So much tougher than I expected, but such an amazing experience.”
‘My new life’
While they might not have won this year’s season of MasterChef, the two contestants both have big plans after the show.
“I have so many projects, I have no idea where to start,” Keyma laughs. “I’m in conversations with local Latin restaurants to do some collaborations and I’d like to do a book in the long term as well. But for now, I’m still wrapping my head around my new life and I’m trying to work out that balance between being a cook and a mum.”
"For me, I want to continue firefighting, I do love that,” Daniel says. “But I have this sort of crazy dream where I'd love to do an outback camping style cooking show or vlog on YouTube. If someone in TV wants to give me a show, give them my number!”
The pair both assert that if anyone has ever considered applying to MasterChef, they should just believe in themselves, follow their dreams and do it.
“You never know what you’re truly capable of until you put yourself out there and from my experience, it was so worth it taking that step,” Daniel says.
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