Callum Hann was just 20 years old when he made the life-changing decision to apply for season two of MasterChef Australia - where he ended up finishing in second place.
The fan favourite contestant went on to win MasterChef All-Stars in 2012 and compete in MasterChef: Back To Win in 2020, and now opens up to Yahoo Lifestyle about the enormous success he’s had since he left university to achieve his culinary dreams.
Why did you apply for MasterChef?
“As a 20-year-old, you don’t tend to think about the rest of your life and you don't think about five-year plans or that sort of stuff. You just go, ‘What am I doing next week?’,” he shares. “I saw the application come up, I loved watching the first series, and I was like, that just looks like an absolute whale of a time, I'd love to throw my hat in the ring and just have some fun.
“So I went in with very low expectations, assuming I’d get kicked out in the first week, and that was going to be my little adventure while I was on uni holidays… I actually ended up doing an exam from MasterChef while filming in Sydney at the time because, for me, it was inevitable that I'd get eliminated. I was like, it's just a matter of time so I'll push it out as long as I can, and I guess I didn't want to defer uni or quit uni or anything like that too soon, because it can backfire as well.
“It was probably a couple of months into filming the show where I actually got to the point where I was like, I should actually contact the uni and tell them I'm not coming back.”
What was your experience like on season 2?
“Now I'm very naturally comfortable with cameras and media and film crews and that sort of stuff, but for me, the biggest challenge was not so much the cooking, it was that perceived pressure of there being seven cameramen watching when you're trying to temper chocolate or whatever it might be,” he details.
“That pressure of not just the people in the room watching you, but you've just got whirring away in the back of your head, ‘There's going to be one and a half million people watching this at home when this goes to air, don’t stuff it up’. It’s kind of hard to get those mental demons out of your head because you know that it is a popular primetime national TV show, so I think you end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself to perform in those moments.”
How did you navigate life after the show?
“I think if you include regional, the season two finale [was watched by a national audience of] five and a half million,” he says. “So if you think about that, that's like one in four people in the country. And so both Adam Liaw and myself, we felt like absolute rock stars for the first little while after the show, because you just could not walk into any public space without people high-fiving you, wanting to shake your hand, wanting to have a photo with you, wanting you to sign a recipe card they found somewhere, whatever it might be.
“It was certainly a learning curve for me when I'd not done that much travel or not sort of ventured outside of my comfort zone that much up until that point in my life, to then be thrust into this extreme world where everyone feels like they know you. It was awesome and I loved it and I wouldn't change it, but it was certainly an intense experience.
“I worked in Adelaide for a little bit straight after the show, I started this little macaron business at the time selling sweets at the Adelaide Central Market. And then went back to Melbourne because after the show George Calombaris promised me that he'd have me in his restaurants for a period of time. So I went and worked in a number of his different restaurants over there for sort of three or four months.
“After that, I just got a bit homesick and all my friends, my family, everyone was back here in South Australia, so I was keen to come back and start something here. So that's when I started Sprout, which is the cooking school that’s still operating now.”
What stands out as a career highlight for you?
“We ran Sprout as a cooking school for a couple of years just hiring out another existing kitchen, and I think when we built this place, that was like a real moment of, ‘Wow, this is my business, this is my cooking school, this is something really to be proud of’,” he reflects. “So that moment stands out.
“I love the restaurants, but being able to teach a cooking class and actually being able to see someone have that ‘aha’ moment where they sort of learn a new skill or try a dish that they've made and go ‘Wow, that's actually really delicious’, those kinds of little moments are very cool.
“That's what makes me love food, not just whether something is delicious or not, but the way that it inspires people or brings them together in a social context is I think why we all love food so much. It's how it becomes part of our life, not just what's on the plate.”
What was your experience like on season 12?
“I felt really nervous about going back to do the show,” he admits. “The first time around I was nervous because of the camera crews and that perceived pressure, but from a cooking perspective I was like, I've got nothing to lose, I'll just give it a whirl.
“Whereas this time around, I wasn't concerned about the media side of it, I was concerned about the food. And not because I didn't think I'm a good cook, and obviously I do this for a living now, but just because I've got the restaurants and the cooking school and the catering business, there’s a bit more on the line. I was kind of thinking, if I cook a dish and the judges say, ‘This is terrible’, then it reflects really poorly on my businesses.
“Once I got into the swing of things and you kind of actually get out of your head and you get into the actual mode of cooking, I was like, ‘I remember how to do this, this is alright, I can string this together’. I ended up finishing fourth in that season only to Emelia [Jackson], Laura [Sharrad] and Reynold [Poernomo], who I’ve got a lot of respect for. They're all great cooks and I think overall, I feel really pleased that I did it.”
What else is on your bucket list?
“We've got two restaurants now, we’d love to at some stage have another one,” he says. “Once you’ve got a taste for it, it is good fun. So I think we'll continue to try and grow the business.
“We just want to get good food in people's mouths and make people happy, and I guess if we can expand the business and make more people happy, then that’s all I can ask.”
What are you most thankful to MasterChef for?
“I think for me, where I feel incredibly grateful to MasterChef is just how it changed me as a person,” he shares. “I used to hate public speaking, I was always on the shy side, I had my core group of friends at university that I hung out with.
“I think that experience of not only competing on the show against other adults and having that pressure of a competition like that in in the TV landscape, but also we all lived together in one big house, that experience of living with other adults who were older than me just forced me to grow up quite a lot over that period.
“I feel like I entered the start of season two and came out of season two a very different person, and I’d like to think in a good way. It helped me grow up effectively, and trying to have a slightly more mature head on my shoulders has put me in a position now where I've got a life that frankly, I'm really bloody happy with.
“There are so many people that come onto MasterChef that have a dream or a vision of what they want to do, and how many people have actually been able to follow on and do that is incredible. The show has changed so many people's lives, and even as one of those people myself, it gives me the warm fuzzies to see how it's changed other people's lives as well.”
Never miss a thing. Sign up to Yahoo Lifestyle’s daily newsletter.
Or if you have a story idea, email us at email@example.com.