Having competed on three seasons of MasterChef Australia, it’s fair to say Dani Venn is one of the most recognisable faces to come from the reality TV franchise.
The fan favourite contestant went on to work in TV, host her own radio show and release her own line of products with Coles after the cooking competition, and has now opened up to Yahoo Lifestyle about her enormous career success over the past 12 years.
Why did you apply for MasterChef?
“I was going through what I like to refer to as my quarter-life crisis,” she laughs. “I think I was 25 when I applied and I was obsessed with food, cooking all weekend and spending all my spare money on cookbooks. And anytime I had an opportunity to cater a friend's event or just make a new dish or try a new recipe, I was doing it.
“I'd seen the success of MasterChef, I saw what the other contestants had achieved by being on the show, and I also loved the idea of being challenged and doing something completely different for me. So I just applied and it was a success.”
What was your experience like on season 3?
“For me, I went in just so grateful that I was even on the show and took every single day as a surprise that I got further. I didn't think that I could win, I was just like, I'm gonna go in and just do my best,” she reflects.
“I felt like I was almost getting kicked out every single week for a period of time, I was just cooking dishes that I couldn't pull off. And then all of a sudden I was like, I’m just going to cook the stuff that feels fun to me and a bit quirky because that's kind of my style.
“So then I started pulling out these dishes that were completely different and a little bit left of centre, but they tasted really good. And when I found that groove, I was able to just back myself a lot more and I was like, hang on a second, I belong here. It's very much a mind game as well as a physical cooking game, you really have to back yourself.”
How did you navigate the opportunities after the show?
“We were on MasterChef at a time when, shock horror, Instagram wasn't really a thing,” she remarks. “Facebook was a thing, but you probably weren't making money out of it and social media influencers weren't around.
“Opportunities came to you, but you also had to knock on people's doors. I tried to really connect with people like Coles, for instance. Being proactive is something that I would tell other contestants going into the show. Don’t expect everything to come to you, because every year there's more and more contestants so you have to carve your own path.”
How did you deal with your newfound sense of fame?
“It was pretty mind-blowing and I feel like it didn't sink in at the time,” she admits. “People knew who I was and my face was everywhere! I remember walking onto a plane and everyone on the plane looked up and was looking at me. And now I get on a plane and no one knows who I am.
“But at the time, it was a little bit confronting, I must say, especially as a young person. You’re like, ‘Yeah, I want to be a celebrity! I want this fame!’, but I actually felt a little bit embarrassed and self-conscious. Like, I'd go into the supermarket and people would want to look inside your trolley and be like, ‘What are you cooking?’ and you’d just be like, ‘I'm just making spaghetti bolognese, nothing too exciting here people!’.
“I think season two was the most popular season, but season three was still very much a huge success. So to be part of that original group, I still pinch myself.”
What stands out as a career highlight for you?
“I feel like it’s happened quite a lot of times when you stop and go, ‘Wow, I'm getting paid to do this’, and being on radio was definitely one of them,” she shares.
“I also presented a TV show on Channel 10 while I was pretty pregnant with my first child, which was just bizarre that I was the host and I’m so proud to have done that. I also worked with Intrepid Travel going on food tours and being in the markets of Chiang Mai in Thailand eating noodles and going, ‘Hang on a second, this is work, how is this possible?’.
“Even just for myself during lockdown being able to create a podcast that lots of people listened to and loved listening to and it got them through lockdown, and those things that I'm really passionate about that fall into the work category but don’t necessarily feel like work - which is a lot of my job, to be honest. I get to do cooking demonstrations, host events and retreats, write recipes for brands, it’s awesome.”
What else is on your bucket list?
“I am all about finding stability,” she says. “I've gone through a bit of tumultuous stuff in the last few years in my personal life and I feel like I'm opening the doors to a new chapter in my life, so I don't want to put too much pressure on myself.
“So for me, I'm happy to see what happens. I would love to, as always, connect with people through events. I love doing things that are just a little bit left of centre.
“You can say cookbooks and TV shows and all of those things, which are great, but for me, if I can bring a little bit of joy to people's lives - whether it's a cake on Instagram that someone makes and then they cook it for their kid’s birthday and then you get sent a photo - those little moments are more important to me than the really big things right now. I'm just there to show up as my most authentic self and whatever that looks like.”
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