In the 12 years since Hayden Quinn competed on season 3 of MasterChef Australia, he has released two cookbooks, served as a judge on Family Food Fight, founded multiple businesses and hosted a number of his own cooking shows.
The popular chef, who also appeared on MasterChef All-Stars in 2012 and MasterChef: Back To Win in 2020, opened up to Yahoo Lifestyle about his illustrious career, future plans, and how the reality TV show completely changed his life.
Why did you apply for MasterChef?
“I loved cooking, number one,” he says. “I enjoyed sharing meals with people to tell stories, I did a lot of travelling, my mum was an amazing cook, and I was working as a lifeguard - which is really fun and really fulfilling, but it's a young man's sport and I wanted to do something a little bit different.
“I certainly wasn't thinking that this was going to be a life-changing, career-changing application. I thought it'd be a great time and a great opportunity to learn, have a bit of fun, do something new, do something different, and then I'd probably be back to lifeguarding.
“Part of the reason I applied was because I saw people like Callum [Hann], a young guy who was cooking, and I was like, ‘I can do that!’… I thought I could definitely give it a crack, and I did. It was good fun.”
What was your experience like on season 3?
“There is a massive team of people behind the scenes - producers, camera, sound, food team, art team,” he details. “The whole machine is massive. You’ve got 24 cooks on the first day, and you've probably got three times that in the team that are behind the scenes that you never see on camera. So it is absolute chaos, it’s madness, and if you've never been on camera before or been around that, it was daunting. It was hard.
“I knew I could cook really well, I knew I could put flavour into food, but I definitely was like, I do not have these finesse techniques. I don't have all these baking skills or these fancy little bits and pieces, tips and tricks that you can sort of elevate things to another level.
“The food I cook on Taste of Australia, the food I do for social media, it’s all home cooking. It's fun, it's simple, it's achievable, but it's packed full of flavour and that's where I'm at.”
How did you navigate life after the show?
“In those early days of MasterChef, it was very much a core piece of Australian TV. So everyone knew who you were, everyone was familiar with the show,” he describes. “It was sort of like the MAFS of now back then, but with less drama.
“It was interesting because there are a lot of opportunities that came off the back of MasterChef, especially in the world of food. I took those and ran with them and did different little cooking stints here and there, brushed up on my skills, and did this and that.
“For me, I really enjoyed - and this comes back to the reason why I started in the world of food in general - telling stories, connecting with people, the engagement when it comes to ingredients, where they come from, the people that grow the food, the recipes, the story, that connection, sitting down, sharing a meal. That was always really important for me and that was what I wanted to highlight, and we get to do that all the time now which is fun.”
When did you release your first cookbook?
“The first cookbook was pretty much straightaway after the show. I think it was 2012, Dish It Up,” he recalls. “That was another baptism of fire into the world of publishing and what goes into it and the time and the effort and the recipes and the photography and the costs. The whole thing is pretty insane.
“So we did that book, did another book with Dan Churchill, Surfing the Menu, which was based on our TV show that we did together. But since then I haven't really done another cookbook, which is interesting, but the time that you put into them is really quite full on.”
What was the process of getting your own TV show?
“Currently we have Taste Of Australia, which is on air, which is an amazing show,” he remarks. “We're just about to start filming season seven, so that's going to be 70 episodes of TV which is a lot, which I'm very, very proud of.
“To go from finishing MasterChef to starting that show in 2019, nearly sort of 10 years later, it was 10 years of hard work. It was pitching ideas, getting offered ideas, knocking ideas back, ideas taking off and then falling apart. It was this roller coaster of like, ‘Yes, yes, yes, no, no, no’, and for me, I was very proud of myself for sticking at it.
“We did an amazing show in South Africa called Hayden Quinn’s South Africa, which was a 10-part series that aired over in South Africa. It's on SBS Food here as well every now and again. I did the show with Dan Churchill, Surfing the Menu: Next Generation, which was a sort of spin-off from the Curtis Stone Surfing the Menu. And then a couple of other little shows here and there.
“I did some hosting for Family Food Fight, which was on Channel Nine, with Anna [Polyviou], Matt [Moran] and Tom [Parker Bowles], which was a whole heap of fun… That was back to MasterChef-level production, there were 50-60 people running around behind the scenes. It was a fun, amazing thing, and that's the one thing I love about TV and the opportunity that I get now - it’s teamwork. And it's the same in the kitchen, it's the same in the MasterChef kitchen, it’s the same behind the scenes. Everyone’s working towards a common goal, whether it be creating a beautiful dish or making an engaging TV show.”
What was your experience like on season 12?
“It's funny, you go in completely oblivious in 2011 like, ‘Oh my god, I don't know what's going to happen. Whatever, if I get kicked off in the first week I go back and I do my life’,” he shares.
“But you go back close to 10 years later and there's all this expectation and this drive and want, and you're surrounded by people like Reece [Hignell] and Poh [Ling Yeow] and Reynold [Poernomo] and Laura [Sharrad], people that have had real industry experience. They own their own restaurants, they work in a kitchen every day.
“I don't work in a kitchen every day, I work creating a TV show, which is a lot of time behind the computer, it’s a lot of developing, it's a lot of wheeling and dealing… Being physically in a kitchen, that was not what I did. So walking back in 2020 and seeing all these amazing people who I love and I'm really good friends with was very daunting, but I got through some of it.
“When we all sort of came ‘back to win’, everyone was quite comfortable in the space because we'd all been there before, we’re all peers, we're all doing it for the same reason, we’re having a good time. Obviously, we wanted to win and do as good as we could, but it was just a great opportunity to connect, to learn, to have a bit of fun, and I guess show people what we've learned over that time period. It was still fricken hard and an anxiety-riddled competition, which is terrifying, but most of it was a whole lot of fun. And it was nice we had the new judges, it was the first time they'd come into the show, and it was really quite a special time.”
What else is on your bucket list?
“One of my big goals is to do 10 seasons of Taste of Australia,” he says. “We’re coming up to season 7, so we’re pretty close which is great.
“I look at people like Rick Stein who's done all these amazing series which are similar to mine where it’s talking to people and creating dishes from what he finds out in the real world, or someone like Andrew Ettingshausen who has ET’s Ultimate Fishing Adventures. It’s just good quality family TV that people love to sit down on the couch, crack a beer and watch, and watch it over and over again.
“That's what I'm happy creating and that's what I really enjoy doing because I have so much control over it. It’s just me and our very small team that has a very similar vision and a similar drive. So I just want to keep doing Taste of Australia for as long as we can. We're working on Taste of California, New Zealand and Japan, they’re the three on the target list that we're trying to get into.”
What are you most thankful to MasterChef for?
“The one thing that I'm most thankful for when it comes to MasterChef I think is just this opening of my eyes to something that I truly love,” he shares.
“I may have continued to be a lifeguard or a firefighter or worked in an office and love food and love cooking and done that on the weekend like most people do, but to be able to have opened that world up to be able to turn it into a career and a passion and something that I get to do every day and share with so many people is really special.”
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