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MasterChef's Khanh Ong celebrates surprising career goal: 'Life-changing'

EXCLUSIVE: Khanh Ong opens up about his enormous success since MasterChef.

From releasing a cookbook to filming his own TV show, Khanh Ong has shown no signs of slowing down since he burst onto the culinary scene on MasterChef Australia.

The popular chef and restaurateur, who finished in third place on season 10 and returned to the competition two years later, now opens up to Yahoo Lifestyle about his incredible career success and how he recently secured his “dream job”.

MasterChef’s Khanh Ong.
MasterChef’s Khanh Ong opens up about his enormous post-show success. Photo: Channel 10

Why did you apply for MasterChef?

“I didn't apply for MasterChef season 10, my best friend did for me,” he shares. “She knew how unhappy I was in the career that I was in. I was a DJ and towards the end of my career, I was really over it. I think it was the expectation of having to be drunk and having to be the life of the party that I really got over, especially when it was like four nights a week.

“So we were away, I remember I was in Bali on a health retreat, and one of my girlfriends was there with me and she literally was just like, ‘Hey I've applied for MasterChef for you’. And then obviously the application was incomplete because she didn't know everything about me, so I got an email saying, ‘Would you like to complete your application?’. And that's how that all kicked off.”

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What was your experience like on season 10?

“It was really hard!” he admits. “I remember thinking, ‘It's a TV show, come on'. And then I remember the first couple of weeks being in there and cooking and being like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is real and everything is really difficult and the time limit is real and the judges are scary and people are just like running around’.

“But I think a lot of people don't understand that MasterChef, you don't need to be at the level that you are at the end. Because the show takes so long to film, you grow a lot during it. If you're spending six months, seven months doing anything, you're probably gonna get really good at it. When I was on season 10 there was no phone, there was no Internet, there was no contact with the outside world, you're in a house and all you're doing is cooking. So you grow, you learn, and you become a lot better.”

MasterChef season 10 top four.
Khanh admits he found season 10 to be ‘really difficult’. Photo: Channel 10

How did you navigate life after the show?

“I bought into my restaurant, The George on Collins, and that was literally in the first six months,” he details. “I also signed on to host My Market Kitchen in the first six months, which was a TV show that aired on Channel 10.

“The restaurant thing really fell in front of me and I just had to make a decision and I took that risk. It’s a lot of work, and that's what I kind of realised in the two years following my first season of MasterChef. I learned the most that I've probably ever learned in my adult life, like how to run a business, how a commercial kitchen works, how food works, and how recipes work in general.”

What stands out as a career highlight for you?

“There's two, and they're current things,” he says. “There's actually a lot, but these were my goals coming onto season 10 of MasterChef. I wanted to work with an international brand and I always thought airlines, I don't know why. So I'm currently the chef for the AMEX Centurion Lounge, so I do all the menu in their lounges in Melbourne and Sydney and I love it.

“But also from that, when I was watching MasterChef in seasons 1, 2, 3 and 4, the prize was a one-year column in delicious magazine. I'm a writer for delicious now and I got my first cover this month, and that has been a life-changing moment.

“It's a weird thing because I feel as though people don't look at it and go, ‘That is not the biggest thing you've done’. But for me, it is because it was something that I had my sights set on when I went on the show, and it was taken away as a prize when I was on the show.”

What else is on your bucket list?

"So the next thing we're working on is another TV show,” he explains. “So we’ve got Khanh Ong’s Wild Food which currently airs on SBS, but I'm in pre-production for another series and we're going overseas for this one. We don't know the name of it yet, but basically, I get to just travel and eat and talk about the food history. Like, dream job!

“When I came off MasterChef there were all these little goals, but the end goal was to always host a TV show where I get to travel and talk about food and learn about food and eat good food.

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“I think the ‘doing everything’ thing comes from my parents. The three of us, mum, dad, and myself are refugees - Amy my sister was born here. But they gave up their entire life to potentially give my sister and I something better. So I have always gone into the world thinking, if I have a chance to do something, I should probably do it because if not, I'm kind of throwing away something they've given me.

“I try and do everything possible because nothing that I do will be as challenging as them leaving their country with everything that they had to go on a boat and then live in a detention or a refugee camp for four years. Nothing I do will be ever as hard as that, so I should probably just give it a go.”

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