MasterChef Australia winner Diana Chan wants to promote Malaysian food

Melbourne-based Malaysian Diana Chan was crowned winner of MasterChef Australia 9.
Melbourne-based Malaysian Diana Chan was crowned winner of MasterChef Australia 9.PHOTO: LIFETIME

Diana Chan, who won MasterChef Australia 9, says these days, she jumps out of bed to plan menus, hold cooking demonstrations or try out recipes

MasterChef Australia 9 winner Diana Chan hopes to leverage on her newfound fame to be an ambassador for Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine in Australia.

The Melbourne-based Malaysian, who grew up in Johor Baru, told The Straits Times that while many Australians are now "more understanding" of the food from this region, what is available in Australia is not always the best.

"Some Malaysian and Singaporean food in Australia doesn't quite hit the mark for me. But Australians love it and are interested in it because it's so different from other Asian cuisines, such as Vietnamese.

"I'm hoping I can help people understand really good Malaysian and Singaporean food, and the culture and the different ethnicities here," she said, adding that she could start by sharing her recipes on social media.

"Or I would love to do a food and travel show where I just eat and cook my way through this region," she said with a laugh.

The 29-year-old was fielding questions at an interview held at The St Regis Singapore, where she was promoting the launch of A+E Networks TV channels, including Lifetime, on Singtel TV.

MasterChef Australia, the hit reality TV cooking competition that she participated in, re-runs on Lifetime.

 

In the initial broadcast of the show earlier this year, Chan was known for wowing the Australian judges by cooking dishes with punchy Malaysian-and Singaporean-influenced ingredients and flavours.

In the show finale, for example, she had whipped up her version of the local zi char favourite, oatmeal prawns.

Four months after being crowned champion of Season 9 of the series, she said her life has changed tremendously. The MasterChef Australia title came with A$250,000 (S$256,300) and a monthly food column in Delicious magazine.

The former accountant, who has a boyfriend, said: "I used to have a nine-to-five job. Now I can jump out of bed and do menu planning, have a cooking demo or a photo shoot, or do some recipe testing."

You have been living in Australia for the past decade. How often do you return to this part of the world to visit your family in Johor Baru?

I try to come back once or twice a year. I love coming back. Everything's just super familiar for me. People always ask me where to eat in Johor Baru and there are a few places I think are must-gos.

For example, I love the mee rebus at Zainal's Place in Taman Sri Tebrau.

There is also a place where I go for bak kut teh in Tampoi. I don't know the name of the shop because I don't think it has a signboard, but it's a hidden gem and the bak kut teh is amazing.

Do you plan on opening your own restaurant some day?

Yes, that is the dream. When I was growing up, my family always ate very balanced and delicious meals. We always had a protein, a carb and a vegetable, and we always used seasonal ingredients.

I hope to do the same with my own restaurant - something casual, but with fresh produce and nutritious meals. It will likely be a fusion restaurant, but with Malaysian and Singaporean influences.

To film MasterChef Australia, you had to live away from your family and friends for seven months. What was that experience like?

To be honest, I cried quite a few times. I missed my mum and my boyfriend. I am thankful that all the participants on the show got along. We were competitive, but it was also one big, loud house where we would talk and cook together.

You were known to be very calm on the show. How did you stay so cool and collected?

I think it is just my personality. I am generally a very calm person, unless s*** hits the fan.

I used to be an accountant working at a Big 4 company, so I learnt to manage stress from there. As the show went on, I just told myself to remember to have fun.

Which was the most difficult challenge for you on the show?

I think it was the very last one. It just sucked the life out of me because it was for six hours over three rounds.

And I had not seen my mum and my boyfriend for so long by then, I suddenly felt very emotional.

Was the show scripted at all?

No, everything you see on TV was exactly what things were like for us.

Sometimes, there were only five minutes for the producers to reset the cameras and then we had to get straight into the challenges.

We looked like headless chooks all the time.

What do you think about the judges: George Calombaris, Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston?

They are just awesome. The show would not be the same without them. We really got to know one another on the show.

Matt says I roll my eyes at him all the time. They are all divas, but also down-to-earth.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who is fun and lighthearted, and who can cook bloody good food.

• Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

• MasterChef Australia 9 re-runs on Lifetime (Singtel TV Channel 302) on Saturdays at 7pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2017, with the headline 'Accountant now totes up recipes'. Print Edition | Subscribe