MasterChef winner: Bobcat driver Brent Owens takes home the spoils. Photo: Channel Ten
A 24-year-old former Bobcat driver has won the sixth season of reality show MasterChef, which has enjoyed a ratings resurgence on the Ten network this year.
Victorian Brent Owens beat rival Laura Cassai, 19, from South Australia by just three points on Monday night, with an overall score of 83 out of 100.
The pair were neck-and-neck after the first two challenges. But in the final contest – in which they had to craft a dessert called ‘‘Chocolate Ethereal’’, involving delicate ‘‘sheets’’ of different flavours – Owens surged to victory.
Owens told Fairfax Media he now intends to start his own cafe, create a range of gourmet pre-packaged meals, and work with disadvantaged youth.
‘‘Having [had] problems in my childhood as most teenagers do ... if I’ve got the opportunity to inspire people, I will take full advantage of that,’’ he said.
Owens has claimed the biggest prize stash in the program’s history: $250,000 cash, a car, a book deal and work experience in some of Australia’s top restaurants.
MasterChef was an instant hit when it launched on Ten in 2009.
The program’s second season finale, seen by 5.12 million Australians across the metropolitan and regional areas, was the most-watched non-sporting event since the OzTam ratings system began.
Ten tried to capitalise on this success with a slew of spin-offs – including a celebrity, all-star, professional and kids version – but viewers became overwhelmed and ratings dropped.
The program also tried to mimic the personality clashes of its Seven rival My Kitchen Rules, causing its audience to shrink even further.
The cancellation of every spin-off last year and a ‘‘back to basics’’ approach this season, however, has given MasterChef its best figures in two years, helping Ten lift its overall audience share.
Owens credited his win, in part, to his cool demeanour.
‘‘Once you start losing it in your head, it ends up playing out on the plate,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s really, really hard to bring yourself back from [having lost it], as opposed to not losing it at all and keeping on track.’’
But he said he ‘‘100 per cent’’ understood why contestants melt under pressure.
‘‘I think back to the first challenge we had in the MasterChef kitchen and I was almost one of those people. It’s stressful and it’s intimidating and it’s hard – but that’s the point of the competition, isn’t it?’’
Owens – who lives with his girlfriend of six years, Madison – credits the program’s ratings recovery to its move away from orchestrated conflict.
‘‘They didn’t need the drama,’’ he said. ‘‘We were all great friends. As long as you’ve got good food and good people, then you make good TV ... [this season] was based around the food and I think they just got a bonus with the people.’’
Owens, who watched the grand finale at his sister’s house with his family and his best friends, said he is particularly close to Cassai.
‘‘You have sympathy towards Laura ... but we’re really close mates; that’s made it all the more enjoyable because you get to share it.’’
His new food line, which he will sell from his cafe, will be aimed at customers he believes are overlooked by the bulk of ‘‘heat-n-eat’’ dinner producers.
‘‘Most of the meals that are available at the moment cater for a specific type of person, generally ones that are looking for weight loss, and I just think there is so much more to pre-prepared meals,’’ he said.
‘‘You can make it so delicious, so gourmet, to cater to everyone. Whether that’s trying to put on weight to become a body-builder, trying to lose weight, gluten-free, dairy-free ... there’s a real gap in the market and I hope to fill it.’’
For now, however, Australia’s newest master chef is ‘‘just taking time to process’’ the shock of his win.
‘‘It’s really bizarre, the emotion – sort of everything in one. It’s exciting, you want to cry, you want to scream, you just want to do everything. It’s weird.’’