Khanh Ong's cookbook, A Gay Guy's Guide to Life, Love, Food, is not your regular post MasterChef cookbook. While it's full of delicious recipes, it's also full of unbridled joy. There are dating tips, ideas to mend broken hearts, stories about his refugee beginnings, frank discussions about his sexuality, professions of love for his family and friends.
But then Ong is not your regular MasterChef contestant.
He first appeared on our screens in 2018 where he placed third.
"It was a constant struggle for me at the beginning," he says.
"I was confused all the time, I had no idea what the judges wanted and I'm pretty sure that they didn't know what to make of me."
He was back to win this season, alongside the cream of MasterChef alumni. And in 2020 Ong realised it wasn't about giving the judges what they wanted - it was about being true to himself.
"I've always had an issue showing myself," he says.
"But as I've grown older I've become a lot more comfortable in showing the fun, sassier side of me.
"Even with MasterChef the first time I was quite reserved, I was there to do the job ... this time it was all about the personality, this is what you're getting, this is who I am.
"We should celebrate who we are and not hide away, sometimes that is harder when you think the world wants you to be one thing."
Ong says a lot of this goes back to being a refugee. He was born in an Indonesian refugee camp and came to Australia in the 1980s with his parents Tam and Dzung. The family opened a butcher shop in Melbourne and their story is typical of the hard-working refugee family hoping to make a better life for their children.
"When you're a refugee you kind of feel like you have to keep it a bit quiet and shy away from it," he says.
"You don't want to be too different from everyone."
But he says about halfway through this series it struck him that he had to celebrate his heritage more.
"We always talk about how food is influenced by our heritage but it was about more than that.
"It was about celebrating our differences and being proud and owning that."
He says he also feels more comfortable celebrating his sexuality.
"I'm gay, that's not a problem ... but I've become more comfortable with myself within the gay community as I've got older.
"I'm more accepting of it, my place in it, I'm no longer scared of my own community, scared I won't fit in ... I've found my group of friends, I know what my core beliefs are, I am happy."
He said coming back on to MasterChef was quite surreal. A lot of the contestants knew each other outside the house, had worked together, there was a lot of respect.
"Poh was the reason I went on MasterChef in the first place," he says.
"To see someone of colour, if you like, on the show in season one was a game changer for a lot of us. And now I'm cooking with her."
He admits to fan boying over Reynold - "no one knows how his brain works" - and finalists Laura and Emelia were among his besties in the house. It was hard to see them competing against each other in the final.
"But Watching Emelia take the win was amazing, I am so genuinely happy for her," he says.
"It's the story of a dark horse, the under dog at the beginning of the season rising and going from strength to strength absolutely smashing it and it doesn't get any better than that.
"The top three this season were my three closest friends in the competition and I loved Emelia's resilience and sense of humour, she was a pleasure to compete against in the kitchen."
He was also fond of new judge Melissa Leong. As a former fashion student, Ong would spend hours discussing fashion with the sartorially splendid judge - "when I wore the harness outfit on the gantry, we had heaps of things to talk about."
Another fashion choice kind of sums Ong up. He wore t-shirts with "You are loved" embroidered on them during the show, raising money for the queer youth charity Minus 18.
"I think it's a weird time in the world, and if the message helps one person, that's all that really matters," he says. "Even the simple act of cooking for someone shows that you care about them, there's love that is exchanged and that's a good place to start."
Vegemite and chicken dumplings
Okay, I feel like this dish played a really weird part in my life. Let me explain. When I was on MasterChef Australia in 2018, it was a constant struggle for me at the beginning. I was confused all the time, I had no idea what the judges wanted and I'm pretty sure that they didn't know what to make of me. (Was I a DJ just there for the ride ...? Well, no.) This dish won me an immunity pin and it really gave me the boost in confidence I needed at the time, so that's why it's here. I love my little Vegemite and chicken dumplings because they were a turning point in the competition for me.
230g skinless chicken thigh fillets, roughly chopped
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp double cream
1 tsp Vegemite
10 dumpling wrappers
2 tsp vegetable oil
500g chicken wings, chopped into 2.5cm pieces using a cleaver
2 red shallots, roughly chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
6 cm piece of ginger, grated
1 long red chilli, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 litre chicken stock
1 tbsp Vegemite
1 tsp fish sauce
To make the broth, heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken wings and cook, turning occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until well browned all over.
Add the shallot, carrot, celery, ginger, chilli and garlic and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes until softened.
Pour in the chicken stock to deglaze the pan, scraping the base of the pan to release any yummy sticky bits. Add 400ml of water and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the broth through a fine sieve into a clean saucepan, discarding the solids.
Place the strained broth over medium heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until reduced by half. Add the Vegemite and fish sauce and whisk until combined. Season with salt to taste. Set aside until you are ready to serve.
Meanwhile, to make the dumplings, place the chicken and a pinch of salt in a food processor and pulse until the chicken is finely chopped but not a paste. Add the egg yolks and pulse until combined. Add the cream and Vegemite and pulse until combined.
Transfer to a piping bag. Pipe an equal-sized amount into the centre of each of the dumpling wrappers. Fold the wrappers over and seal the edges, using a little water if you need to (make sure you gently press out any air bubbles). Bring the two corners together and press to form a dumpling shape.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the dumplings and cook until they float to the surface (this should take about 3 minutes).
Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon and place in two serving bowls. Pour the broth over the dumplings and serve.
TBH, most people know how to make an omelette, but what I didn't know until my late teens is that not everyone makes an omelette with soy sauce, ginger and shallots. This omelette is perfect for when you're in a rush because of how it is cooked. Most mornings I either go to the gym or pilates and then come home to get ready for my day. With this recipe, I can prep and begin cooking the eggs as soon as I get home, then I pop a lid on and turn off the heat so the residual heat cooks the eggs while I shower. Once I'm done, so are the eggs!
3 tbsp full-cream milk
1 tsp onion powder
pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 red capsicum, deseeded and diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small red shallot, finely chopped
1 spring onion, finely chopped
4 cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
1/2 long red chilli, finely chopped
2 tbsp grated pecorino
1 tbsp crispy fried shallots
freshly ground black pepper
small handful of pea tendrils (see tip)
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, onion powder, salt and soy sauce and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the capsicum, garlic, shallot, spring onion, ginger and chilli. You'll want to cook these for 2-3 minutes until softened, then remove from the pan (usually I just pop the mixture back on my wooden chopping board).
Reduce the heat to low, add the remaining olive oil to the pan and pour in the egg mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes until about half cooked, pulling the egg mixture in towards the centre of the pan about every 15 seconds with a silicone spatula.
Spoon the veggies onto the egg then top with the pecorino. Cover with a lid and cook for 2-3 minutes until the cheese has melted, or you can cover, turn off the heat and leave for 8-10 minutes and let the residual heat fully cook the eggs.
Sprinkle the crispy shallots over the omelette followed by a generous amount of black pepper, top with the pea tendrils and eat right out of the pan with a mate (well, that's what my housemate Diana and I do, anyway).
Tip: If you can't buy pea tendrils, it's fine to use whatever leafy greens you can find. I've topped mine with baby spinach, kale and rocket in the past.
Baked brie with rosemary and figs
Baked brie isn't new but it's always impressive as a centrepiece for a cheese platter. It's so easy and I can guarantee it will be a winner at your next dinner party or catch-up over a bottle of rosé. This is one of those dishes that I whip out when I'm cooking dinner and it's taking longer than expected. I serve it with some crackers, nuts and crudités to keep my guests distracted and chatting while I quietly freak out over how long dinner is taking to finish. Warning: baked brie addiction is a real thing, so be careful.
200g wheel of good-quality brie
2 rosemary sprigs, roughly torn
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tbsp honey
2 figs, each cut into 6 pieces
sturdy crackers, crusty bread or crudités, such as carrots and celery, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the brie in an ovenproof dish that's just big enough to hold it snugly. Score the top of the cheese in two directions so that the cuts make diamond shapes, cutting about halfway down. Stick the rosemary and garlic into the cuts.
Pop the brie in the oven for 10 minutes. Pull it out and spoon 1 tablespoon of honey over the top. Scatter the figs onto the cheese, then drizzle with the remaining honey. Pop it back in the oven for another 8-12 minutes until the honey starts to caramelise and the figs have softened.
Remove from the oven and get in there while it's warm and gooey.
Serve with your favourite crackers, some crusty bread or crudités to dip into that oozy cheese.
My drunk and sticky date
My drunk and sticky date pudding was the first sweet dish I made on MasterChef that was a success. Before that, I was terrified of making desserts. It now lives happily as a must-have on the menu at my restaurant and I have no plans to take it off. This recipe is perfect for date night because it always impresses, the warmth from the cinnamon and whisky singing to each other in great harmony. Prepare for your date to salivate while watching the whisky caramel being poured over the puddings. Always serve with a good-quality vanilla ice cream. I can't even describe how delicious this actually is, you'll just have to make it.
100g pitted dates, chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
150ml boiling water
100g brown sugar
50g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
100g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt
vanilla ice cream, to serve
1/2 tsp sea salt
200g caster sugar
40g salted butter
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease six 125ml dariole moulds or ramekins with butter.
Place the dates, bicarb soda and boiling water in a large bowl, give it a little stir and leave to soften for 5 minutes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the brown sugar and butter until pale and light. Add the egg and vanilla and mix well. Now in goes the flour, cinnamon and salt. Mix until smooth. Add the dates and soaking liquid and mix until combined (it will look lumpy because of the dates - this is fine).
Fill your moulds to two-thirds full with the batter, then place on a tray and pop in the oven for 16-20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
While your puddings are cooking, make your whisky caramel. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream, whisky and salt. Place the sugar in another small saucepan over medium heat and cook for 6-9 minutes until melted and caramelised (it should turn deep amber in colour). Pour the cream mixture into the caramel (it will bubble - that's cool, chill). Add the butter and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
Remove the puddings from their moulds and tear them into big chunks onto two serving plates. Pour as much whisky caramel as you want over the top and serve with vanilla ice cream, because you're worth it.
Serves 2 generously.
Recipes from A Gay Guy's Guide to Life, Love, Food by Khanh Ong. Plum, $34.99. Photography by Lauren Bamford.