Michael Weldon is the runner-up of MasterChef 2011 after mum-of-three Kate Bracks beat him to claim the title on Sunday night. His MasterChef dream may be over, but the rest of Michael’s food career is just getting started. We spoke to the former film projectionist to get the inside scoop on The Snowman dessert they had to cook, the Wall of Legends he and Hayden Quinn had in their room, and how he’ll carve his food future as the Kitchen Gardener.
Firstly congrats on your success on MasterChef, but commiserations you didn’t get first place.
Thank you. It’s sort of almost there but I still had a really good time!
How did you celebrate the end of MasterChef?
We, the whole top 24, got together and actually watched it at the studio with my family and Kate’s family, which was really nice. We sat around and had dinner, then we went out for a drink or two, but I was in bed early — I was knackered. I had to get up at 5:30 [Sunday] morning so it was a long day.
The cooking part was filmed a few weeks ago and the announcement was filmed yesterday. What was it like for you in the time in between?
I spent the whole time back in Adelaide. I just didn’t think about the cooking aspect of it at all. It would’ve made me freak out or go crazy about what happened. It wouldn’t have made for a very nice break and I wouldn’t have had fun.
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Would you say The Snowman is the hardest thing you’ve cooked?
Yeah, it probably is. It’s a tough dish but I’m pretty happy with how it ended up, so it was cool.
When you saw The Snowman did your mind flash back to the snow egg last year?
Yeah, correct! [laughs] The last dish has something to do with snow every year. I was thinking this is going to be exactly like the snow egg — I’ve had the snow egg and I’ve had the Snowman, and the Snowman is just as good, probably better tasting than the snow egg. It’s delicious.
I feel like the carrot sorbet is something I can’t get my head around.
A lot of people have asked that, but I can assure you it was really delicious. It was mixed with the passionfruit juice so it was just really beautiful.
And the vinegar meringue?
Awesome. So good. I’ve never had it before — it’s such a weird concept — but it tasted great.
I have to ask: have you bought a sous vide machine yet?
Not yet, I’m hoping someone will send one my way [laughs], but it’s in the plan. They’re not cheap though.
Throughout the show you provided a lot of emotional moments, especially with stories about your dad, so how did you feel sharing so much of your personal story with the country?
I never really thought about it like that. I’ve always been a pretty open person; I wear my heart on my sleeve. I didn’t ever think of it as sharing it with the whole country, but I guess I have. I’m not someone with very many secrets so I’m happy to talk about Dad. I’m cool with it.
You seemed to have quite big reactions to things, whether you survived eliminations or when you were the first person through to the grand final.
[Laughs] Wasn’t that funny. My mates did not stop giving me grief about that. I’ve had a few requests from a few different people to do a few different dance moves. It’s quite funny.
We really liked the bromance between you and Hayden. Can we expect you guys to work on anything together in the future?
I hope so. We’ve talked about something that might be a bit fun. I don’t know if you got a chance to see it but we did a little behind-the-scenes video of New York, like ‘Michael and Hayden’s Tour of New York.’ It’s on the website. That was really fun to film. We were roommates from the start and had a lot of fun, and we’ve joked about doing something together so hopefully something in the future comes up.
While watching the tour of the MasterChef house of the website I noticed you guys had a poster wall of girls you’d like to meet. Who were some of the girls on the wall?
Hayden’s favourites were Rihanna and Charlize Theron. For me it was Natalie Portman and Rachel Bilson. But by the end of it that wall was not just with girls, but with food and travel destinations that we’d like to go to. We had a joke about it being like the Wall of Legends like the boys in Dunt in Angry Boys. So we had a Wall of Legends and there was a photo of Kumar on there, including one of Kumar dressed as Michael Jackson, which is a great photo from Ellie’s 21st.
I think you have to tweet that photo of Kumar as Michael Jackson . . .
I’ll have to. It’s also got Hayden with a shirt off so I’m sure all the girls would be happy with it too.
We’ve checked out your new website — why The Kitchen Gardener?
I’ve always had a plot in a community garden; I’ve had it for years. It never really came off on the show because it was something I did as a hobby, and then I talked to a few people about it and they were like, “Well that’s your little angle, that’s you, you’re the Kitchen Gardener.” It started out because I couldn’t get cool vegetables like yellow carrots, purple carrots, or watermelon radishes — these cool, funky ingredients that are hard to find. So I’d buy the seeds and grow them myself. It stemmed from me enjoying cooking and then I got to the community garden and my thumbs got green. From then I’ve just loved growing my own produce. It’s something that’s really easy to do and you don’t have to have a community garden; you can have a window box and grow your own herbs. It’s something I think everyone should do — I want to share that with people and hopefully get a few more people growing their own stuff. It’s better for the environment that way and organic food’s the best.
What were your favourite and least favourite challenges throughout the competition?
The Heston [Blumenthal] challenge was a real highlight for me — I loved that day. Everything in New York, especially the first day where we had to explore New York. I liked them all [laughs]. The cookbook challenge was great. The challenge I cooked the worst in was the Korean invention pot challenge. But I really enjoyed getting to meet David Chang, who was a real hero of mine — I had a bad day but at least David Chang was there to tell me off! There was never a day where I thought, ‘I hate this.’ I always really loved it.
Speaking of your food idols, what’s the best advice they gave you?
Thomas Keller said to keep going, that it’s all about desire and wanting to do it. You can be passionate about it but you’ve got to want to do it day in and day out, and if you do that you’ll be a good chef. That was cool to have go out of his way to tell me that, especially after I’d cooked a bad dish. Everything Heston tells you, you listen to, because he’s so cool. He just said to have fun because food should be fun. He says he’s just a cook who likes to think about how things work.
When do you start your apprenticeship with Gary, and what’s next for you?
I’m not sure. I haven’t really had a chance to chat with Gary — it all happened really quickly — but it won’t be in the next few weeks, probably more towards October. From there, I’m just gonna cook for a while. I think I’ll still try to get my cookbook out there; it’ll be hard work but if I work hard enough and a few people like my idea it might go well. So there’s a lot of bright stuff in the future and I’m pretty excited.
Photo courtesy of Network Ten