Diana Chan on food inspiration and dream dinner guests
The Malaysian-born MasterChef Australia winner speaks to ELLE about her love for food and which Melbourne market often inspires her cooking
The MasterChef Australia Season 9 finale premieres on 12 September 2017 at 8pm on Lifetime (Astro Ch 709).
Diana Chan's love for the culinary arts began when she was studying in Melbourne. What started as a necessity – since she was living away from her home in Malaysia – turned into a passion, which has eventually led to her winning the 9th season of MasterChef Australia.
Diana grew up in Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur before moving to Melbourne to study commerce when she was 19. She then got a job and continued living there. Currently, she still works for accounting agency Deloitte which luckily, she tells ELLE, has been very supportive of her MasterChef endeavours and has allowed a lot of flexibility in her job.
How do you feel about your journey at MasterChef Australia?
I didn't know how far I would go, to be honest. I just knew I didn't want to be the first one out. I set a goal. So I said get to top 10, and when I got to 10, go to five. Once I got to five, I thought, "I could actually win this whole thing." So the end got closer but the process was long. Winning is the pinnacle. Sometimes it seemed unachievable. Getting there, it was incredible and overwhelming.
What sparked your passion for cooking?
I grew up in a family that loves cooking. Both of my parents are amazing cooks. Being a uni student living on a budget, I had to make sure that I had enough but I also wanted to eat well – my parents are quite healthy people. And based on the knowledge I've learned through cooking from my parents, I developed a passion for cooking and I've loved it ever since.
Where do you go for recipe inspiration?
Melbourne has an amazing food scene; there are restaurants popping out everywhere. It's always about what's the next hot thing going to be. I love going out and getting ideas from there. The other thing would be the South Melbourne Market. I go there once a week and I get my local fish, meat and fruit supplies. I always shop what is in season and what's local and then I create dishes from there. My other inspiration is travelling, which I love. I go back to Malaysia at least once a year. I always get inspiration from wherever I go, anywhere in the world.
Tell us about your restaurant plans.
For me the main long term goal would be my food concept, which is a fresh casual restaurant, serving wholesome food with fusion flavors. I haven't quit my job [at Deloitte] yet. I'm working on some different projects. I'm hoping to come back to Malaysia to do a few events. Although my goal at the end is to open a restaurant, I want to make sure I make the most of the opportunities that come my way in the next six months or so.
What's the best advice you received on MasterChef Australia?
As cheesy as it sounds, just cook what you want to eat and you work from there. You cook from your heart. If you believe in the food and if you are happy eating it, people will be happy eating it.
Your most memorable moment on the show?
So many! But there is an overseas trip yet to come on the programme, [this episode has not yet been aired in Malaysia] and the place we went to – the location – it was so surreal and I was so happy to be a part of it.
Which episode is a must watch?
For me, it would be Finals Week because it was the most exciting episode. It runs for six days [in real life]. It really shows you the cooks we've become after seven months, and how the style of cooking has completely changed.
Which contestant challenged you the most?
It would be Sarah Tiong [pictured below, centre]; I thought she was a formidable opponent, definitely one I had to look out for. We were both in such a nurturing environment that we shared a lot of ideas together and pushed each other to go all the way.
When are you starting your monthly column on Delicious magazine?
It's really exciting, I'm starting to write my recipes now. The first issue will be the November issue. [My column] will be online as well.
First dish you learned to cook?
One dish an amateur chef should master?
Favourite restaurant in Melbourne?
Favourite restaurant in KL?
Kanna Curry House.
Favourite restaurant in Johor Bahru?
Bak Kut Teh Hin Hock in Tampoi. It is the best bak kut teh in the world, hands down.
Three things you must have in your fridge?
Butter, fresh herbs and chili sauce.
Chocolate molten cake.
Best thing you've ever eaten in your whole life?
My mum's assam pedas.
Worst mistake you've ever made in the kitchen?
I put dishwashing liquid into the dishwasher and it just overflowed. You're not meant to put dishwashing liquid in.
Three famous people (dead or alive) you'd like to have at a dinner party?
Anthony Bourdain, Barack Obama, Michael Jackson.
Favourite song to play while working in the kitchen?
Sugar Sugar by The Archies.
Favourite holiday destination?
And the big one: Durian, yes or no?
Catch Diana Chan's journey on MasterChef Australia season 9, weekdays at 8pm and 11pm on Lifetime (Astro Ch 709).