Meet Ben! 👋
You might recognise Ben (and his colourful shirts!) from Season 11 of MasterChef Australia, where he fought his way to secure a spot in the coveted top 10.
Now, Ben is ready to join the fight to #ForkCancer as a first-time ambassador of The Longest Table!
Ben hopes he can use his love of food to make an impact in the fight against cancer for people like his dad, who is sadly facing a battle against this devastating disease.
Ben told us all about his passion for cooking, his time on MasterChef, and his tips and tricks for hosting a simple yet memorable dinner party.
What inspired you to become an ambassador of The Longest Table?
I’m always happy to jump at the chance to try and help raise some much-needed funds for such a deserving cause, especially when it involves cooking and food!
Can you please share a bit about your Dad’s cancer diagnosis and how it has impacted your life and your family’s life?
As anyone who has had a loved one diagnosed with cancer can tell you, it can rock you pretty hard. The diagnosis brings along so many unknowns and unanswerable questions. The treatment, surgery, hospital stays, and recovery were tough on my dad. There are still lots of unknowns for the journey forward, but dad’s a fighter and has a great attitude towards it all.
WHY DO YOU LOVE COOKING, AND HOW HAS YOUR LOVE OF FOOD SHAPED YOUR LIFE?
I think I love cooking because it allows me to be creative every day and enjoy delicious end results. It's a hobby and skill that one can never truly master, always leaving room for learning and trying new things. Thanks to my love for food, I've had the privilege of cooking in amazing kitchens, meeting great people, and raising funds for worthwhile causes.
Can you tell us about your time on MasterChef? What was your favorite part of the experience, and can you recall the best dish you cooked on the show?
My favorite part for sure was my fellow contestants I got to share the journey with. There were so many absolutely wonderful people who were equally food obsessed as me, and I still keep up with a bunch of them today. My second favorite part was cooking for some of my food heroes, which ties well into my best dish! It was a cereal milk pannacotta for a challenge set by the legendary Heston Blumenthal. Heston is an absolute food idol and having him like one of my dishes was amazing.
When hosting friends and family for dinner, what is your go-to meal?
Do you like to show off your culinary prowess or cook a simple dish? It depends on the numbers, to be honest! If it’s just a few people, I like to get a bit fancy and whip up some fresh pasta. But when it's a larger group, I go for slow-roasted goodness like lamb shoulder or pork belly, with plenty of shareable sides. I’m also a big fan, no matter the group, of having lots of interesting snacks/antipasto for when people arrive. Some ideas include serving really good quality raw vegetables with homemade dips, cured meats, terrines, cheese, some raw or good tinned fish, fresh bread, and house-made pickles and ferments. Everyone loves a snack attack.
Can you share some tips for preparing food in advance to minimise stress on the day of the dinner party?
A rule of thumb is to avoid cooking something new on the day of the party. Stick to what you know works or practice a new dish beforehand. Another tip is to have a good mix of cold and hot dishes. Cold dishes are a lifesaver since you can focus on plating instead of cooking. So, start with chilled starters you can prepare ahead. Doing as much preparation work as possible in the days leading up to the event can help too. Restaurants and catering places work by pre-cooking almost everything, and then it’s really finishing dishes when orders come in! For example, if you plan to make a curry, you can cook the base a few days prior, then reheat and cook the protein on the night of the party.
How do you strike a balance between spending quality time with your guests and attending to cooking duties?
Great question, and a skill that I absolutely have not mastered! I’m a big fan of having a chef’s table vibe and bringing the guests as close to the kitchen as possible. If you can have your nibbles/starts standing up, they can be in the kitchen with you while you start work on mains. For lots of people that’s not an option though and really comes down to being as prepared as possible. Planning out your meal so that there can be enough hands off time in the cooking can allow you to also enjoy the night and spend time with your guests!