If this past week of MasterChef is anything to go by, Back to Win wouldn’t be quite the same without season seven’s Reynold Poernomo in the kitchen.
It turns out — he almost pulled out of the show completely when it was announced Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris were to be replaced with three new faces.
Speaking to news.com.au today, the 26-year-old dessert wizard said he was “so glad” he eventually changed his mind, given the sheer warmth of this year’s judges Melissa Leong, Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen, and the success of the “groundbreaking” season.
The Sydney restaurant owner said the decision to join the cast was not one made lightly given his workload running Koi Dessert Bar, Monkey’s Corner cocktail bar and pop up bakery TiNi Artisan Bakehouse with his two brothers.
“I said yes, then the judges got changed, and I said no, then I had to say yes again because I thought OK, this is actually an opportunity that doesn’t come around often,” he told news.com.au today.
“I was really worried about being away from my family and having to go down to Melbourne for filming,” he explained.
“My time is really valuable in the business and to take that away I was worried would be a bit of a burden to my family. I guess I wanted to make my time on MasterChef really worth it,” he concluded of the uncertainty in the face of change, adding, “I’m so glad I said yes because it’s really refreshing to see new faces.”
Reynold was the talk of social media this week after the usually closely-guarded chef broke down in tears while reflecting on his difficult upbringing, having immigrated from Indonesia to Australia at the age of four.
When asked what the photo in his Mystery Box meant to him by judge Melissa Leong, Reynold’s recollection was twinged with pain as he described visiting his hardworking parents at their former restaurant, Bali Sunrise, where he would spend most days after school.
“A long time ago my parents had a restaurant together. I remember going after school, and people would think that I’d be learning so much from my mum or my dad, but actually they’d be working so hard in the restaurant,” he said, his voice quavering.
“I remember during immigration having my parents taken away for a little bit. The restaurant closed down of course, my brother was getting food for me when I was hungry,” he shared.
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Minutes into the emotional challenge, fans were full of praise for the “incredibly moving” episode.
For Reynold, he admits watching it back was difficult.
“To be honest it was a tear-jerker again … My brothers actually hadn’t seen it until it came on air, and I hadn’t really spoken about it to them. For my mum as well, it kinda brought back a lot of memories of such a hard time we went through.
“My brother messaged me the next day saying he was so angry after watching it, not because of what I opened up about, but just all the bad memories that flooded back, we went through really tough times and faced a lot of struggles, we kept getting things taken away from us, over and over again.”
He said he’s feeling “honoured” by the outpouring of support by fans, and the vital conversations telling the story of his migrant family has started.
“I really wanted to share my story like that for a long time. Not many people actually know our story, and once people start to realise that us immigrants do go through a lot of struggles, and not many of us end up having an easy life. That’s so important.
“I’ve been getting a lot of messages, I’ve been reading a lot of stories from people with similar experiences, and it’s super inspiring to see all the successes from something that has been such a struggle growing up.”
Thursday night again marked a significant moment in MasterChef history. With all five cooks – Reynold Poernomo, Jess Liemantara, Poh Ling Yeow, Khanh Ong and Brendan Pang – in the immunity challenge hailing from Asian backgrounds, plus judge Melissa Leong, it was a huge win for Asian-Australian representation.
As judge Melissa put: “This image is groundbreaking”.
“I was super happy,” Reynold said of the episode.
“The moment the top five was announced and we were all Asian we were like “Hell yeah!” so excited, we were like ‘it’s going to be the best episode ever’.”
When asked if diversity in mainstream media was lacking throughout his childhood, he said “100 per cent”, adding that he’s pleased to see the increased representation in prime time.
“Times are changing now, there’s a lot of diversity these days, and there was a lot of discrimination and I guess a lot of criticism. Now I feel really proud of how Australia’s grown in that direction of such positivity, it’s so great to see that Australia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.”
He added that having Mel on the panel – not only the first woman, but the first Asian-Australian woman has been “incredible”.
“An Asian woman representing on national prime time TV, it’s incredible to see that strength. An Asian judge? I would have never expected that!”
While the chef who oozes confidence throughout each cook wasn’t giving away any spoilers, he said in upcoming episodes, there may be a few “wobbles”.
“To be honest, I will end up having a few wobbles here and there. It’s the nature of the competition … It does crazy things to you.”
MasterChef: Back to Win continues Sunday night from 7.30pm on Channel 10.