Using The 'MasterChef' Experience To Change The World, One Meal At A Time
Simon Toohey's time in the 'MasterChef' kitchen can be pretty well summed up by his reaction when the judges revealed they hand-picked cauliflower as a key ingredient.
It's rare -- and perhaps a little odd -- to see someone so enthusiastic about the humble cauliflower but for Simon, it's part of a bigger ethos. One he hopes his time on 'MasterChef' will kickstart.
Inching closer and closer to the 2019 'MasterChef' grand finale, Simon could very well be one the one holding that big plate above his head, taking out the top prize -- but he told 10 Daily the whole idea of getting as far as even the top five was "a ridiculous concept".
"It's awesome, I'm not going to say no to it... but, who am I right now?!" he said, laughing.
On paper, Simon's "food dream" is to open a vegan smokehouse, but his plans are a lot broader than that. In short, he wants to change the way Australians think about food and, as a result, change the planet.
It's a big dream, but it's one he's incredibly passionate about.
"I had to give it a label for people to understand what it was," he told 10 daily about the smokehouse. "We've grown up in a society of meat and three veg, and the veg is overboiled, done badly and dumped in a pool of water. No wonder no one likes those," he added.
"We've grown up in a society of badly made vegetables."
There's a misconception that veganism is a trend, or a fad health kick, something you have to say to people in the first three minutes of meeting them at a party. The dietary version of "I do CrossFit".
Simon isn't a strict vegan himself, but rather what he described as more of a 'vegan ally'. After all, his dad worked for the Cattle Council of Australia -- advising on animal health, welfare and biosecurity.
"I grew up with meat all my life, my dad was a farmer since I was a kid, it's always been a part of our plate."
Simon assured us he wasn't trying to convert the country into rejecting meat and eating a solely vegan diet -- he knows that's not realistic. The changes that can be made, however, are ones that could have massive impacts on our future.
"It's about advertising great food, farmers that get their hands dirty and growing produce that's important to us," he told 10 daily, adding, "celebrating great vegetables and flavours people have forgotten about.
"If I can change people's mindset, then we're doing a good job, and then we can look at minimising food waste."
When it comes to meats and poultry, waste is pretty easy to cut down on. Most parts of the animal can be used in various aspects of cooking. When it comes to vegetables however, a bit more creativity is needed to work out how best to minimise waste. There's a lacking education in how we consume vegetables and what we discard, and that's something he wants to tackle.
From there, Simon began to talk broader, explaining that by putting an emphasis on vegetables rather than meats, plus reducing waste, there's a huge knock-on effect for the way we farm and the way food is produced.
"If you really want to go deep into it, if you go into climate change and farming, we're not doing a very good job of creating an environment for our kids in the future," he said.
Combining sustainable farming methods with ethical treatment of livestock, he explained that having a better understanding of how we can use vegetables in more exciting ways would have major consequences.
"When we start ruining lives of animals and killing them off for food, we're ruining the authenticity of what great food is about," he said. "I want to focus on people eating vegetables a lot more. Celebrating the land and farmers... and I want to be the spokesperson for that."
His enthusiasm for veg could be a joke if it wasn't so damn endearing.
"I find it more exciting than if I look at meats -- any unusual vegetables, that excites me!" he said with a laugh.
Simon's passion to change the world obviously runs in the family, after explaining his dad's advocacy in animal welfare, he added that his mum works in positive psychology for women's rights while his brother works for an NGO for climate change.
"You gotta start somewhere," he said. "You gotta change someone's mind. I don't want to go through this amazing opportunity of 'MasterChef' and not do that."
For Simon, being on 'MasterChef' wasn't just a dream come true, but the beginning of his steps toward the family legacy of making the world a little bit better. One cauliflower at a time.
MasterChef Australia airs Sunday to Thursday nights at 7.30pm. Only On 10 And WIN Network. Missed an episode? Catch up on 10 Play or 10 All Access!
Featured image: Network 10.