'I'm About Food But I'm Also About Fun, And Food IS Fun': MasterChef's Khanh Ong Is Releasing His First Cookbook
The fan favourite has been serving up winning dishes in the competition, and to-die-for looks on the gantry, and now he's gearing up for his next chapter.
On July 14, Khanh will be releasing his very first cookbook, A Gay Guy's Guide, which will be full of recipes, dating advice, anecdotes and his tips and tricks to living your best life.
First walking through the kitchen in Season 10, a much more reserved Khanh made it to third place in the competition, returning for MasterChef: Back To Win with a renewed sense of what was possible in the kitchen. Both in the dishes he'd be plating up, and the version of himself that he could present to the world.
"Obviously I've always been very comfortable with myself, but when it's your first time on TV, I was kind of like, 'Okay you're gay but you're not G-A-Y,'" Khanh told 10 daily over the phone, "I was just like, chill a little bit, stay a little quiet.
"This time I was like, you know what? I'm back. MasterChef knows exactly who I am and what I do, I'm not going to shy away from that," he said.
"I can be as sassy as I want to be and show my personality. I can speak the way I want to speak, cook the food I really care about and not try to impress anyone."
Being unabashedly himself has been working for Khanh, whose time in Back To Win has seen him become a favourite once again, with a blend of cheekiness, honesty and unrelenting sass that people can't help but adore.
He's also upped the fashion game exponentially, rocking a harness in one episode, which he joked was one of his goals upon his return to the competition.
"I didn't think that was possible, for prime time TV, someone to be wearing a harness," he admitted. "I was like -- you know what, let's push it. Let's see what happens.
"On the day I did it, no one said anything! Jock [Zonfrillo] was kind of like, 'Yeah... I'm just going to move forward.'" he said, laughing.
Down on the kitchen floor, Khanh stuck to a regimented uniform of t-shirts brandishing the words "you are loved", later releasing a collection of the shirts to raise money for the LGBTQIA+ organisation Minus18.
So far, Khanh said he's raised around $20,000, hoping to increase that to $30,000 before the end of Back to Win.
A proud gay man, Khanh said it didn't take long for him and a few other returning chefs to realise that this season of MasterChef was going to be one of the gayest ever.
"Literally day one we were sitting down having a briefing, I think it was Reece, Brendan and I -- we just stared at each other like...there's a third of us that are gay here.
"That's crazy! We noticed straight away" Khanh said. "It's beautiful, I'm obsessed with it, but I think that's what MasterChef is.
"It's all about the celebration of people in general and their food. That's why I auditioned for MasterChef the first time and that's why it made it so easy for me to come back. It's not going to be like, 'You have to be here because you're gay, Asian and a refugee', that was never the reason.
"I'm really proud of being on the show because it's about celebrating food, culture and cuisine," he said.
Growing up and always being referred to as "a gay guy", Khanh said he began to realise the title of his first cookbook, A Gay Guy's Guide To Life Love Food was an opportunity to reclaim the term and own it.
"No one says it in a condescending way, but it kind of is," Khanh said, "the fact that you're not referred to by any other aspect. That always really annoyed me. As I grew up I took it on, I turned it around so it's no longer a negative phrase for me. That's how the title came about."
The main idea behind the cookbook is a simple one, but one that makes a lot of sense.
"What I wanted was to make a cookbook that people would actually cook from," Khanh said, "that was at the forefront".
"I know that sounds ridiculous because, isn't that what a cookbook is for? But not all cookbooks are ones you cook from," he added.
Not only are the recipes broken up into categories like meals for a broken heart, perfect food to eat on a date or even just the recipes to make when your mates are coming over for a family dinner.
"It was always going to be like pretending I was sending a recipe to a girlfriend or guy-friend, how would I speak to them? That's what I wanted. When you read the book, like okay, this is my mate. He's showing me how to cook something."
Khanh also used his social media following to litter the book with Q&A-style tidbits, some of which may be less helpful than they are entertaining.
"Someone asked, 'How do you drink water?' and I remember going okay, if you're going to be sarcastic and sassy to me, I'll go back. So I was like, 'Mix half a glass of water with 50ml of vodka. Garnish with fresh lime. Warning: do this too often and you may text your ex.'"
I am about food but I'm also about fun. And food is fun.
Though the book was always planned to be released, after he was approached to appear on Back To Win, Khanh had to scramble to get things ready before he was thrown back into the kitchen.
Putting the cookbook together in record time, the last thing anyone expected to suddenly pop up was a global pandemic.
"It was hard to have to deal with closing restaurants while we were still filming [MasterChef]," he said, "but in saying that, I think I would have been stressing a whole lot more if I had nothing to do, rather than trying to stay in the competition.
"I'm just like, 'Okay, cool, my restaurant's closing but today I have to use kangaroo in a dish,'" he said with a laugh.
"I think I've been able to show what I'm about on the show, and I love that."
A Gay Guy's Guide is now available for pre-order, and will hit shelves on July 14.