Ben Ungermann rose to fame in Australian MasterChef 2017, a gruelling contest for home cooks that is popular around the world. Coming in second, just one point behind the winner, changed his life. Now travelling the world, Exquisite Taste talks to Ben about what he is doing now and what the future holds for him.
E: So since Australian MasterChef 2017, what have you been up to?
B: It’s been busy! Apart from setting up an ice cream parlour with my brother back home in Queensland, I’ve pretty much been on this world tour.
E: What is the tour about?
B: It’s an opportunity for me to do a lot of masterclasses and meet and greets, as well as some charity events. When I was on Australian MasterChef I developed a lot of fan support, people who became engaged with me on the show, and I wouldn’t be where I am now with this great life if it wasn’t for them, so I decided to try and meet them in person.
E: So you’re using your position to give back?
B: I’m in a very blessed position now and it’s a great opportunity to impact where I can and give back. Like this Sharing is Caring charity dinner at Padi Fine Dining in support of Lombok with Chris Salans and Mandif Warokka that Exquisite Media has organised. I’ll be going to Lombok soon to spend the proceeds directly on the people who need them. I’m just trying to change the world a little bit, where I can. In the Netherlands I joined a group of chefs to help raise money to save a historic building that was going to be demolished instead of restored. I really enjoy being able to give back through food. For me, there’s no greater love that I can share than cooking a meal that I’ve really put my heart and soul into for people I care about.
E: During your travels, you’ve been collecting recipes. What are you going to do with them?
B: I’ve always wanted to bring out a cookbook, so I thought it would be a cool concept to publish these recipes passed on from other chefs and really great home cooks. They’ll all be something that you can cook at home but can maybe expand people’s culinary horizons.
E: Is this global trip changing you as a person?
B: Yes, it really is. When I was on the show, and even as I started my travels, I seriously doubted myself. As a TV personality a lot of people don’t take you seriously, at the end of the day all the MasterChef contestants are home cooks without any training, so it was hard going into great kitchens, but I’ve learned a lot and gained confidence.
E: Are you enjoying your time in all these kitchens?
B: Yes, I love to go in as a sponge and soak up as much as I can. Meeting so many amazing chefs from different walks of life, with different interests and different cuisines has made me a much better cook.
E: Do you have a favourite memory from your travels?
B: My heritage is Dutch-Indonesian and I got to go on the Dutch version of MasterChef to set a mystery box and a pressure test, which I really enjoyed. I also feel very at home in Jakarta and Bali.
E: I hear that you’re moving to Indonesia; what are your plans?
B: I have a few possible entertainment opportunities in Jakarta and I’m already learning to speak Indonesian! I’m also learning about Indonesian products and flavours so I can put my own twist on the food. It’s something I really love doing. Indonesian cuisine is seriously delicious and I’d love to find a way to bring it to more people. On this trip, I’m excited to be cooking with a couple of street vendors who are masters of their trade.
E: Do you have a favourite recipe or Indonesian food?
B: My aunty taught me her nasi goreng recipe and I’ve cooked for a few Indonesian people who have absolutely loved it. It gets requested all the time.
- 200g pork belly
- 3tsp brown sugar
- Vegetable stock cubes
- 3 cloves garlic
- 15tbsp soy sauce
- ½ cup water
- 5tbsp brown sugar
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 2tsp sugar
- Splash of water
- 1 cucumber
- Pea tendrils
- Halve pork belly and cut into 3cm cubes.
- Remove top layer of skin with filleting knife and set aside to use for crackling.
- Place pork belly and all other ingredients into a pressure cooker with enough water to submerge pork. Cook for 25-40 minutes.
- Place pork skin in oven at 200C.
- Slice cucumber with mandolin into long thin strips.
- Combine vinegar, sugar and water in a bowl then add sliced cucumber.
- Remove pork belly from pressure cooker and cut into thin strips.
- Season in a bowl with sugar and half teaspoon of vegetable stock cube, mix, then cook in a large pan over a medium heat until both sides are brown. Drain excess oil.
- In a separate saucepan, reduce sauce from pressure cooker to a syrup. Set aside for plating.
- Place steamed rice in 5cm cookie cutter for plating. Use one for each serving.
- Make flat cracker shapes with remaining rice, place on a lined baking tray and dehydrate at 80C in oven for 1 to 2 hours or until completely dry. Then fry to create puffed rice crackers, season and place on the dish.