Best Australian Celebrity Chefs: From Television Stardom to Culinary Empires
Australia has long been known for creating improved reality television shows than anybody else. When MasterChef moved from the United Kingdom to Australia, the groups were larger, the tasks harder, the chefs more demanding and the result captivated an entire country, with many of the winning chefs making a name for themselves in the restaurant business.
Similarly, the celebrity chefs who existed before MasterChef Australia (can you believe it?) took their passion to new levels. They explored faraway lands, taking viewers of their shows to places that many Westerners had never seen before and taught us recipes that were both imaginative and easy to follow. Nowadays, Australia has a thriving food scene, and these are the people who helped to create it.
Vietnamese-Australian Celebrity Chef and Philanthropist
The year before Luke Nguyen was born, his family found themselves on a cramped boat on their way to Thailand. They were fleeing their native Vietnam in search of a better life, but after ending up in a Thai refugee camp, where Nguyen was born, they realised this life was no better than the one they had fled from in Vietnam. Endlessly resilient, they embarked on a journey once more, but this time to Australia, where their new life truly began.
Some celebrity chefs venture off on a journey of self-discovery, looking back at their ancestry through the food culture that they never realised that they came from. For Luke Nguyen it couldn’t have been more different. His parents owned the Pho Cay Du Restaurant in their new hometown of Cabramatta. It was here that he learned the intricacies of the restaurant trade, the arduous work and long hours that it requires, but most importantly, the building blocks of Vietnamese cuisine.
Bringing Vietnam to Australia
It was with this culinary knowledge that Nguyen opened his first restaurant, the Red Lantern. He had barely a dollar to his name by the time opening night rolled around, but it wasn’t long before word of mouth, and the award for Best New Restaurant, saw the Red Lantern becoming busier and busier. Following on from this success, he realised that the people of Australia had a hunger for Vietnamese cuisine. He penned a book about life and food in the northern territories of Sa Pa and began offering tours to Sydney natives of the most exciting culinary hotspots in Vietnam.
It was these tours that would eventually make him famous, as SBS realised they would make the perfect television show. In 2010, his first television series aired, Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam. The series followed Nguyen, much as the guests on his earlier food tours would have. He visited street food stalls, people’s homes, and showed us a glimpse of what food culture is really like in Vietnam. The series was a hit and Nguyen was commissioned for several more series after this, exploring Vietnamese food and culture in more detail.
Giving Back to His Community
Inspired by revisiting his roots, Nguyen decided that he could do more to help those struggling to lift themselves out of poverty in Vietnam. Together with Suzanna Boyd, he founded the Little Lantern Foundation.
This charity operates as a hotel and restaurant in the picturesque city of Hoi An. They employ only local people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are trained ‘on the job’. They run the day-to-day operations of the Little Lantern restaurant and hotel, learning how to operate a business in the hopes that they will go on to make a success of themselves in the industry.
Chinese-Australian Champion of Biodynamic and Organic Food
It would only be right to choose a MasterChef Australia alumni and Kylie Kwong certainly qualifies. She’s been a guest chef, a guest judge and a mentor in several different series and charmed the nation with her calm demeanour. However, it was a long road to MasterChef for Kwong, with plenty of incredible successes along the way.
Billy Kwong is Biodynamic
Though Kwong spent plenty of time working in the restaurant industry beforehand, it wasn’t until the year 2000 that she opened her first restaurant, initially alongside celebrity chef Bill Granger, but later owned entirely by herself.
The restaurant went through some changes in its first few years, but it eventually moved to its Potts Point location where it remained until its closure in 2020. It was here that alongside Andrew Cibej and David King, Kwong championed organic, biodynamic and sustainable food. She hoped that this would enable her to bring an element of her Buddhism to the way that she lived her professional life, and it was instantly recognised. Billy Kwong received the first ever Sustainability Award in 2009 and continued paving the way to a more considerate future for restaurants.
Partnering With Oxfam
Much as Luke Nguyen sought to improve the world for others, so too did Kylie Kwong. In 2011 she partnered with international charity Oxfam to create a tableware range to be sold in stores all around Australia. The range is handmade in Vietnam by people who are paid a fair wage and continues to be a success to this day.
If you’d like more of an insight into the intriguing life of Kylie Kwong, then her cookbooks are the best place to find it. She’s written five books so far, that are filled with beautiful recipes combining her love of healthy, fresh cooking with fascinating peeks into her Chinese heritage.
It’s obvious that Australian celebrity chefs have left a mark on the nation’s culinary industry. From MasterChef Australia to the stories of chefs like Luke Nguyen and Kylie Kwong, Ozzy’s know how to cook.
Luke Nguyen’s approach to Vietnamese cuisine in Australia not only delighted viewers but also helped create the Little Lantern Foundation, creating life-changing opportunities for those in need. Kylie Kwong’s has committed to sustainable and organic food and Billy Kwong showcases her dedication to a more thoughtful approach to dining, making a positive impact beyond her restaurant walls.
But it doesn’t stop there – Australia’s spirit of innovation could lead to new way to experience the culinary arts. With crypto casinos becoming a bigger part of the digital experience, imagine eating a savory meal while you take the pokies for a spin. Imagine paying for meals with crypto while playing at crypto casinos.
With a thriving food scene and a willingness to explore new frontiers, Australia is proving to be a dynamic and diverse hub of creativity. If Australia continues to be a leader in AI, culinary arts and crypto gaming, Australia could be artistic and technological world leader in the future.