Conor Curran may have divided some Greek-Australian MasterChef viewers with his reinventions of some classic Greek dishes like avgolemono but he’s kept the judges happy.
Behind these inventive reboots is an effervescent 27-year-old Greek-Australian who has worked in restaurants for ten years, but always at the front of house.
When COVID shut down the hospitality industry, Mr Curran took the time off to practice his back of house skills, which helped see him make it through to the Channel 10 show. His application however, was less than planned.
“It was all on a bit of a whim to be honest. We were locked down during COVID and my restaurant had just closed and I had never really cooked before but being at home with my housemate and for the first time I had nights off. Being quite stubborn, I was used to eating restaurant level food so I really hustled and my mate said ‘wouldn’t it be a laugh if you applied for MasterChef?’,” he told Neos Kosmos.
“It was never really my dream like a lot of the other guys, but as time went on I fell in love with the show and process and it was one of the best things I could’ve ever done.”
Mr Curran does not only derive his name from his Greek side of the family (he was named after his grandfather Konstandinos) but also his passion for cooking.
The young cook spent his childhood days picking herbs in the backyard of yiayia’s Clifton Hill house and eating all the goodness that came out of her kitchen.
Like many first born grandchildren of Greek-Australian families, Mr Curran found that his bond with his yiayia was a little extra special.
“I’m the first born Greek boy on mum’s side and as we know that’s quite important to Greeks for some reason…Just being the first born, it made yiayia and I so close. For that generation, having grandchildren is such a huge thing for them. We just connected immediately, I feel blessed. I spent so much time with her eating and watching her cook from such a young age,” Mr Curran explained.
Of course, when yiayia found out that her grandson made it through to the top 24 contestants of the show naturally she was overjoyed. However, coming from a career being in front of the kitchen rather than in it, it came as a bit of a surprise.
“She was beside herself. MasterChef has been around for a long time and I don’t think anyone does modern Greek food the way I do it. I’ve taken something as nostalgic as avgolemono and put it into a modern setting. I think she was just more proud that I had the whereabouts to think of that. It’s so nostalgic for me to plate something like that up. Most of the family was like ‘we didn’t realise you could cook’ which was a fair assumption on their behalf,” he said.
His time on the program also helped bring him back to those moments at yiayia’s house and brought forward a new appreciation for the cuisine he grew up eating.
“I ended up falling back in love with Greek food. I had worked in South East Asian restaurants and I think just because I had it at home, I didn’t think much of Greek food. To go in an kind of re-fall in love with your culture and something so nostalgic and specific to you as a person, I get to have that forever now. My appreciation for Greek ingredients and what they can do,” Mr Curran said.
Unlike a majority of the other contestants, Mr Curran never had decade long dreams to become a chef, but his enthusiasm behind the stove top was and continues to be second to none.
“I felt very behind the other cooks. These are people who have been cooking every night for 10 years and going home and really honing in on their style, whereas I was less than a year into my cooking. So for me a lot of things were really done on the fly. I know you can’t really see that but I was making up a lot of it as I went and going off instinct after being around food for so long,” he said.
Aside from coming up against the other cooks in the MasterChef warehouse, Mr Curran’s secondary challenge at times is navigating his high functioning anxiety.
In an episode that aired on Monday, viewers caught a small glimpse into his world living with a mental health issue, as Mr Curran’s hands were seen shaking.
The Melburnian local is very open about his life dealing with anxiety and shared a post on his Instagram story giving some insight on his condition in hopes that it would bring more awareness pertaining to mental health.
“I suffer from a high functioning anxiety, so I thought throwing myself into this was something incredible to achieve. I found that I was capable of a lot more than I probably realised…I wear it as a badge of pride, I’m aware I have it. I have been very lucky, working front of house at restaurants and working in a high stress environment is not good for someone like me but I work really well,” Mr Curran said.
“No one really sees the million thoughts going through my head, but I love speaking about it and I love younger people speaking about it because it’s not a hindrance. As you can see, I can be in one of the highest stressful situations as still succeed.”
Beyond bringing awareness to issues of mental health, Mr Curran’s presence on the show is a celebration of being true to one’s self, unapologetically.
At a time where the calls for diverse representation is at a all time high, having an openly queer and Greek contestant is empowering for many viewers, regardless of whether they consider themselves part of the LGBTQI community or not.
“I can’t really look back and think of the last time I saw a Greek queer person on TV. That was a huge thing for me. There’s going to be Greek children out there who hopefully see me and go ‘oh, he’s himself!’…For me to see a Greek gay representation now, especially when back then it wasn’t okay and even my family had a hard time doing accepting that and so for me I’ve already succeeded, just by being there I’ve done my job,” Mr Curran said.
“If my yiayia can love me, anyone can love me.”
Regardless of the highs and lows of being on one of national TV’s most beloved cooking shows, the real spark Mr Curran wants people to leave with is that greater impacts can come as a consequence of small acts of kindness.
“I’m a big believer in how humans can touch people bit by bit and your strength goes on from that person hopefully if you do a good job. I’d love to leave proud of what I’ve done, that I stood up for the right things…I’ve tried my hardest to be authentically myself and if I’m disliked for that I’m okay,” he said.
“I went into MasterChef loving my life and if I go to sleep at the end of this loving my life, then I have no complaints.”
You can find Conor Curran cooking on MasterChef Australia every Sunday through to Thursday at 7:30pm AEST on Channel Ten.