Benjamin Bullock has so far shown that he has both brains and talent. The 27-year-old from Perth is a criminal lawyer, and a very bright one at that, having been selected as one of six students in his final year to compete nationally for the Law Student of the Year Award. But he says the chance to pursue his dream on MasterChef was one he couldn’t pass up and is proving to be a game-changer.
“Law has been really good for me and I’ve enjoyed it, but food’s always been a passion so this is an opportunity to really test myself in that arena and maybe pursue a bit of a passion. Very much indebted to MasterChef for just the possibility to even be here,” Bullock told Neos Kosmos.
This season 20,000 culinary hopefuls across the country applied, with just 50 selected to take part in the national auditions before being cut down to the top 24, leaving the contestant “absolutely elated” to make it through.
“Even if you’re first out, you’ve done pretty well,” and he’s gone a few steps better than that already, managing to cook himself through to the third week of the competition. He has stayed afloat through two elimination rounds, and drew from his Greek heritage for the win with katoumari, a traditional sweet pie, served with baklava ice cream and date puree.
“I grew up eating the katoumari. A lot of Greeks I saw on social media actually were like ‘hey what’s this? I’m Greek and I don’t know this’. It’s got an interesting sort of history. It’s specific to Kazzie (Kastellorizo) from what Kazzies claim, and knowing Kazzies they try and claim everything,” he joked, his maternal grandparents having emigrated from the island after the Second World War.
“So that was a pretty special one, just knowing that it was yiayia’s recipe brought out with her from Kazzie. So just something that’s very close to my heritage and that I can be proud of.”
Bullock always enjoyed cooking and says he learnt a lot from his yiayia Betty and aunts Rose and Des.
“They were fantastic and it’s probably where my love of food came from I’d say actually.”
After completing his studies in law and commerce at Murdoch University, Bullock took the chance to explore his passion of food further afield, taking a year off to travel across the US, Canada, Europe and South East Asia where he was exposed to various cooking techniques, cementing his love of big, bold flavours.
“Friends would always come around for dinner and they’d said, ‘Oh Ben, that was great’, this that and the other and I never really considered myself much of a cook. But to get through, I actually cried in episode one. It was really emotional and it’s a dream come true,” he said.
But it’s been a big change from cooking in his own kitchen, and while he says being in the spotlight doesn’t bother him too much, the time constraints are proving to be tougher than he anticipated.
“What you see on the show is actually what you get. You really do only have an hour to come up with a dish, get all your ingredients from the pantry and all your utensils from this foreign cupboard that you’ve never been in before, cooking on this tiny little bench with two people next to you and you’ve got to produce a dish,” Bullock says.
“Back home in my own kitchen I might be there for six or seven hours, I go to the shops, I find what I want, I’ll check up a few recipes. But this is no recipes, no technology. It’s pretty tough.”
But it’s all worth it with the end goal in mind to one day open a small eatery celebrating seasonal produce and to once again celebrate his heritage including the “Aussie side of the family” his dad coming from a long line of farmers.
“I think that gave me a real understanding and connection with ingredients and appreciation of the produce; of just how much work goes into that lamb loin that you’re looking at or just that humble tomato that you’ve got for lunch.
“Really a lot of time and effort and heart goes into it, so to open something that really showcases that; only seasonal produce, only organic, only free-range stuff that’s really grown with passion and with love; that’d be fantastic.”