MasterChef with a disability

Carly Findlay
John Hughes recently competed on the television show MasterChef. John makes wine. He also lives with cerebral palsy. John made it through to the top 30. He made MasterChef history by choosing not to serve a dish to the judges. He did not think he did a good enough job with the dish. John received a lot of admiration for this decision. His cooking was also regularly praised. John says more people with a disability should be given opportunities to appear on television.
Posted by: 
Carly Findlay on 18/05/2011
A close up photo of Masterchef contestant John Hughes in the Masterchef kitchen smiling

John Hughes won Australia's admiration

It's not often a person with a disability appears on commercial television. And it is certainly not often that a person's disability is overlooked and their skills showcased. But John Hughes recently won the admiration of Australia while competing on the popular reality TV show MasterChef.

John made it to the top 30 of the program. He received high praise from the show's judges and celebrity chefs for his cooking. John has cerebral palsy. But as it should be, the spotlight was clearly focused on his talents in the kitchen, not his disability.

Appreciation for food and wine

John lives in South Australia. He makes his own wine. His wine label is called Riesling Freak. John says his love for wine came before his interest in cooking. My parents bought the first vineyard in the Clare Valley, John says. Being involved in the family vineyard was the start of my wine interests.

John says he studied wine marketing at university. My food interests came about 12 years ago, he explains. I think having the appreciation of good wine came the appreciation of good food. I was inspired by Jamie Oliver. My specialities are focused around tarts, with my speciality being chocolate tart.

A talented cook

John's friends and family saw he was a talented cook. They really appreciated his food. John says this gave him the confidence to audition for the current series of MasterChef. He wanted to see if he could get his food acknowledged by the judges.

John's talent was certainly acknowledged on the program. So was his strong character. In one elimination round, contestants were challenged by Maggie Beer. They had to cook a tart, a flan and a pudding. But John didn't present his food to the judges for tasting. He did not believe the dishes were up to a high enough standard. He believed he didn't have enough time to put his heart and soul into the cooking. The judges and public commended him on his decision. John was the first contestant not to present food in three seasons of MasterChef. His courageous decision actually saved him from elimination.

A triumph

If I had the opportunity to redo that challenge, I would focus on one or two dishes, John told the MasterChef website. (I would) not worry about plating up all three desserts. As I said on the show, I can do anything anyone else can do, but at my own pace. The pressure test was not at my own pace, hence I was unable to complete the challenges.

But the next dish John cooked on the show was a triumph. It was a pan-fried crocodile with leek and bean puree and pomegranate reduction. It was described as the best crocodile of the day by demanding judge Matt Preston. I'd probably go as far as saying it's the best crocodile I have ever tasted, Preston told MasterChef viewers.

Happy and proud

John was eliminated just prior to the top 24. But he says he is happy and proud of his accomplishment. John says he is also grateful to have worked with such experienced chefs. The chefs were great to work with and be mentored by, John says. George Calombaris took me under his wing. He was there to provide advice and assistance as required. Being a Barossa boy, having Maggie Beer there (also) meant a lot to me. (It) gave me a bit of pressure to perform!

MasterChef taught John a lot about the food industry and food presentation. John says the experience has also given him the urge to get into food and wine media. John also wants to work with children and families with cerebral palsy. Seeing the public response from being on MasterChef, I would like to continue (to) motivate and inspire children with disabilities.

Treated as equal

The public response to John was certainly overwhelmingly positive. People took to social networking sites to discuss John's cooking and his disability. John doesn't believe he was treated any differently because of his cerebral palsy. John says he was offered extra time for cooking. He was also offered the chance to look at the recipes before entering the kitchen. But John says he wanted to be treated as the equal of every other contestant.

John says he would like to see more people with a disability on Australian television. I think it is important for everyone to be treated as equal, he says. Should they have the skills required and ability to go onto a TV show, should it be cooking, singing or other, they should be given that opportunity.

Readers comments (3)

Lovely post Carly. I fell in love with John the very first night. His bravery, courage, strength, and down to earth manner was beautiful. It was groundbreaking, inspirational stuff.

I found this article to be inspiring because as a young learning chef I feel very empowered to continue with my ambition because seeing the struggles that some people go through to become a highly regarded chef in the industry makes the challenge look all the more appealing .
Seeing this article is amazing that to be the first person to reject showing your food to the judges as required showed guts and a belief to push yourself to the very best of your abilities which can sometimes be hard in a commercial environment, due to the immense pressure but seeing how someone else can show this much courage to just do something to the benefit of himself by taking this risk is really amazing.
To see that a person has had much courage to be unique in front of such chefs as George Calombaris, Matt Preston and more. To have Matt Preston comment on a dish and say that it is probably the best he has ever eaten is an honour and I can look up to that and I can look up to him as a person even though he has had more challenges that anyone can count. I guess seeing a person being able to run a winery and appear as one of the bravest chefs in Australia, and also a great one is really inspirational
I honestly believe that this article has been really inspirational and helpful by showing me that you can gain respect and a name for yourself by taking chances and also by showing the viewers that you can do things even if you have a disability and as john said on the show 'I can do anything anyone else can do, but at my own pace' I totally agree with that and I aspire to live up john as a chef and a person.

I used to be a good cook before my disability and i wont let it change my life that much and I STILL LOVE MY FOOD!

Comment on this article