Why former MasterChef runner-up Ben Ungermann was glad he didn't win

Ben Ungermann, runner-up on MasterChef in 2017, says coming second was a blessing.
Ben Ungermann, runner-up on MasterChef in 2017, says coming second was a blessing. Photo: Scenic Rim Eat Local

MasterChef Australia 2017 runner-up Ben Ungermann took his seat on a three-chef panel at last month's Ubud Food Festival in Bali and proceeded to dissect his experience on the Channel 10 reality cooking show.

"I'm glad I didn't win," he admitted.

The panel discussion, one of many held across the three-day festival, also welcomed reality television chefs/judges Thitid Tassanakajohn​ (Thailand) and Rin Rin Marinka (Indonesia). A confident Ungermann, propped by his new pals, didn't hold back.

The 35-year-old revealed that for the first couple of weeks on the show, he was "barely hanging in there". 

"There's five months of auditioning and then seven months living in a house without a phone, a wallet and no internet access, so literally all you can do is study. And that's how you get really, really good but you never get used to the pressure."

As for the first time he met the judges, well, "You just lose your shit".

Ungermann professed to be the weakest cook but built up his expertise and harnessed his nerves by studying cookbooks every day after filming, which could last for 12-14 hours a day. He eventually convinced himself that he deserved to be on the show.

Ben warned future Masterchef contestants that mental preparation is a necessity.
Ben warned future Masterchef contestants that mental preparation is a necessity. Photo: Supplied

According to Ungermann, Gary Mehigan is the toughest judge and can be "brutal", George Calombaris is a big softy and Matt Preston sits on the fence but is "pretty understanding".

Ungermann clarified myriad myths and queries posed by Ubud Food Festival attendees. He confirmed the food is served to the judges cold (from the fridge) and that only the sauces are warmed (since they congeal and can't  be poured otherwise); the drama is 100 per cent "legit"; cookbooks "went missing"; not every contestant got along but the televised hugs are real.

He described producers' reactions if something went wrong, such as when a contestant burnt an ingredient. "You're panicking because you've burnt an onion. Then 10 cameras turn up at your bench." He doesn't want to scare future contestants, but warned mental preparation is a necessity.

Ungermann pointedly reminded the gathering that he lost season nine by one point. And since he hadn't been able to work for months, his $40,000 prize money disappeared on bills.  MasterChef Australia 2017 winner, Diana Chan, received $250,000.

Ungermann says coming second was the "biggest blessing he ever received", forcing him to act quickly  in opening an Queensland ice-cream parlour, Ungermann Brothers Ice-Cream Parlour.

He's since worked with Heston Blumenthal, appeared on MasterChef Netherlands, and is undertaking a culinary course in South Africa. He's also opening an ice-cream store in India and is in talks to launch a restaurant in Bali.

In the meantime, there's one thing the "home cook" is relieved about – that those wretched online trolls that were so virulent during his time on MasterChef Australia, and for a short period afterwards, seem to have found a new target.

The writer travelled as a guest of ubudfoodfestival.com