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Shannon Confirms What We Thought – Need To Be Middle Class To Win Masterchef

An interesting interview in Nine MSN with Shannon Smyth the 26 year old receptionist from Queensland who basically confirmed what has been discussed intermittently on this blog, that you need to be middle class to win Masterchef Australia or Junior Masterchef.

People have frequently commented on this blog that to be able to produce some really good dishes you need to have used the high end ingredients, and have a wide variety of eating experiences.

For example who is going to let a 10 year old loose with a good piece of tuna, or steak?

Shannon in the article said she felt she was at a disadvantage to the other contestants because of her poor childhood. Also her current job as a receptionist would not give her a big income to spend on fresh high quality ingredients and dining experiences either.

The article states:

Eliminated MasterChef contestant Shannon Smyth says she was disadvantaged because she came from a poor background and had not travelled much or experienced high-end cuisine.

The 26-year-old from Brisbane lost last night’s elimination cook-off against Craig Young, 43, in a round where contestants were allowed only three ingredients and 15 minutes to cook their dishes.

Smyth said her childhood of cheap and basic food put her at a disadvantage to some of the other contestants.

“The food was basic, it was spag-bol, it was tinned and frozen, it was all those things and it’s so far removed from the foie gras and truffles of MasterChef,” Smyth told

Smyth said she started cooking for her family, headed by her single-mother, from the age of 13.

She also said she had to try to make up for her lack of travel by reading cookbooks about different countries’ cuisines in between filming the reality show.

“I felt really intimidated while I was there … even Ellie’s [Paxton-Hall] been to Europe and she’s 21,” she said.

“We never travelled when I was a kid.”

What do you guys think? Is she making a valid point?


1 smauge { 06.17.11 at 12:51 pm }

Can’t wait for someone to get eliminated and just say “you know what? I fucked up. I am just not a good enough cook to have won the comp.”. Enough of the freakin’ excuses!

2 littlepetal { 06.17.11 at 12:56 pm }

You still can cook flavoursome food with simple fresh ingredients.

I have mentioned this on another thread:

What has she been doing for 3 years? Can’t she get cookbooks from libraries to learn about the different cuisines. What about watching some cooking programs?

Also travelling overseas doesn’t mean you can afford those high-end cuisines. I can’t afford to go to Fat Duck.

She is a very delusional as someone mentioned. She was shock that she got eliminated so early. Does she think she could win and by winning she can be a pastry chef?

3 Miss Piggy (MelbaToast) { 06.17.11 at 12:57 pm }

Hmmm, I come for a poor background myself (like REALLY poor – grabbing food from the fruit shop bins so we could eat a meal) and whilst I am not a great cook, I have always been interested in tasty food since i was old enough to make my own food choices and pay for my own meals. She might not have the money to make expensive dishes, but surely a lot can be learnt by reading and brushing up on basic techniques. There are SO many food shows on TV these days too that you can take you around the world without leaving your loungeroom (SBS food safari for one). She obvioulsy earns decent money, or her boyfriend does, as their house looked MASSIVE!

Surely a bit of saving would allow for a trip overseas, or the purchase of more fancy ingridents every month or two to experiment – which is what I did in my first few low low paying jobs.

4 Thomas { 06.17.11 at 1:00 pm }

Uh I don’t think any of the other contestants have pockets filled with $$..

5 Paul { 06.17.11 at 1:04 pm }

Think she has a point.

It would be extremely hard for someone on a tight financial budget to give up 8 months of the year. I think the stipend is only $500 a week or so.

The contestants in all three series and especially Junior Masterchef tend to back up what she’s saying.

Not many factory workers amongst them !!!!!

6 JaniceG { 06.17.11 at 1:30 pm }

Frankly, even if it’s true, so what? There are all sorts of handicaps that contestants need to deal with in the competition. For example, even middle-class or above people aren’t necessarily exposed to regional cuisines depending on where they live – should they be whinging about that too? (“No one from a small town in the Northern Terriroty can ever win MasterChef because they would never have been exposed to a massaman curry”) What about parents with kids? (“No mom with several kids will ever win MasterChef because the kids won’t eat adventurous food so they never get a chance to cook it”) Vegetarians and the seriously lactose intolerant probably will never win either, no matter how well they cook their favourite cuisines.

The competition is not intended to be an internship or an education, and you don’t get handicap points – it’s intended to find a very good amateur all-around cook. If you aren’t one for whatever reason, you’re not going to be able to win the competition.

7 RarelySeen { 06.17.11 at 1:35 pm }

Shannon had the best comments of any of the contestants, and the show will suffer without her observations. She may not look like a winner, but she was a little more interesting than poor Ellie who reminds me of a labrador – all happy drools or ghastly Dani who would not have your back in a war. Hayden is winning me over slowly, I hope the rumours aren’t true that he’s out of the comp soon.
Meanwhile Michael, Kumar, Craig & Peter are all charming possibles, but I really had some dough riding on the outsider Shannon.

8 Fides { 06.17.11 at 1:38 pm }

As far as overseas travel goes, from memory neither Callum nor Marion had been to Europe before, but that didn’t stop them winning the Paris super challenge. And Jono had lived in France but went to the elimination challenge for his (and Joanne’s) efforts. It’s about talent, Shannon!

9 Fides { 06.17.11 at 1:48 pm }

RarelySeen – there’s a few labradors amongst this year’s group! Michael is a pup, Ellie’s a more grown up one. Actually I think Ellie is more a placid and clueless spaniel. Hayden I would technically class as a goldendoodle/labradoodle but that’s mainly due to the hair, although those designer dogs are popular on the northern beaches.

10 JRuth { 06.17.11 at 1:49 pm }

Kind of makes the comments about the saffron even more excruciating. She tried to act like she often makes saffron-infused honey and just “forgot” how to do it this time. Why not just be honest and say, “oh, I’ve never used saffron before, but I did today because I thought it might be impressive”? Saffron is very expensive, so very few home cooks would be experienced in cooking with it. A 15 minute challenge is not the time to start playing around with the expensive ingredients you’ve never used before! I don’t know how to infuse saffron into honey, but I don’t go around pretending that I do…

11 NT Kate { 06.17.11 at 1:53 pm }

If you were a serious foodie (which is after all what they said they were looking for) you would devote a little of your meager budget each month or so to trying out a more exotic ingredient (many of which are not that expensive anyway, just hang around markets looking for specials!)/save to eat somewhere interesting (even if you can only afford a lunch special). You would read the journals, hunt through the internet for recipes etc. It is all about priorities.

Besides, Shannon couldn’t even manage a decent chicken dish when givne that as a core ingredient. I really think she has a bit of gall to complain about being at a disadvantage over exotic ingredients/OS experience…

12 j03w { 06.17.11 at 1:57 pm }

this is the first season of masterchef I watch so I don’t really what was it like in the previous season
and although I agree with JaniceG, but since the competition started I have a feeling that this competition is based heavily on the wealth of contestants
you could see many great recipe from cookbook true but you couldn’t test that recipe if you are not going to spend some cash buying ingredients and time to cook the recipe
same goes to tv show
without tasting many kind of food how could you improve your palate?
you can’t become a sommelier simply by reading wine books you have to taste thousand of thousand of wine
cooking is the same… can you fathom what Blumenthal’s burger taste like without trying the recipe?
and I’m speaking not just about the show but to cooking in general

13 AnonyMousse { 06.17.11 at 2:07 pm }

Why is she complaining about foie gras and truffles? The one contestant who cooked with those this season was essentially told to not waste the show’s money on those ingredients again.

If you’ve got a firm grounding in the basics, which you can get from basic cheap ingredients and a basic stove/oven, then you can use those foundations to expand your skills once you got your hands on better ingredients, so long as (and here’s the important bit) you actually apply yourself to learning the new techniques. Shannon had months in that Masterchef home, with it’s corresponding access to ingredients, to learn some more advanced lessons. Callum showed us last year, with his endless regurgitations of earlier Masterclasses, that you can learn new techniques along the way.

14 Maz { 06.17.11 at 2:09 pm }

Shannon does have a valid point. Some of the ingredients used on Masterchef are expensive. The other point is some of those ingredients are just not readily available in some parts of regional Australia (despite Coles being where a Ma$terchef shops).

Its all well and good to say study cookbooks and watch Food Safari but its a poor substitute for actual experience.

15 Angei { 06.17.11 at 2:14 pm }

Excuses, excuses – why not bow out gracefully? How many of the contestants have travelled overseas – judging by ages, probably not too many and does travelling actually make you a better cook? As for low income – welcome to the real world! I think if she had a firm grasp of the basics she would have been fine.

16 JaniceG { 06.17.11 at 2:17 pm }

@NT Kate – Really good point about Shannon’s poor showing in the chicken cookoff. You’d have to be on the verge of abject poverty not to have had the opportunity to cook with chicken!

17 EH { 06.17.11 at 2:17 pm }

Is that the reason why the only challenge she won was the “tinned and frozen” one? It does make sense now.

18 Maria { 06.17.11 at 2:18 pm }

Look, I like Shannon and I’m sad she’s been eliminated. However, I don’t think background/upbringing and income should be taken into consideration. When you apply to get onto Masterchef, you pretty much know the judges want to be captivated by the dishes you cook. And though the Masterchef pantry does contain some expensive ingredients, those pricey ingredients are not the key to avoiding elimination. Shannon’s thick, toffee-like syrup last night (made from an orange and some sugar) was her downfall.

19 brain dead dave { 06.17.11 at 2:21 pm }

Can’t cook for Jack is her problem,rich or poor.

Enough with the excuses.

20 akris { 06.17.11 at 3:20 pm }

Agree with JRuth…her saffron comment alone also made me think she’s just full of excuses…. she made a few last week as well in her elimination challenge against Arena…

21 Brocolli { 06.17.11 at 3:23 pm }

Traveling to Europe doesn’t make you a great cook. It obviously hasn’t made any meaningful contribution to Ellie’s cooking skills.

The ethnic fare that Poh, Alvin and Jimmy has been cooking are considered to be fairly basic and common from the place of origin of the dish/chef. Perhaps that just goes to show that Australia doesn’t have a “food culture” historically, or that Australian dishes didn’t really taste that good. But of course that has been changing in recent years with immigration from Europe then Asia to thank for (see Adam’s introduction to his cookbook). Wikipedia “Australian cuisine” and compare that to say “Indian cuisine” , “Spanish cuisine” or “Cambodian cuisine” and any foreigner will find the latter to be more intriguing.

Sadly, her point about having to be middle class to succeed applies to generally most things in life, (Outliers – M. Gladwell, Freakonomics) not only to masterchef. Which a lot of people thankfully are working hard to change it.

But the quality of the contestants this season compared to season 2 has been piss poor, which was a deliberate attempt by the producers/judges unfortunately:

Eg. this comment on today’s mastechef recap from theage :
“… However looking at the occupations of the people and where they’re from its obvious that the producers have gone for more ‘viewer friendly chefs,’ tired of seeing lawyers, medical students and engineers dominate, this season is full of personally more pleasing, but technically less skilled constestants which I think damages the reputation of the show.

My friend attempted to get on for this season and was told she was ‘too good,’ because they need to see improvement, how can they then say these are the best amateur cooks in Australia? “

22 smauge { 06.17.11 at 3:51 pm }

I’m really disappointed in Shannon because I liked her. I’ve got to say though, there seems to be a few people here backing her on her excuse, yet every one bagged Jay for not learning desserts. Maybe Shannon was just a hopeful patissiere who did take the time to learn how to cook savoury meals?

23 Reality raver { 06.17.11 at 4:28 pm }

Interesting comments thanks guys. However I think she would not have exposed to the breadth of flavours then others. I think she probably felt intimidated by people’s knowledge and food experience compared to her own.
Broccoli I agree with your comment that this is akin to real life where the middle class who do tend to do better or even manipulate the tax dollars.
Her wage would be low as she is unskilled and even though the house might have looked large it may not be that expensive. In Sydney middle class people live in smallish houses close to the city when for half the amount they could by a large house further out. I do agree with comment on she had three years to practice with other cuisines.

24 Thomas { 06.17.11 at 4:34 pm }

Well her going into elimination four to five times in a row shows her skill doesn’t it? I didn’t see anything terribly ethnic or expensive about any of the dishes that were cooked today during the three rounds, and two of her dishes would have gotten her kicked out in any other elimination.

25 Rosie { 06.17.11 at 4:42 pm }

She reminds me of the bird on Biggest Loser whose druggy father only fed them chips when she was a kid. And she used that at every opportunity to explain that she didn’t know what healthy food was…

Shannon’s comments simply smack of being a poor loser. Most of us grew up eating the basics. The vast majority of the food supplied there is not expensive. I think that had she been able to make interesting tasty things with the cheapest ingredients she would still be there.

26 Kimba's Kitchen { 06.17.11 at 5:03 pm }

Oh Shannon… US Top Chef Winner Floyd Cardoz just WON & all he cooked was a humble “upma” dish – excuses excuses. I don’t think u need to be “middle class” or “have travelled” to be able to cook great food. Maybe some reading & experimenting… and making the most use out of what you DO have access to.

A lot of traditional recipes from poorer countries (e.g. developing country my home Malaysia) use humble, inexpensive ingredients to make amazing flavours. I’m not saying you need to “travel” to these places – I’m just saying as an example, people in these poorer countries have NEVER travelled, DON’T have access to expensive cookbooks, DON’T even have cooking shows to teach them a thing or two.. but they can cook some of the most amazing dishes because of their passion.

I have had nothing against her until I read this sad excuse. What happened to her saying she would walk out of the competition “with her head held high”?

27 PollyB { 06.17.11 at 5:12 pm }

Well thanks for the spoiler regarding TCM series that has not shown here in Oz yet Kimba’s Kitchen. I don’t need to watch that now do I.

28 Liz { 06.17.11 at 5:30 pm }

Shannon was on borrowed time for ages. Continually in eliminations she just seemed to be able to scrape through because someone else mucked something up worse than she did.

And as for blaming her childhood for not having access to different cuisines or ingredients…..oh, puhleeeeeez! If you have such a passion for cooking, you would be at the library literally devouring every cook book published if you couldn’t afford to buy them. And as for travelling….very few get to take cooking classes when travelling, so that is just a try for the sympathy vote.

Learn your basics….maybe do an apprenticeship (there’s a novel idea) and learn to cook.

Really glad that she didn’t win, cos that harebrained scheme of a patisserie and florist would have tanked as fast as she did (or when the Masterchef $$ ran out – which ever would have come first)

Man up (woman up??) just say, there were better cooks in the competition than me and I wish them luck. Dignity, Shannon, Dignity!

29 Kimba's Kitchen { 06.17.11 at 5:42 pm }

PollyB – Ooooopppssss… Sorry I didn’t even think of that! My bad… :p

30 ExEssex { 06.17.11 at 6:10 pm }

What a load of tripe. I was very lucky to be brought up by parents that worked very hard and ended up with a few quid. My Mum is still one of the worst cooks I know. It didn’t matter if we could afford good ingredients or not, she still had no bloody idea what to do with them. I have somehow managed to come out of this ‘disadvantaged’ upbringing with some pretty solid skills in the kitchen.

31 KatInEurope { 06.17.11 at 6:23 pm }

Hang on.
Australia could be said to be a country of migrants.
You can change continent just by getting off on a different tram stop in Melbourne, there is certainly much more ethnic diversity than where I am – and I actually live in Europe (I watch the show via torrents). Here near the Alps only Jay would be remotely happy due to the glut of pork. And salt. If he got a taste for paprika…
Anyway, the Europe most young backpackers see probably isn’t that much of a help to a contestant, especially when you’ve probably got better back home.
I have a good knowledge of French food as I took French at school, was good at it so used to save my pocket money and later Saturday job for French magazines. The cooking helped my language skills and my language skills helped my cooking (how German happened I can’t explain…). Sure, it is nearer when you’re British, but still… I learnt how to make curries by eating (too) many of them while studying in Birmingham, England, home of the balti curry due to migration.

Sure, money and security can give a certain confidence (and access to flashy gear), but going and finding stuff out yourself off your own bat gives a different sense of pride (or maybe there’s no point whining about what you don’t have & won’t get). And asking the local grand-mères/Omas/babushkas/nenek/yaya/nonna/Abeula/Avó … well, that will only cost time. Plus sweet tea.

tl;dr she’s dreaming.

32 bella vita { 06.17.11 at 7:10 pm }

Shannon is a wannabee reality show try hard…you would have to be if you were that desperate for 3 years to try and get on AND make mention of it that that was the reason you wanted to be there.

She seems to enjoy playing the martyr and crapping on about her poor background. Get over it!
Low income families and people who are receptionists or people that are not in stereotypical jobs can still cook well regardless of their back story. And quite a lot of people only get to eat special ingredients for those special meals in life. Who honestly cooks with rabbit or duck every night?

She wanted to be “someone”, well guess what…she still isnt…which proved it in the last segment
“Shannon is now working part time in a cupcake shop”

Says it all really

33 penny aka jeroxie { 06.17.11 at 7:22 pm }

I disagree. After watching Thorsten cooking that Thai dish, it seems quite clear that to be in Masterchef, one must process good basic foundation cooking and baking skills. And a good palate certainly seals the deal. Of course if one has the opportunity to experience fine dining and cooking expensive ingredients, it may help but really?
A good example is Jay. He got booted as he had poor baking skills. I am sure he had eaten well and cooked with expensive ingredients.
Anyway, we always have excuses when we fail. I do that all the time. I don’t blame Shannon for feeling this way. Gutted…. and disappointed.

34 Mac { 06.18.11 at 11:47 am }

3 years trying to go on Masterchef? HA!
She could have completed an apprenticeship by now. She’s full of excuses who won’t admit she just lost.

35 Sooty { 06.18.11 at 12:30 pm }

She’s an excuse machine. You wouldn’t have caught Jake whining like this.

36 kim { 06.18.11 at 7:35 pm }

Oh Perlease – she was just ‘not up to scratch’ – use the 15 minutes of fame to open your florist/cafe Shannon and leave out the sour grapes.

37 SaintsDeano { 06.18.11 at 11:05 pm }

Shannon put the red team into the elimination with her crap dessert. Karma. She deserved to be eliminated. I did like her though. Possibly the first contestant not to have a “rent a crowd” reception upon returning to her house. Just Shannon and her hubby.

38 AnonyMousse { 06.18.11 at 11:12 pm }

Speaking of Jake – just realised both he and Shannon ‘placed’ the same (15th). But when you compare the two, I see a gap. Jake was usually considered a weak cook by season 2’s standards, and yet most people could agree that he was talented in cooking seafood. I know if he ever did manage to kick off that idea of a seafood shack, I’d be interested in visiting. This year’s number 15 had talents in… er… well, I guess tinned food (based on her win).

If we’re to believe reports that the judges deliberately shifted focus in their recruiting this year then if anything, Shannon wasn’t disadvantaged by her background – it’s likely the only reason she got on the show in the first place. If the judges were seeking the same calibre as the other seasons she might not have ever got the 15 minutes of fame she managed to get.

39 noodle { 06.19.11 at 12:28 am }

I was so sick of her whinging and whining and I’m not surprised that she comes out with this excuse in an interview after being eliminated. If you want to excel at something you spend time developing the basics – skills that don’t cost a lot of money and skills she obviously lacked. Can’t afford to travel? How about trying to get work experience at a high-end restaurant? Reading widely? Watching videos on the internet?

She was weak and certainly didn’t warrant a shot at the title of Masterchef. She needs to take a spoonful of concrete and harden up. You don’t get anywhere in this world by simply dreaming about it.

40 anonymice { 06.19.11 at 3:54 am }

Interestingly the only challenge she won was the “tinned food” challenge – that ended up being iceream between 2 biscuits.

41 JaniceG { 06.19.11 at 9:39 am }

@Anonymousse: I believe that Jake’s Just Caught is still in business ( He also apparently participated in a competition in Korea at the end of last year:

42 littlepetal { 06.19.11 at 10:03 am }

Glad to hear that Jake is doing well. Wonder we will say the same about Shannon

43 SAS { 06.19.11 at 11:11 am }

For goodnesss sake, she is a single girl with no children even on a megre wage she could still afford to experiment with some more exotic foods. All that business of I have put my life on hold for 3 years for hte show (including her wedding) well why then did she just get herself an apprenticeship, it would have been a much better way to make use of her time. These people who want an easy ride are annoying.

44 Emma { 06.19.11 at 12:33 pm }

By Kimbas Kitchen: “I’m just saying as an example, people in these poorer countries have NEVER travelled, DON’T have access to expensive cookbooks, DON’T even have cooking shows to teach them a thing or two.. but they can cook some of the most amazing dishes because of their passion.”

They would have likely been raised from a young age to cook though – in non Western cultures, cooking has a lot to do with family and being part of a community; I don’t think that’s an appropriate comparison. It’s not the same in Australia.

I’ve spent time overseas but that hasn’t helped my cooking – I travelled to meet people and have life experiences – not to eat in high end restaurants or even eat out much at all.

To learn how to cook really well, it’s like anything – you need to cook a lot, to experiment and take chances. Realistically this does cost money and if you’re paying off a home and trying to save money for the future that might not be as easy as it seems.

I’m a decent cook and baker but I’m sure I’d cave on a TV show with so many people watching me and judging me on every little move or comment I made. Maybe people just don’t handle that aspect of it particularly well, I don’t know.

I wish Shannon well in any case. It’s a pity some people need to stick the boot in quite so hard at this point. It doesn’t pay to admit to any weaknesses on reality TV that’s for sure.

45 Crabtech { 06.19.11 at 4:00 pm }

Thanks for the links JaniceK. I hope he still is on business because I liked Jake. However the site does not to have been updated since september last year so we can’t be sure he’s still in business. I hope he is and just hasn’t got time to update the site. As for Shannon’s idea of cake and flower shop it might just work. My local chemist has now opened a coffee shop in it!
No one can know what catches on. However she would do well to have some customer service training as I found her voice really irritating.

46 Izobel2 { 06.19.11 at 9:47 pm }

Just watched the ep. I think she lost as she couldn’t actually c anything because her stupid fringe is in her way every time she cooks. Drives me MAD!!!!!

47 auds { 06.20.11 at 10:31 am }

I have been around Europe as well and it didnt really help me cooking wise.

Also people really need to take care on these sites with spoilers revealing stuff people dont want to know.

Either dont post at all or make sure you post that its a spoiler way before you post the actual comments


48 Culinary Boner { 06.20.11 at 1:01 pm }

I know I’m entering this debate late in the piece, but hasn’t Curtis Stone solved this with his Coles $10 meals.

“Hey love, can ya grate some more of ’em truffles over me rustic cut pasta will ya. Oh and open me another VB…. Ta, darl. That fat guy in the cravat’s a funny c**t, don’t ya reckon. Heard a rumour the other day that Dicky Knee’s makin’ an appearance on mashterchef. Yeah, too right. Heard he’s on the night after his ‘oliness the Dalai Lama.”

49 RarelySeen { 06.20.11 at 4:47 pm }

Some comments do sound a bit mean, where is your compassion? Oh I know you’re saving it for the HH episode.
But really it was the orange marmalade I mean syrup that did her in. Instead of reading cookbooks Shannon would have spent her time better brushing up on middle class movies such as Bridget Jones 1 &2, in particular the marmalade dessert she served guests.