MasterChef’s Khanh: ‘When You Grow Up As A Refugee, You Pretend Everything Is Great’

‘MasterChef Australia: Back To Win’ contestant Khanh Ong has opened up about his family’s refugee journey, saying “it’s an awkward conversation but it’s a conversation that needs to be had”. 

Khanh spent the first two years of his life in an immigration camp in Indonesia, before moving to Australia with his family in the 1990s.

“I feel as though when you grow up as a refugee, you pretend that everything is great,” the 27-year-old told HuffPost Australia.

“You pretend that everything is fine but there is a little part of you that just wants to be like every single other person, and I don’t want anyone to feel that.” 

Growing up in a Vietnamese household, food was always a big part of his life and he learned how to make traditional Vietnamese food from his mum Dzung. Little did he know that years later he would be an inspiration to others on a national cooking show.  

“It’s really humbling,” he said. “I would’ve loved growing up to see a refugee that looked like me on my screen. It’s a hope kind of thing.”

Khanh said he didn’t speak much about his refugee journey when he first competed on ‘MasterChef’ in 2019. 

“Even in the first season I never really spoke about it, just because it’s an awkward conversation. It’s always been an awkward conversation but it’s a conversation that needs to be had.

“At the end of the day, I see myself as Australian still and I feel a lot of refugees see themselves that way and need to see that representation, that Australians are very different, that we have all different cultures.

“We are all different but that should be celebrated.” 

Khanh’s father Tam lost his battle to cancer when Khanh was in his late teens, and as he’s detailed in his new book, A Gay Guy’s Guide to Life, Love, Food, he took over running his family’s butcher business. He’s also worked in fashion design and been a DJ, though food has been his main passion. 

“Dad would’ve been so proud. He would’ve been so happy,” Khanh told HuffPost Australia.

“My family have always been a massive support for me. When it comes to cooking, I feel like cooking is all about your memories and your emotions and that’s why half of us do what we do. It’s because it takes us to a place that is comforting, so that’s what the book is about.” 

Khanh was eliminated from ‘MasterChef: Back To Win’ on Sunday night, but surely this won’t be the last we see of him. 

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