Committed to cooking: Dan Dumbrell

18 Mar 2024
Dr Dan Dumbrell

The UNSW Ageing Futures Institute Project Officer went from a ‘dabbling cook’ to a MasterChef contestant during a COVID lockdown.

Dr Dan Dumbrell says he has always “dabbled” in cooking but started to take it more seriously during COVID lockdowns when “everyone was stuck inside and couldn’t go out to restaurants”.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I have time to cook a whole meal after work. It's not like we're doing anything else,” he says.

When he saw that applications were open for MasterChef, on a whim he applied.

“I did a Zoom call with them and then I was flown to Melbourne and went through the whole quarantine thing. It seemed as though, all of a sudden, I was on the show.

“It was an incredible, wild experience. I packed my bags in November and said to my husband, ‘You'll probably see me in a week or so’ and then I didn’t come back until February.

The experience, Dan says, was very intense and going on a reality show is not something he would recommend for the faint of heart. People ask him whether the contestants have to stick to the exact time.

“You have the pressure of the time limit and, on top of that, the cameras are pointing at you, and you have a microphone in your face. If you make a mistake, all the cameras flock to you.”

Dan made it halfway through the contest – more than 30 episodes – which suggests he might have been a little more than a ‘dabbling’ cook to start with.

Life after MasterChef

These days Dan says he is paid to cook in the evenings and on weekends, which is “fantastic”.

“I cook on social media and share a lot of recipes. And from that I've gained some extracurricular work where I can get paid to develop recipes. It’s incredible.,” he says.

“When I went on the show, I really didn’t know as much as the other people, but I learned so much that I have taken into the next stage of cooking.

“I love the balance now of having a full-time job at UNSW and getting to unwind on the weekends and after work by cooking. And yes, I get paid for it.”

Another of Dan’s passions is tennis, which he says he has picked up again after being an avid player when he was younger, and played in the State Championships.

What might surprise your colleagues about you?

I was state [NSW] champion for Mandarin public speaking for a few years when I was around 8 to 12 years old.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

My Mum is a very wise woman and always gives the best advice. She always says, it doesn't matter how other people treat you. As long as you can go to bed with a clear conscience, you'll have the best night's sleep.

What day in your life would you like to relive?

The day I got married. It was a Saturday in 2020 and the week before, the COVID restrictions were lifted and we were allowed to dance. It turned out to be such a perfect day.

What’s the best thing you have heard in the last year?

A true crime podcast called Your Own Backyard.

Follow Dan on Instagram @dandumbrell.

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