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.
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.