Dessert Masters 2023: Meet the chefs competing in the debut season
Channel 10’s culinary battleground is set, and it’s a sugar-coated spectacle like never before. Dessert Masters, the latest offering from the network, brings together 10 of the nation’s most innovative chefs to compete for the coveted prize of $100,000.
Get to know more about the dessert dynamos competing for the crown of the inaugural Dessert Master.
Kirsten Tibballs – The Chocolate Queen
Kirsten Tibballs is an absolute force in the pastry world. With a global reputation, Kirsten’s handmade chocolates secured top honours at the World Pastry Championships and the Pastry Olympics in 2004.
In 2022, she took charge as the Head of the Jury of Taste at the World Chocolate Masters in Paris, Patisserie Grand Prix in Japan, and the World Chocolate Masters National selections in London. From selling cakes at 12 to her apprenticeship at 15 and training in Europe, Kirsten’s passion for baking led to the founding of Savour School in Melbourne in 2002.
As the author of multiple cookbooks, including Chocolate All Day released in October, Kirsten shares her expertise online and at hands-on classes at Savour School. A familiar face on MasterChef, she also stars in the SBS series The Chocolate Queen, airing in over 40 countries.
Reynold Poernomo – The MasterChef Alchemist
Capturing hearts on MasterChef Australia in 2015, Reynold Poernomo has since established Koi and Monkey’s Corner, showcasing his culinary artistry with aesthetically stunning and palatially complex creations.
Renowned for his incredible desserts on MasterChef Australia, Reynold Poernomo, was dubbed the “Dessert King” of seasons 7 and 12. With a style blending avant-garde and contemporary, Reynold has gained massive recognition and a significant social media following for his mind-blowing creations.
Arriving in Australia from Indonesia at the age of four, Reynold, along with his family, opened Sydney’s Koi Dessert Bar in 2016. The establishment, now spanning two locations, offers cakes, classes, and experiential dining. As the creative director, Reynold also oversees Monkey’s Corner, a Japanese-influenced eatery.
A 2017 finalist for the Gault & Millau Pastry Chef of the Year awards, Reynold was featured in Forbes Asia’s 30 under 30. His culinary journey includes guest judging on MasterChef Australia and MasterChef Indonesia, and in 2021, he released a cookbook, The Dessert Game.
Anna Polyviou – The Rebel with a Mohawk
Anna Polyviou’s energetic presence and iconic bright pink mohawk define her as a force to be reckoned with in the world of desserts. With a career kickstarting at Melbourne’s Sofitel Hotel in 2001, Anna soared to international heights by honing her skills at London’s Claridge’s Hotel and studying under the legendary Pierre Hermé in Paris.
Returning to Australia, Anna left an indelible mark as the Executive Pastry Chef and Culinary Creative Director at Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel, revolutionising hotel pâtisseries across the country. A three-time MasterChef Australia guest, award-winning author, and Creative Director of Pastry at The Langham in Sydney, Anna is a true innovator in the culinary world.
As the Creative Director of her own venture, Anna infuses her unmatched pastry genius into exciting collaborations, always putting fun at the forefront. Despite her stellar presence in the Australian pastry scene, Anna approaches Dessert Masters with the enthusiasm of an apprentice, ready to challenge herself and draw inspiration from her like-minded peers.
Adriano Zumbo – Australia’s Willy Wonka
Adriano Zumbo, Australia’s own Willy Wonka, captured the nation’s sweet tooth with his whimsical and daring desserts on MasterChef Australia. Dubbed the “Pâtissier of Pain” and the “Sweet Assassin”, Adriano has solidified his stellar reputation for fear-inducing desserts with iconic creations like the croquembouche and macaron “Tower of Terror”.
Hailing from Coonamble, NSW, Adriano’s journey began raiding lollies and cake mix at his parents’ supermarket, setting the stage for his sweet future. Starting his apprenticeship at 15, he further honed his skills in Italy and France, studying at renowned pastry institutions like l’Ecole Lenôtre and with Pierre Hermé.
Opening his first pâtisserie in 2007, Adriano’s global pastry odyssey included competitions like Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie and the Asian Pastry Cup. His classical training, combined with boundless imagination, results in delectable and sometimes irreverent creations.
Author of three best-selling cookbooks, Adriano is a familiar face on TV, from MasterChef to hosting Zumbo’s Just Desserts and judging on Netflix’s Sugar Rush. Fans can also taste-test his creations at Zumbo in Noosaville, Queensland, or indulge in his curated high tea at Sydney’s QT Hotel.
Jess Liemantara – The Young Prodigy
Jess Liemantara, affectionately known as “Jess Lemon”, has come a long way since her time as the youngest contestant on MasterChef Australia Season 10, and her return for Season 12’s Back To Win.
With a childhood dream of becoming a pastry chef, Jess has turned that passion into a thriving career. She has worked at esteemed establishments such as Om Nom, The Press Club and Nobu Melbourne, gaining international experience at Raffles Hotel Jakarta.
As a budding entrepreneur, she self-published her cookbook, A Zest of Jess, and during the pandemic, she launched a pastry delivery business, which evolved into the bricks and mortar store Esmé pâtisserie in Melbourne’s CBD in 2022.
Jess, currently at Ned’s Bake, is now perfecting her laminated pastry skills, creating exquisite croissants, bread, and pastries. Her delectable treats can be sampled via her website, and she is actively engaged in recipe development and workshop creation for future pastry classes.
Morgan Hipworth – The Doughnut King
Morgan Hipworth, the youngest competitor in the Dessert Masters kitchen, is not to be underestimated when it comes to pastry prowess. A MasterChef Australia fan since the age of seven, Morgan’s journey took off as he hosted home bake sales at nine years old and supplied local cafés by age 13.
At just 15, Morgan opened Bistro Morgan Bakehouse while managing high school studies. Specialising in doughnuts, scrolls, cookies and toasties, Morgan’s bakery gained fame for its fun and indulgent flavours.
In 2021, he released the cookbook Made by Morgan with 60 recipes. Now 22, Morgan expanded with a second Bistro Morgan in Fitzroy and is set to open a 65-seat eatery, Maven, showcasing a fresh take on Australian favourites.
Kay-Lene Tan – Global Pastry Expert
Executive Pastry Chef Kay-Lene Tan’s journey didn’t initially lead her to pastry. Born in Melbourne and raised in Singapore, she started her career as a documentary filmmaker. A quarter-life crisis at 25 prompted her to shift gears and enroll in At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy’s Diploma of Pastry and Bakery Art.
Discovering her passion, Kay-Lene seized every opportunity, including working under Chef Joël Robuchon and later refining her unique style at Pollen. Moving to Melbourne in 2013, she contributed to The European and then joined Chef Adam D’Sylva’s team at Coda and Tonka, where she became Head Pastry Chef over eight years.
In 2018, Kay-Lene won the Host Plus Hospitality Scholarship, enhancing her skills internationally with stints at Atelier Crenn in San Francisco and Hiša Franko in rural Slovenia. Grounded in her Peranakan heritage, she draws inspiration from a deep connection to food and family, incorporating childhood memories into her nostalgic dishes.
Andy Bowdy – Pastry Prodigy
Sydney-based pastry maestro Andy Bowden, also known as Andy Bowdy, is showcasing his diverse culinary skills in the Dessert Masters kitchen. Widely recognised for his extraordinary cake creations, Andy aims to prove he’s not a one-trick pony.
Growing up as a sous chef to his grandmothers and drawing inspiration from the Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book, Andy’s culinary journey took off in London under Chef Stephen Fredericks. Returning to Sydney, he gained fame for his Peanut Butter and Banana Sundae and oversized pies at Hartsyard restaurant.
In 2017, Andy opened Saga Enmore with fiancé Maddison Howes, later venturing into Salma’s Canteen in 2023. Known for his larger-than-life cakes, such as “Rita” featured in MasterChef Australia Season 9, Andy is ready to unleash his creativity in the Dessert Masters kitchen.
Rhiann Mead – The Elegance Artisan
Rhiann Mead, a newcomer to TV, brings her classically trained pastry skills to the competition. Originally planning to study physiotherapy after a gap year in London, her path shifted while working in the Harrods Chocolate Hall, sparking a newfound passion for pastry.
Completing an apprenticeship with renowned London chocolatier William Curley, Rhiann studied at the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts in London, successfully passing the Annual Awards of Excellence exam. Returning from the UK as a fully qualified pastry chef, she joined the team of esteemed chef Peter Gilmore. After six-and-a-half years with Gilmore, in 2022, Rhiann embraced a new challenge by joining The Charles in Sydney as Head Pastry Chef.
Leading her team with passion, Rhiann’s cakes are elegantly refined, drawing on nostalgia to deliver happiness to diners. Despite the outward simplicity of some items on the dessert trolley, each reflects her classical training.
Gareth Whitton – King of Tarts
Known for his exquisite tarts, Gareth Whitton, formerly a pastry sous chef at Dinner by Heston, gained culinary fame during Melbourne’s 2020 lockdown with Tarts Anon. Starting as a local venture, the cult-favourite tarts quickly gained popularity, leading to two retail outlets, nearly 20 staff, and an forthcoming cookbook.
Gareth’s culinary journey includes working at Michelin-starred restaurants, such as Oud Sluis and the aforementioned Dinner by Heston, and serving as Head Pastry Chef at the latter. After setting a Pressure Test in MasterChef Australia Season 14, Gareth is eager to showcase his prowess in the Dessert Masters kitchen, and prove he’s more than just the king of tarts.
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