Following her 2017 win, Chan wasted no time in launching a supermarket line of frozen dumplings. She became a foodie tourism ambassador in the Northern Territory and in her birth country of Malaysia. Her restaurant plans are yet to be realised – she ran a six-month pop up in Melbourne’s CBD and is negotiating a cafe in Bali with a silent partner. But she has been presented with a golden ticket in the form of her first television series, Asia Unplated with Diana Chan, on SBS’ food channel.
“When you finish MasterChef, you’re like a bird. They just set you free,” Chan says. “It’s crucial what you do in the next 12 months. You’ve got to capitalise on it. The challenge is to keep it going, to stay relevant and continuously evolve – be present on social media, do lots of appearances on telly, and always be in the forefront of everyone’s minds.”
Starting with Vietnam and ending with Malaysia, Chan explores 10 different cuisines in the series. The format is a tried and true market shop followed by a tutorial from friends and colleagues (including MasterChef judge and Thai food enthusiast Gary Mehigan; Melbourne pho queen Jerry Mai; and Clarissa Weerasena, the wife of Seven’s My Kitchen Rules judge Manu Feildel and an accomplished home cook), and finishing with a demonstration by Chan. There are shortcuts for novices, and some trickier dishes to challenge the adventurous.
“We’re trying to make people not afraid of trying out different Asian recipes. I want people to understand it’s all about the authenticity of the food. There’s a mixture of recipes. It’s not your traditional stock standard recipes. It’s a little more in-depth.”
Everything Chan knows about television she learnt during her seven months in “lockdown” on MasterChef. In her new role, she exudes that same quietly confident charm. The entire thing is unscripted, and she addresses an unseen person just to the right of the camera, instead of the camera itself. It’s a technique used by producer Leigh Redlich from production company hsquared (also responsible for Justine Schofield’s Everyday Gourmet and Good Chef Bad Chef, both on Ten), to achieve a relaxed effect.
It is as if you are sitting in front of us watching us cook.
“We didn’t want it to be me looking down the barrel because it seems a bit harsh,” Chan explains. “Jamie Oliver and Nigella do this. It is a lot more inviting.
“When you’re talking off camera, it just looks like you’re having a conversation. When the guest comes in, we never look at the camera. It is as if you are sitting in front of us watching us cook.”
There is a convivial air between Chan and her first guest, 2018 MasterChef finalist Khanh Ong. The pair makes the assemblage of kem chuoi (betel leaf beef parcels) look simple and fun.
“I really wanted Khanh on board because we live together. We put a photo of us on the fridge to make it look like it’s our house. But it’s not, of course, it’s a studio set.”