It just dawned on me that it’s been 1 year to the day since I won MasterChef. Exactly 365 days ago Callum and I were centre stage in the most watched non-sport TV event in Australian history. We came out of the MasterChef house into a whirlwind, and it’s been a manic 12 months since. To mark the occasion, I thought I’d just look back at the year that’s been:

     I’ve received tens of thousands messages of congratulations from within Australia and all over the world. England, India, the USA, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, the Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France… the list really does go on. In fact, it might even be easier to list the countries I haven’t received messages of thanks from. The sheer number of messages has been enormous, but please believe me when I say I’ve appreciated every single one.

     I’ve worked in some of Australia’s best restaurants, including Tetsuya’s in Sydney and The Flower Drum in Melbourne. I’ve cooked every day and developed my cooking skills more than I thought possible in just one year. I’ve written more than 300 recipes and spent countless hours in the kitchen, enjoying every minute.

   I’ve written a cookbook, and fulfilled a lifelong dream in doing so. It’s something that I’m extremely proud of and it’s received some fantastic reviews (like this one… and this one… and this one). It happens to be selling quite well too. I’ll even be attending my first Byron Bay Writers’ Festival just next week… as an author. It’s incredibly humbling when somebody tells you they’ve cooked one of your recipes and it’s changed the way their family cooks and eats. Never in my life would I have thought I could make a tangible difference, however small, to people’s lives through food.

     I’ve filmed for TV in Australia, New Zealand and soon Malaysia; done literally hundreds of interviews for TV, radio and print; and photo shoots galore. It’s all a bit much really, but it doesn’t get in the way of the food. One thing I am really happy about is that I am getting a chance to write a lot more for magazines and newspapers. I’ve even had the opportunity to take Australian journalists and bloggers around Malaysia to show them what I love about the food of the country of my birth.

     I’ve travelled on more than 120 flights, spent nearly 150 nights in hotel rooms, and travelled nearly 200,000 kilometres. That’s an average of new city every three days, and a total distance of nearly 5 times around the world! It’s exhausting, but post-MasterChef life is certainly good for the frequent flyer points.

I really think it would be easier if I just started flying myself.

     I’ve moved back to Australia from Japan. I spent a 6 wonderful years living in Japan and travelling around Asia – eating, learning and working – but it is so nice to be back home in Australia.

     I’ve won awards like FHM Australia’s “2011 Food Hero”, and been variously nominated for others as strange and diverse as “Favourite TV Star” at the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards. Walking red carpets and signing autographs for squealing fans is certainly not something I’m used to.

     I’ve met some amazing chefs from around the world including Rene Redzepi, Heston Blumenthal (again), Florence Tan – the Queen of Nyonya Cuisine, and especially Iron Chefs Hiroyuki Sakai and Chen Kenichi, who I had the pleasure of dining with in Melbourne recently and who I will be working with in the near future.

     I’ve cooked banquets at the World Expo in Shanghai, demonstrated at the Auckland Food Show and countless other shows around Australia such as Taste, Good Food Show, MasterChef Live and Fine Food Australia.  I’m soon to travel to South Africa to demonstrate at the Good Food Show over there and am cooking a series of degustation dinners in North Queensland. These are all extraordinary experiences that I am incredibly grateful for. In my wildest dreams I never would have imagined my life would involve travelling the world, cooking and eating. It’s amazing fun and it never feels like work to be talking to people about good food.

So, what’s next?

The biggest project I’m working on at the moment is a plan for a casual Japanese restaurant (izakaya) here in Sydney. There’s nothing concrete to announce at this stage but we’ve put hundreds of man-hours into it so far with the hope of opening very early next year. I know it’s been a long time coming, but for me and my partners in Japan it is more important to get it done right rather than fast. Stay tuned for more on this one.

I have a few trips coming up to Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa and Japan. I’m soon hosting a tour to Japan to assist (and cook for) victims of the tsunami and nuclear disaster along with the fantastic Iron Chefs, Hiroyuki Sakai and Chen Kenichi. I’m also planning a stage in one of my favourite restaurants in Japan.

I’m working on plans for my second book and hope to have that out within the next year. Writing my book last year was a wonderful experience, and it was so gratifying to see all the positive feedback. Still, I hope my next book can be even better!

While not the most exciting development, I know this blog is long overdue for an overhaul. I hope to start writing more regularly and especially posting more recipes and photos of what’s been happening. Stay tuned for a newer and more interesting site over the next few months.

They say that moving house, changing jobs and getting married are the three most stressful things you can do in life. In the past year I’ve done two of those things, but it’s been far more wonderful than stressful. I’m truly thankful to all of you for making this possible.