27/05/2020 12:20 PM AEST | Updated 22/06/2020 1:15 PM AEST

MasterChef Australia's Khanh Ong: Growing Up Gay, Family's Refugee Journey

Behind his smile is a touching story of identity and family that has shaped the chef and person he is today.

As he competes on ‘MasterChef Australia: Back To Win’ this year, Khanh Ong has his dedicated fanbase behind him.

The 27-year-old, who first appeared on ‘MasterChef’ back in 2018, is known for his delicious Vietnamese specialities, infectious personality, and wearing ‘You Are Loved’ T-shirts. 

Behind his heartwarming smile is a touching story of identity and family that has shaped the chef and person he is today.

Channel 10
'MasterChef Australia: Back To Win' contestant Khanh Ong

Khanh spent the first two years of his life in an immigration camp in Indonesia, before moving to Australia with his family in the 1990s. Growing up in a Vietnamese household, food was always a big part of his life and he learned how to make traditional Vietnamese food from his mum Dzung. 

Khanh’s father Tam lost his battle to cancer when Khanh was in his late teens, and as he’s detailed in his new book, A Gay Guy’s Guide to Life, Love, Food, he took over running his family’s butcher business. He also explained he makes banh xeo or pho bo and thinks “of dad”, while pork belly or prawns reminds him of after-school meals with his sister Amy.

From fashion design to being a DJ, he’s had a colourful career to date, but food has always been his main passion while being a proud gay man. 

In an interview with TV Week magazine back in 2018, Khanh spoke about his identity struggles while growing up. 

“Being gay in our culture isn’t really a thing, so that was hard for me,” he told the publication, saying he went through the first half of his life “pretending” he was not gay.  

“It’s hard enough growing up gay, but then there’s this whole refugee element. No-one grows up choosing to be an outcast or picked on – it just happens.”

During his time on ‘MasterChef Australia: Back To Win’ this year, Khanh has been regularly wearing T-shirts with the message, ‘You Are Loved’. 

With part of the proceeds of the T-shirt sales going to LGBTQIA+ youth charity Minus18, it turns out there’s a very personal reason the reality star wears these garments.  

“It’s somewhere that I used to go to when I was younger and when I was underage,” he told 10 Daily last month.

“There was a space where they threw events that made you feel welcomed, and I feel like that’s really important to support something that really helped me when I was younger.” 

As he competes on the show this year, he has the support of fans, family and friends. It’s no surprise that 2017 ‘MasterChef’ winner Diana Chan is backing Khanh to win, given their closeness behind the scenes.

When asked by HuffPost Australia recently who she’d like to see win the show, Diana said, “My housemate Khanh of course.

“Naturally I would want him to take the competition out. It’s a tough competition and the stakes are higher than ever but may the best man win.”

On ‘MasterChef Australia: Back To Win’ this year, Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo have replaced former judges Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston.

There are 24 previous contestants including Poh Ling YeowReynold Poernomo and Callum Hann who have returned to the series for another shot at victory.

‘MasterChef Australia: Back To Win’ continues at 7:30pm on Channel 10.