Vietnamese culture has played a key role in many of Khanh Ong's impressive MasterChef Australia dishes. But the DJ from Victoria says his heritage hasn't always been a positive influence, particularly when he was growing up.
"Being gay in our culture isn't really a thing, so that was hard for me," Khanh, 25, tells TV WEEK.
"You go through the first half of your life pretending you're not gay; that what you're feeling isn't normal."
After spending the first two years of his life in an Indonesian refugee camp, Khanh's family eventually settled in Australia. Torn between two cultural identities, he says he struggled to fit in.
"It's hard enough growing up gay, but then there's this whole refugee element," Khanh explains. "No-one grows up choosing to be an outcast or picked on – it just happens."
The DJ found the passing of the marriage-equality bill a particularly poignant moment in his search for acceptance.
Cheering Khanh on at home are his family and friends, including former Neighbours star Olympia Valance.
"Olympia and I have known each other for a while," he says.
"She would come to my [DJ] gigs. Then, one day she was like, 'I love your music', and I said, 'Well, I love you!' So we started hanging out."
Olympia isn't the only member of the Valance family following Khanh's MasterChef experience. Her mother, Tania, has been proudly collecting news clippings.
"I'm quite good friends with Tania," Khanh smiles. "I get little updates. She'll find an article [about me] and have a PDF version on her phone. She's the best!"
Khan has had an impressive run on the reality cooking series.
After wowing the judges with crackling pork belly in his audition, he has gone on to create top quality dishes that have earned incredibly praise from Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris.
Khan currently remains in the top eight, where he'll fight for the chance to win the prize money and open his own unique venue, a place specialising in Vietnamese hawker food downstairs with a polished menu upstairs.
MasterChef Australia airs Monday to Thursday, and Sunday, 7:30pm on Network Ten.
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