Running out of money while drinking with mates in a city hotel is hardly an edifying experience, but for Richmond habitué Michael Weldon it turned out to be a life-changing moment.
At university in Adelaide, Weldon was studying media in the hope of becoming a documentary maker. However, his media career took a a sharp volte-face as a result of that evening. Instead of finding himself behind a camera, he found himself in front of one.
When it was his turn to buy the beers, Weldon found his discretionary income was exhausted. His friend, Joel, having sampled his cooking in a share-house in Adelaide where they lived, declared he would buy his drinks for the rest of the night if he applied to become a contestant on MasterChef Australia.
It was a get -square, as Weldon in friendly banter within the group was prone to make boastful assertions about his cooking. However, impecuniosity is a great motivator. "You've never seen someone accept so fast," he said.
Weldon duly applied to become a contestant on season three of the Network 10 series. Surprising even himself, he not only made the final 24 but was runner-up, beaten in the grand finale by Kate Bracks.
His achievements on the program led to a number of cooking engagements in Adelaide restaurants which set him on a path that led to Melbourne, where he co-hosts Farm to Fork, a Network 10 food program that focuses on fresh produce and sustainable meals, and is a special ambassador and senior development chef for Coles.
This year he has returned to MasterChef, competing in the current season, Fans & Favourites. A new season of Farm to Fork begins production later this month and will be aired later in the year. "It all happened because of MasterChef, and a dare at the Hackney Hotel in Adelaide in 2010," he said.
Weldon's food story began in that share-house, where he lived with five mates. "We pooled our money. I'd buy the food and cook " he says. "Now and again, we'd invite a few lady friends over and try to impress them by cooking. It was a fun way to be social and we didn't have heaps of money."
To the annoyance of his housemates, when watching Adelaide MasterChef contestant Callum Hann in season two, he would declare, 'I could cook that'. He was told to put-up or shut-up, which he finally did when he ran out of money at the Hackney Hotel..
Weldon resides in Hawthorn but tends to live in Richmond, walking with his partner, Georgia, to the area's many bars and restaurants.
"I live 500 metres away, just over the bridge, so I spend a lot of time in Richmond. We are spoiled in this part of town to have so many great restaurants'" he said.
"Generally I go out for Asian, but I cook a little Thai at home. It's just something that I haven't cooked a lot of, but the best way is just to go out to dinner, trying and learning."
When cooking at home, Weldon goes for plain-and-easy 90 per cent of the time. "If I've got friends over, or its an anniversary, I'll make some effort and do something fancy, but I have a real fascination for barbeques and smokers," he says.
"I'm equipped to cook over fire or charcoal at home and do a lot of steaks or whole fish butterflied on the Weber. I get a bit fancy there, but it is still very homely and shared. You wouldn't plate MasterChef-type dishes on the rig at home, but mains tend to be something shared from over the barbeque."
Weldon says MasterChef has fully reinvigorated his passion for food. "When I'm not at work or filming Farm to Fork or writing recipes, I'm at home cooking things, or out to dinner, focussing on food.
"Georgia hates it because half the time I'm on my phone. It's not like I'm texting or Instagramming. I'm writing in my notes section. 'that is an interesting flavour combination' or 'I should try that ingredient', or I'm interrogating the staff trying to get more information or on a tour of the kitchen. I just love learning. I don't think I'll ever slow down."
"But if I hadn't of run out money in that pub, who knows, right?"