UOW graduate Gill Dinh shines on MasterChef

From creative arts to Australia's most successful cooking competition.

“Saucy, a little bit delicate, but has unique edge and kick…” In terms of introductions, the self-described Gillian Dinh packs a flavourful punch.

Currently showcasing a fusion of culinary styles on the 2024 season MasterChef Australia, Gill's rich multicultural heritage and background in creative arts from the University of Wollongong (UOW) are key elements in her creative DNA.

“My personality on a plate would probably be a generously filled scallop ravioli with a lobster bisque, served with butter poached lobster tail and finished off with an XO shallot crisp and micro coriander,” Gill says. The inspired combination of flavours speaks to Gill’s multicultural culinary heritage. “Food has always been a passion of mine,” she reveals. “Growing up, I was surrounded by the vibrant aromas and tastes of both Vietnamese and Italian cuisines.” With a palate enriched by diverse flavours, experimenting with ingredients and technique became second nature.

Campus cravings

Sparked by a taste for creativity and dreams of working in the industry, Gill vividly recalls “flicking through university guides and UOW booklets as early as Year 9 to plan out my pathway for a Bachelor of Creative Arts.” Along with the standard lectures and exams, Gill’s standout memories of UOW are food related. “I have always been a ‘foodie’!” she says, reminiscing about campus budget hacks at UOW Wollongong.

“Trying to make your dollar last when you’re there all day was a tough gig,” Gill laughs. “I remember [former campus eatery] Fuel Silo where I’d make up my own ‘bougee’ sandwich or salad bowl and pay by weight – it was my way of being in control of my food on campus!” she also recalls a go-to dish at a nearby Thai eatery: “I’d go with my textiles crew every week and order a Pad See Ew with extra egg and a side of their crispy wings. What a throwback!”

The marker of success

Since graduating from UOW in 2012, Gill has transformed her artistic passion into a career. The path to becoming a professional lettering artist led Gill to attain a Diploma in Interior Design and Decoration,  her “love for changing the scope of a room, space or place through art.” Inspired by her love for creating event stationery, invitations, signs and small art pieces for friends and family, Gill then established her creative studio, The Marker by Gillian Dinh.  “I wasn’t exactly sure how I would turn my passion for art into a career,” she admits. “But soon enough I established ‘The Marker’ and the rest is history.”

Artist Gillian Dinh paints a green and blue mural backdrop Gill Dinh working on a sign painting project for youth mental health service, Headspace. 

Business growth and an impressive portfolio has delivered commercial opportunities and large scale visual branding and signwriting projects. “The most rewarding part is being able to see the impact murals can make on the community and by-passers,” she says. “I love bringing art to life in a public space and making other’s smile, starting a new conversation or provoking a thought, dream and idea through my art.”

Life imitating art

Working as a creative professional has reinforced Gill’s artistic soul through cooking and creating art. But translating this to the small screen felt daunting. “I’ve always been a huge fan of MasterChef, but I never really thought it was something I could be a part of,” Gill admits. “My sister Mel and I applied for the show in the hopes of competing against each other…something for a laugh,” she says. “But unfortunately, I was the only one who progressed beyond audition stage and now I’m taking one for the team.

Gill’s time on MasterChef (Sunday to Wednesday at 7.30 pm on Network 10) has so far exceeded her wildest dreams. “Walking up to the doors of the MasterChef kitchen for the very first time and looking up at the big ‘MC’ symbol was so surreal,” she recalls. “I felt so many things in that moment and it’s something I’ll never forget.” Navigating kitchen trials from churning butter and removing mussel beards, Gill has outlasted five elimination challenges to impress judges Andy Allen, Poh Ling Yeow, Sofia Levin and Jean-Christophe Novelli. 

Gillian Dinh - MasterChef 2024 UOW graduate Gill Dinh is a contestant on MasterChef Australia 2024. Photo supplied by Network 10.

Art and soul

According to Gill, there is no secret recipe for surviving MasterChef's high pressure setting. “You have to find time to ground yourself and remember why you started and why you’re here,” she reflects. Her partner Jake and her family serve as pillars of strength, fuelling Gill’s culinary pursuits. “We FaceTime every night after each challenge and it helps me persevere through it all,” Gill says. “Without Jake and all of my loved ones, I honestly wouldn’t be here.”
From studying creative arts to the national stage of MasterChef, Gill is powered by the people around her. “Following my passion for art and studying at UOW connected me with like-minded people who are now friends for life,” Gill says. “Honestly, my fondest memories on campus were the friends I made. I still talk to so many people from UOW and that’s such a beautiful thing,” she says. “The same has followed through with MasterChef, and food is connecting me with people whom I now call friends and family.”