Hayden_Quinn_gay_interview_sunflowersSouth Africa’s had a love affair with surfing celebrity cook Hayden Quinn ever since he appeared on MasterChef Australia 3 back in 2011. While he didn’t win, he parlayed his fun bloke next door personality (and good looks) into a thriving brand that’s stretching out across the globe.

To the delight of his SA fans, he can now also be seen in his very own 13-part local series on SABC3, Hayden Quinn South Africa, at 21:30, every Monday night.

At our meeting in Jozi he pointed out that food doesn’t define him. He’s an avid traveller and supporter of sustainable fishing and boasts a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology, as well a past career as a professional lifeguard.

He was nursing a minor hangover from celebrating the end of the shoot the previous night at the Beefcakes ‘gay’ burger bar, which he described as “good fun”. Having noticed that many of the patrons were female, Hayden commented that, “It’s actually a great place for a single straight guy to meet women,” adding tongue-in-cheek that “the only thing is if a drag queen starts gyrating on your lap you can’t show you’re enjoying it too much…”

Hayden talked to us about his new South African TV show, his gay fans and what he truly loves about food – and shared a delicious steamed mussels recipe.

Mum was definitely my first influence with cooking.
She was a home economist and was always quite kind to share with me all her knowledge. And then you get a bit older and you start meeting girls or guys or whatever, and you start wanting to impress them and taking them out to dinner and knowing about food and where it comes from. And then you move out of home and you need to fend for yourself. So guess I developed my love of food through necessity, but also passion.

What food really means to me…
The drive to know what the food is, where it’s come from, how it comes together and being able to then share that with people… That’s my big love with food; sharing stories, sharing times, sitting down, having a conversation. Some of the things we lose in this day and age with phones and takeaways and people not having family meals.


Hayden’s modelled underwear for Aussie clothing retailer Bonds

Travel has also been a huge influence.
I didn’t go travelling because “I wanna go to France to see fricking macaroons” or something like that. I went to France because I wanted to see what it’s all about. And while you’re there you pick up all the different food things. And the same with Italy, and here. I learned along the way.

Not everyone in my family is a good cook.
My older sister is a terrible cook. She’s lucky her husband’s good at cooking. But she still enjoys food and understands food and that food isn’t necessarily just something that we shove into our faces to fill the hunger. It’s an actual part of life. It’s a ritual, community thing and a family thing…

My cooking wasn’t something I always shared with everyone.
Especially when you’re a young guy. Back then it was definitely seen as a feminine thing or a girly thing. It was one of those things that you didn’t necessarily flaunt, but for the people that you love and the people close to you, they knew. I grew up just as Jamie Oliver was changing the world of television and food and guys and healthy food, so things have changed.

Social media has played a huge part in the growth of foodieism.
For me, it’s being able to have direct connection with people that are interested in what I’m doing. It’s the perfect marketing tool but it’s also a way of letting a little bit of your personality come out. My Instagram page is not dominated by food but it’s dominated by other parts of my life. People want to know those little behind the scenes bits and pieces of who you are. What I love about social media is sharing.

I’m starting a new trend…
Of not taking my phone to the dinner table. My girlfriend hates it. No phones are allowed on social occasions at all. Taking photos of food at the dinner table… if it’s your profession or it’s a real passion of yours, that’s great, but people waste time doing it. I’m, fuck, just be with the person you’re hanging out with!

One of the highlights of shooting the new series.
In KZN, we joined up with a team from a WWF conservative project around rhino. And we saw eleven rhinos that day. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve seen upwards of 20 rhinos in the wild on different trips to the bush here. And you worry that’s not gonna be something that your kids will see.

Hayden_Quinn_gay_interview_cape_townOne of my requests was that when we do the show we meet local people…
Not some chef in a chef’s jacket! I wanna meet the farmer who cooks a potjie, I want to meet the lady from the village that’s the best cook. I said, “no chef’s jackets, everyone’s in casual clothes”. It makes it achievable for people watching at home. People try and throw me into aprons and chef’s jackets and I’m like, “who?” Tell me who other than your grandma wears a fricking apron in the kitchen? No-one. Maybe that weird dude who cooks at the braai or the barbecue with that titty apron on…

I’m not chef, I’m a cook…
The reason why people call me a chef is basically because the title of show I was on. It should be called “MasterCook” because no-one on that show is a chef, other than the judges and the guests. I like to say that I’m not a chef because those guys spent years training. It’s like, at home, there’s lifeguards and there’s lifesavers. A lifeguard is a paid professional. So much training and time goes into it. And a lifesaver is someone volunteering their time on the weekend – and they do amazing work – but, fuck no, they’re not a lifeguard.

And I’m not a foodie.
I’m just someone that loves food. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie. I think foodies are little bit more obsessive than I am. There’s so many different levels of who I am and where I’m at in life with different passions. And that’s why I think people engage with who I am – it’s not just one thing.

I didn’t plan any of this…
The MasterChef thing came about sitting at home on a rainy day off from lifeguarding. Sitting on the couch with the laptop, TV’s on, just vegging… And “apply now for MasterChef ” came on and I thought that could be a bit of a laugh. I was very settled and happy where I was, I wasn’t trying to create something new for myself. And you meet people in there who just wanted to change their life. For me it was a learning adventure, a time to grow and experience and just be a part of it.

There have been some very challenging times.
Books not going ahead, TV shoots being dropped. There’s massive ups and downs and it’s been very tough at times. Me going from being a lifeguard and being told “now you gotta go manage a company, and do all these things that you’ve never known how to do,” which was very hard. I was thrown into a world that I never knew anything about.

Hayden_Quinn_gay_interview_surfingI don’t know why people connected with me on MasterChef.
I guess I was just being myself. You see people a lot on reality television and the media in general and you can see that they’ve got a facade up. They’re pretending to be someone they’re not. On television I try to be the same person sitting down at the pub or sitting down to dinner with my grandma – although I probably wouldn’t swear as much!

The quality of ingredients in South Africa is excellent.
South Africa is very similar to Australia in that they have different climes that can grow and produce so many different types of food. Whether its herbs and spices and more tropical stuff in Durban and then your fruit bowl style areas and wine regions in Cape Town, and then in the Karoo you’ve got your lamb… It’s great to have a country that can produce what it needs without having to bring things in.

In Australia I think I have quite a big gay following.
From what I know about the gay community, it’s not so much about looks, it’s more about charisma and putting yourself out there and having a bit of fun. Gay people like to have fun and they tell it straight. I do have some very avid gay fans on Twitter who like to send me nude photos of themselves though…

Catch Hayden Quinn South Africa on SABC 3 at 21:30 every Monday night.

(Serves 4)

1.5kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 white onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 dark beer
2 tablespoon butter
Small handful of Italian parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Cooking Instructions
Melt butter with olive oil in a large pot on a med-high heat. Add the shallots and onions to the pot. Cook until translucent and aromatic. Add the garlic.

Tip the mussels into the pot and pour in the beer. Immediately cover the pot with the lid and steam for 3-4 minutes until the mussel shells have opened (discard any shells that have not opened).

Finish with freshly chopped Italian parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with roosterkoek to soak up all the delicious sauce.

Farm style Cheddar and Thyme Roosterkoek

1kg bread four
1 sachet yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Luke warm water
100g farm style cheddar
Small handful of thyme, leaves picked

Combine the yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar and a little warm water. Leave for 10minutes.
Place the bread flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the olive oil and start adding warm water while mixing. Add enough hot water until a dough forms.

Knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Half way through the kneading process (roughly 5 minutes) add the cheddar and thyme and continue kneading.
Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic and leave to rest in a warm place until doubled in size.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide into roughly 12 small balls. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Place on the grid over the braai or bake in the oven at 200’c for 15 minutes.

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