Masterchef Australia‘s Nat On ‘Reconciling’ With Her Thai-Australian Identity & The Struggle Of Never Fitting In

Throughout the 2024 season of MasterChef Australia, Nat Thaipun has been a frontrunner. Known for her unique take on Thai street food and bravery in trying to cook dishes that are a little out of the ordinary, Thaipun has quickly captivated the judges and fans alike.
But while it might seem like she belongs in the MasterChef Australia kitchen (and she does), for the 28-year-old, it's been a lifelong struggle of never fitting in, especially as a Thai-Australian woman.
"I was raised super duper Thai," Thaipun explains. "My parents were really strict about as soon as we walked into the house, we had to speak Thai. And everything was Thai mannerisms — you had to bow and everything like that."
But Thaipun explains that some of the dissonance in her identity began when she was sent to boarding school as a 12-year-old. It was here that, in her own words, she and her brothers turned into "the most Australian people you'd ever meet".
For Thaipun, the experience of spending her formative school years in a more traditionally Australian environment meant that it was hard to reconcile with her deep Thai culture at home. Additionally, when the cook decided to live overseas — including a prolonged stint in New Zealand — this longing for home was exacerbated.
Thaipun explains that even now, she still struggles with 'fitting in'. "I think as humans, we're brought up in a way that people want to easily fit you in," she explains. "I definitely feel that way still."
But ultimately, it's food that helped her connect the dots, with the cook explaining that every time she's longed for home or hoped to connect with her culture, it's been through food. "I've been trying to tie those memories together and me being away from home for so long into my food," she explains.
"I was trying to make a lot of food when I was in New Zealand because I was missing home," she continues. "But I was missing this idea of home that I didn't even remember what it was like anymore because I was so young."
Thaipun's parents ran a restaurant, so as a child, she would often be exposed to the world of cooking. "When they were running the restaurants, we would have to cook for ourselves," she explains. "We had our grandma, but she'd be watching her Thai soap dramas."
"It's [cooking] always been there, but I didn't realise how much you'd subconsciously soak up," she muses.
While food brings back a lot of memories of her youth, it's also the formative way in which she's reconciled with different parts of herself. "It's so cheesy to say this, but when I'm making food, I feel like it's literally my identity on a plate," she says.
Thaipun says that on MasterChef Australia, she's trying to reinvent the way we approach Thai food, whether it's through plating up differently or reinventing a street food classic. While Thaipun says that she knows that some people might be put off by her approach, ultimately, it's about recognising that there's multiple ways to be Thai (and to cook Thai).
"It's almost like you're not honouring tradition by merging or not doing things properly, but I think things are changing," Thaipun says of her approach. "That's the one thing that I want and have realised that is really important — so many people are watching this show and you have the responsibility and the ability to teach people how to start eating different foods."
As for how she reconciles with her sense of belonging after MasterChef Australia, the cook tells me that in her friendship group, she's known to prep food all day in preparation for having her mates over for a meal, where they'll sit on the floor and have deep discussions. "I think we crave that sense of belonging and a sense of family so much," she says. "I think a lot of us crave that feeling."
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