Kay-Lene Tan Had A Quarter Life Crisis. Now She’s On Dessert Masters

Kay-Lene Tan still struggles to believe that she's on Dessert Masters.
Despite it being her first major stint on television, the accomplished pastry chef is no stranger to the cooking world. Having worked across Melbourne institutions The Ritz-Carlton, Coda and Tonka, it's easy to see that her resume — and her talent — are impressive. However, Tan says that she's had to wrestle with a few demons in the lead-up to her appearance on Dessert Masters 2023.

"For me, even being asked to be on Dessert Masters from the very beginning was just really surreal. I don't think I actually believed it was happening until the day I set foot in production."

kay-lene tan
"I think in general, I do suffer from imposter syndrome," Tan tells Refinery29 Australia. "It's one of the things I've always had to try to kind of work on."
"I find it very hard to accept a compliment, and you know, to receive such a great accolade to be on the show — I still find it incredibly hard to believe."
Tan says that from the outset, the idea of being on Australia's newest dessert show has been hard to grapple with. "For me, even being asked to be on Dessert Masters from the very beginning was just really surreal. I don't think I actually believed it was happening until the day I set foot in production."
"Even then, when I was standing there amongst these, honestly, titans of industry, I had to pinch myself a little bit because I'm like, am I actually standing next to Adriano Zumbo right now? Is this real?"
The stacked cast features some of Australia's best and brightest in the dessert and pastry world, including Kirsten Tibballs, Anna Polyviou, Jess Liemantara, Adriano Zumbo, Reynold Poernomo, Andy Bowdy, Morgan Hipworth, Rhiann Mead, Gareth Whitton, and of course, Kay-Lene Tan.
Tan says that the act of sharing benches with the cast was one of the most "surreal experiences" for her. "With Kirsten and Anna, they are legends in their own right. Being able to cook beside them was an incredible experience," she says.
But while it might be her first foray into a longer television stint, it's not the first time Tan has been around a camera. Until the age of 24, she was working as a documentary filmmaker. But after undergoing a self-professed "quarter-life crisis", Tan officially put down the tools, enrolled in trade school, and pursued her love for cooking.
"It was kind of like the meeting of my two worlds," she says of the Dessert Masters concoction. "I have a background in documentary production, so being on set felt like it was two worlds colliding."
"It reminded me of the life I lived before I became a chef."
The quarter-life crisis is an experience that most other 20-somethings (and even 30-somethings!) can resonate with, but while it's easy to have a sneaking suspicion that our careers might not be the right fit, it's a complete other ballgame to channel that suspicion into a thriving cooking career like Tan has. And in her case, it might be because of her willingness to interrogate her imposter syndrome.
"The first step for me is learning how to say thank you when someone pays you a compliment," she says, referencing one of the main ways she overcomes her self-doubt. "Those are little baby steps that I'm taking to actually start believing that I am worthy of these accolades."

"[Melissa Leong] has really helped me along with this journey of dealing with imposter syndrome."

kay-lene tan
Tan also cites Dessert Masters judge Melissa Leong as one of her greatest supporters in this arena. "Being Asian, we have a similar background — she's also Singaporean. With that, she's always been very encouraging and very supportive."
"Every time I've met her on set, she has really helped me along with this journey of dealing with imposter syndrome."
When it comes to words of advice in order to successfully navigate a quarter-life crisis, Tan laughs. "Go big or go home," she says.
"My advice is just to take a leap of faith. I know that sounds super cliche, and I know that it's really scary... but if there's anything that I've learned as I've gotten older, it's: what if it turns out better than you expected? Because you just never know until you try."
"I always reminded myself that regardless of what was to happen along my career path, I could always still go back to doing documentary production if I wanted to," Tan says.
As for what we should expect this season? Tan's Singaporean heritage is something that we should all expect will weave its way into her creations. A big believer that food should always tell a story, Tan says she uses growing up in Singapore as inspiration.
"I always lean back to the memories that I have growing up in Singapore," she says. "When I look back on the desserts I created, there's always some sort of a story behind them. I owe a lot of that inspiration to my childhood."
"I always hope that someone would eat [one of my dishes] and that story and that flavour profile resonates with them or reminds them of a memory in their childhood as well."
Yes, Kay-Lene Tan might have inadvertently ended up being the poster child for how to successfully handle a quarter-life crisis. Yes, she might be a little too relatable in her struggles with imposter syndrome. Yes, she might still struggle to believe that she's on Dessert Masters. But if there's one thing we're sure of, it's that she deserves a seat at the table (or in this case, a position on the kitchen bench).
MasterChef: Dessert Masters is now airing on Channel Ten and 10Play.
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