‘Cooking is compounding—a batch sheet is just a recipe in my head.’

Ben Trobbiani. Source: Supplied.
Ben Trobbiani. Source: Supplied.

AJP exclusive: We chat with Ben Trobbiani, SA pharmacist and current contestant on MasterChef

Adelaide pharmacist Ben Trobbiani, 24, has traded in his pharmacist coat for a chef’s apron to compete for the title of MasterChef—and a chance at winning $250,000 in cash.

Now in its eleventh season, each MasterChef episode pulls in more than 600,000 viewers who are kept on the edge of their seat as contestants create gourmet dishes under serious time pressure over a variety of challenges.

A pharmacy graduate from the University of South Australia, Ben says the competition is incredibly stressful and a huge challenge, in addition to being a dream opportunity.

“The anxiety I felt going into each cook was pretty similar to what I felt before going into my board exams honestly. I would say my board exams was the most anxious I’ve ever felt,” he tells AJP.

“I’m not someone who’s generally anxious but before every single cook in that kitchen I was just really anxious. It was really strange experience for me—it takes something you enjoy and love and turns it into a competition.”

However having worked in community pharmacy for a few years before entering the MasterChef kitchen, Ben already had experience working under pressure and resilience up his sleeve.

“I feel like most pharmacists have a bit of resilience. It’s not the easiest job at times, it’s definitely a high-pressure job. I think most community pharmacists can think of a time where they’ve gone, ‘oh I’m under a lot of pressure’ just because of script load or something like that. It’s that kind of skill of fighting through and doing the best you can,” he says.

Ben in action in the MasterChef kitchen.

“In community pharmacy you’ve got to consistently have a lot of things going on but then concentrate on one thing at a time.

“People have been asking, is this the most pressure you’ve ever been under? I mean, personally yes, but at the end of the day I’ve been measuring out methadone doses and things like that, and I’ve had far more important things in my hands than my stake in the competition.

“There’s still a lot of pressure but it’s a completely different pressure of making sure you’ve got medications right compared to making sure you don’t go home from a reality TV show.”

Ben completed his internship year at Priceline Pharmacy Norwood after graduating in 2016, then worked at Priceline Pharmacy South Gate Plaza before taking on a locum role.

His favourite part of pharmacy was seeing regular patients get better, especially methadone patients.

“Working in community pharmacy you build relationships with the people you see regularly, whether that’s people coming in monthly or your methadone patients coming in daily, it’s really good to just see them and see that you’re actually helping people,” he says.

“With the whole MasterChef experience … I feel like I’ve dipped my feet in the food world and I might as well try and jump in a little.”

“Also giving people advice and knowing that you can try to make a difference in community pharmacy and help health outcomes is something I really enjoy.”

Ben misses his methadone patients “because you do develop a relationship with them.

“These people have always got pretty interesting stories about where they’ve come from. Being that stability in their life and hopefully helping them get back on track was always something I enjoyed.”

However while Ben plans to locum in the future, a chance to compete on MasterChef and potentially launch a career as a professional chef was too great of an opportunity to pass up.

He developed a passion for cooking while a teenager, inspired by his brother who used to work in a restaurant and his foodie dad.

“With the whole MasterChef experience and everything like that, I think it’s worthwhile for me to do my best to try and give myself a shot in food. I’ve always got my pharmacy degree and the pharmacy knowledge stuck in there from all the intense study, but I feel like I’ve dipped my feet in the food world and I might as well try and jump in a little.”

He’s stoked having received positive feedback from judges Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston over the weekend.

“I finally had my first good cook,” he says, referring to a Sunday night challenge where he made a deep-roasted cauliflower dish with macadamia nut puree and kaiserfleisch, which was received with praise from the judges as a “hard one to beat”.

With this dish, Ben went up to the next round to fight for a chance of immunity.

Ben wearing one of his signature colourful shirts.
Ben wearing one of his signature colourful shirts.

On Tuesday night he fought for immunity and although another contestant won the coveted gold pin, Ben’s dish was applauded as his best so far in the competition.

“I spent a lot of time in the middle of the pack and a bit of time down at the bottom so far in the season which is really hard,” he tells AJP.

“Coming in every day and just getting consistent negative feedback is really difficult and it gets pretty hard to go on with a positive attitude, it’s just about pushing through that.

“I’m very glad that I finally had a time where I got positive feedback and going up for an immunity cook [on Tuesday night], it’s really good to have some positive feedback and show what it is I’m capable of.”

There are huge parallels between cooking and pharmacy in Ben’s mind.

“I think any pharmacist can cook – cooking is compounding,” he says.

“If you can follow a compounding recipe, you can cook something. A batch sheet is just a recipe in my head, but a recipe has got a lot less fine measurements – it’s a lot easier, so for me they’re the same thing – the skills are really the same.

“My mortar and pestle skills are definitely the best,” Ben jokes.

He points out fellow pharmacist contestant Yossra Abouelfadl, who was eliminated in the third episode, was using her compounding skills to make Darren Purchese’s bombe alaska.

“She does the compound fold, that fold we all learn with the paper to make sure to make sure nothing goes off, she does that entire time and it’s so funny, I was laughing the whole time. That little fold that’s such an earmark of pharmacy, she’s just doing that for measuring out her stabiliser and stuff, and is just hilarious to me. There’s no difference in the skill, it’s just one is food and one is medication.”

However he also enjoys the opportunity to be creative with food and go ‘off the script’.

“Cooking is my creative outlet. At the same time that’s why I don’t enjoy the baking aspect, because I think that’s a lot like pharmacy, very rigid. That’s why I like savoury, it’s a more free-flowing creative outlet.”

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