Masterchef NZ champ Sam's sweet success: 'I've left the trauma behind'

The talented chef nabbed the top prize and made friends for life

By Kelly Bertrand
As he pulled on his chef whites before the MasterChef NZ grand finale, Sam Low already knew that he'd won.
No, he didn't use any psychic abilities to predict himself walking away with the top title and cookbook deal, but the coffee artist and food influencer had accomplished what he set out to do – he'd been seen.
"It was never about winning for me," he tells Woman's Day just hours after his triumph aired on TV last week.
"I would have won regardless of the outcome – I'm so much more confident now, and the more that I've talked about my experience and my truth, the more I left behind the trauma I did have.
"It has been hard, honestly, and I'm not an emotional person usually – well, not that you'd know from the show!"
Fan favourite Sam, 30, clinched the latest season of MasterChef by pipping co-star Elliot "Elegant Elliot" McClymont by just two points in the grand finale.
And strangely for the guy who'd never much vibed with sweet dishes, it was a salty sea-inspired dessert with kelp ice cream that sealed the deal.
"I know, the irony!" he laughs. "It was almost like the closing of my own kind of coming-of-age story. I didn't even know how to make ice cream before the show.
"Two weeks before we started, I borrowed a friend's ice-cream maker and figured it out.
"I always assumed I would be eliminated on a dessert – instead, I won on one. [Judge] Vaughan Mabee described it as 'a Mr Whippy dunked into the ocean' and I was like, 'Brilliant!'"
Sam's seaweed ice cream melted the judges' hearts
While Sam is stoked to be able to call himself Aotearoa's new MasterChef, the Fijian-born Chinese-Kiwi walked away from the competition with something so much more valuable – mates for life.
Sam tells, "Just before the final started, I got a text from Elliot that said, 'I love you.' He's such an incredible guy, humble as hell and he was like a brother to me in the competition. He pushed me all the way through to be better.
"There were so many little things that kept me going through the competition, including the other contestants. When Naomi [Grace] left, she even gave me her pounamu and told me to 'do it for us' – the queer people of colour. That kind of thing made it much more than a competition to me."
With runner-up Elliot.
The Sam who entered the TV kitchen is a completely different Sam to the one who's chatting to us now, with the competition changing his approach to both life and food immensely.
"I feel so more confident," he enthuses. "I feel like I've done something meaningful. I was the person I wished I saw on TV when I was little and that's really powerful. I've been getting all of these messages from both the LGBTQ+ and Chinese communities, which has been so incredible. It's hard to put into words how I'm feeling right now!"
And, of course, his family and friends couldn't be more stoked – Sam's nearest and dearest were with him as the grand finale aired, with 20 of his mates gathering for a pot-luck dinner to watch the last episode while Sam cooked his on-screen entrée, pāua congee.
He laughs, "Weirdly, there was a moment when we were watching where I was like, 'Oh, my God, what if I don't win?!'
I mean, I was there, so I knew I had, but it was that strange thing of being back in the moment and forgetting reality for a second because all of my friends were so nervous."
Sam's win is also a massive deal for his parents, who came to Aotearoa from China, via Fiji, to give their beloved son as many opportunities as possible.
"This is something they never thought could happen," he nods. "Being on TV was this dream-esque reality for them, and for me to be on it and win? I think it was a great sense of pride."
Now Sam's focus has turned to his upcoming cookbook. "It'll be modern Chinese, but I want it to be quite an approachable Kiwi-Chinese style that will use ingredients you can find in your local Asian food store or even the supermarket."
Speaking of supermarkets, Sam – who also won six months of groceries as part of his prize – says there was one side-effect of being on MasterChef he didn't expect.
"Oh, the PTSD of walking into a supermarket was insane," he laughs. "It's been lovely to shop without a three-minute time limit, trust me!
"But what an incredible experience. I can't even put into words how amazing it's been and I'm excited for what's to come!"

read more from