Hayden on getting confident in the kitchen

8 min

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Hayden Quinn’s resume is an impressive one – studying marine biology, working as a lifeguard, gaining acclaim on season three of MasterChef and going on to host TV programs, write cookbooks and continue his love of all things food. He’s also big on encouraging Australian blokes to make eating well second nature and here he shares some easy ways to get confident in the kitchen to better your well-being.

I feel like I’ve always been in the kitchen. My mum was an amazing cook; she taught home economics at TAFE, wrote recipes for Taste Magazine and she was always in the world of food. I was fortunate that there was always something going on in the kitchen, and Mum was always willing to share her love and passion for food with me.

My little sister had cancer when she was quite young. She was about five years old, and I was 10. One of the things my mum was really conscious of during that period was eating healthy food – all those different rich, nutritious, colourful fruits and vegetables – because we were trying to get as much good nutrition as possible. I sort of fell in love with the fact you could eat healthy, good-quality food from home pretty easily, and just sort of took that passion and turned it into something I get to do every day now.

I was watching MasterChef way back in the day and thought, oh I can do that. I love food. I love telling stories. I love cooking. I love sharing. In 2011 I put my application in, one thing led to another, and I haven’t looked back since then.

One thing that Mum taught me is that you should always try to eat the rainbow. Look at your plate of food, whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and see all the different colours that you can have on that plate – green, orange, red, and purple. If you’re getting a good spread of different colours throughout the day, then you’re probably getting a good intake of different nutrients, vitamins and minerals. I try to stick with fruits, veggies, proteins, and wholegrains, and I stay away from processed foods. You can add heaps of flavour to food through spices, herbs, salt and pepper.

“I sort of fell in love with the fact you could eat healthy, good-quality food from home pretty easily, and just sort of took that passion and turned it into something I get to do every day now.”

I don’t mind a Tim Tam, don’t get me wrong. Everything in moderation. I’m quite active so I need plenty of fuel. But if you try to stay away from those not-so-good things out of a packet and stick to the real food, then generally, you’re going to be doing pretty good.

One of the biggest challenges for blokes and nutrition is not having time. I know a lot of my mates, whether they’re guys that work on the road or on a job site or whatever it is, it’s like they just don’t have time, and the quickest and easiest thing to do is purchase lunch somewhere. And that purchased lunch isn’t the most nutritious or healthy option, that’s for sure.

It comes down to being smart with your planning. Work as a team with your family, roommates, whoever you might be living with, or spending time with. To make eating well a bit easier, my wife and I sit down on a Sunday afternoon and we plan out our week. We run through the calendar, see where everyone’s at, see who’s working late, who’s got some time to look after the food side of things. We make a bit of a meal plan for the week – Monday night, we’re going to have this, Tuesday night this, and then we’re going to have leftovers on Wednesday and this’ll be someone’s lunch, that sort of thing.

We order all our food online so that it’s really easy to see what we’re getting. It’s easy to budget that way as well. Then you don’t get tempted by the rogue Tim Tam aisle. You can have a clear list of what you want and stay away from some of those temptations.

Just have a go. It’s easy to just pass it off and let someone else do the work and do the cooking and say, “Oh no, I don’t want to do it,” or “It’s not my thing,” or “I can’t cook.” I think a lot of men are just scared to give cooking a crack. If I can do it, most people can do it, let’s put it that way. A lot of the cooking that I do – especially on Taste of Australia – we’re cooking on the beach, on a boat, in the sand dunes, in a forest, by a lake. I’m cooking dishes out of an esky and on a barbecue. We’re not cooking a five-course degustation. It’s just simple food. A protein, a couple of veg, try a few different spices, maybe make a little sauce, and Bob’s your uncle. At the end of the day, if you burn something and you stuff it up, you’ve learnt for the next time and hopefully it’s heaps better.

There are lots of great, simple recipes that only require a few ingredients, whether it’s a simple pasta or an egg dish or fried rice. It can help to have a recipe, get everything prepped and organized, and execute the plan.

If you don’t want to cook for yourself, then try cooking for others, and you might actually enjoy it. Try giving yourself a reason to do it. Book in a date night, or have the boys around. Practice the dish a couple of times, then have your mates around for a steak lunch with some great veggie sides. That’s also what gets me excited about cooking, sharing and connecting.

We were fortunate in that sitting down at the dinner table every night was basically a rule and we would share, connect, chat, converse, yell, scream, shout, fight. I think sometimes we don’t do enough of that anymore because people are busy and time is hard to come by.

Men’s health is pivotal to my life. I work hard to keep physically and mentally fit. I want to be able to show other guys that it’s not super hard to tick a few boxes every single day to put yourself on a better path and even make an impact on the people around you. Because it’s a ripple effect when you start making change for the better. People can latch onto it and get excited about it.

One of my favourite communities that I was fortunate to start is our Vipers Run Club. It’s a men’s mental health running group, and we’ve been around for six years now. It’s a chance for blokes to come together and be in a community of like-minded men, share stories, go for a run, keep fit, and build community. For me, if I can help continue to do that in a wider community, then it’s all good.

Want to kick start your cooking journey? Check out my fool-proof dinner bolognese with a few sneaky extras thrown in. This is a great way to not only bulk out your bolognese with heaps of veg but it also adds a great flavour base. This dish is all about layering the flavours and extracting all the goodness from each ingredient. Feel free to double (or even triple) this recipe so you can have these prepped and frozen for when you need a quick and healthy meal option.

Beefed Up Bolognese

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

Serves: 4


  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 x brown onion, finely diced
  • 4 x cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 x large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 x bulb fennel, diced
  • 1 x zucchini, diced
  • 150g cup mushrooms, diced
  • 250g bolognese mince (mix of pork and beef)
  • 2 x 400g can lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 x 400g can crushed tomatoes
  • Sea salt & crushed black pepper, to taste
  • 400g of your pasta of choice, cooked as per packet instructions


Step 1

Heat a large heavy based saucepan or cast iron pot to medium high heat and in batches of the different veggies, cook until softened and slightly caramelised / coloured.

Step 2

Once all veggies are cooked off, set aside. Brown off mince, then add lentils along with spices. Stir well to combine and cook until fragrant. Add back all the precooked veg.

Step 3

Add crushed tomatoes, using the tomato can add in a can full or water and season well with salt and pepper. Cook, gently simmering for 15-20 mins.

Step 4

Serve on top of your pasta of choice, with a drizzle of olive oil and garnish with basil and parmesan.


* for all the veg, if you want to cheat, feel free to use a food processor using the grate or chop attachment.
* for the mince, you can use only pork or only beef depending on your preference and availability.
* choose your favourite pasta shape, spaghetti is the classic but sometimes I love a short pasta to have with my bolognese.


Healthy eating

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