For lawyer and MasterChef winner Adam Liaw, life was never going to be ordinary. He speaks to Claire Chaffey.
To most Australians, Adam Liaw needs no introduction. Over the past few months, the Adelaide lawyer and budding chef has occupied the lounge rooms of millions of MasterChef fans, winning their respect with his creative and intelligent brand of cooking and gaining their affection with his determined humility.
After winning the competition last month, Liaw has swiftly joined the ranks of celebrity, becoming one of Australia's most anticipated soon-to-be food authors and restaurateurs. He is now a household name and familiar face, even for those who didn't watch the show.
Not bad for a mere lawyer. But don't be fooled: Liaw is no mere lawyer. For starters, he was perusing the LS100 text and grappling with torts law by the time he was 16-years-old, with a combined science and law degree under his belt by the time he was 20.
While most students his age were in the pub, Liaw was working 20-hour days as a lawyer at Finlaysons in Adelaide, stealing restful moments under his desk while assisting on the huge task of privatising South Australia's electricity entities.
And whilst Liaw was "taken rudely aback" by his virgin legal experience, he learned to love the law - which he says he "fell into" at the behest of a friend - and soon transferred to Kelly & Co to work in their intellectual property group.
But even though he was much younger than your average lawyer, Liaw felt his age was never an issue. "At the start of your career, a partner looks at anyone under 25 and thinks they're young. It doesn't matter if you're 12 or 24," he says.
"I thought I did a good job, and you let the work speak for itself when you're young."
After four years at Kelly & Co, Liaw started looking abroad, hoping to land a role in China so as to utilise his Chinese language skills (did we mention Liaw is multi-lingual too?).
Instead, a job at The Walt Disney Company in Tokyo arose and Liaw was quickly snapped up. "I started at Disney as a relatively junior in-house lawyer with only about five years PQE. It was really fun. The kind of transactions I got, and the depth I got to go into them, was great," he says.
"I was often flying to China and I ran a deal where Disney bought their first company in mainland China, which was a huge milestone for both me and the company. Getting access to those dream deals ... was just fantastic."
By the time 31-year-old Liaw decided to leave Disney to pursue his dream on MasterChef, he was Head of Legal Asia in the company's Interactive Media Group. But despite reaching such lofty heights in his legal career, the chance to realise his dream of opening a restaurant - which was initially more a retirement plan - was too tempting to resist.
"There is no room in life for secret passions," he says.
"Even if you are not dropping everything and quitting your job, just talking about and making what you love come to life is so important."
This is perhaps good advice, considering the change Liaw has propagated in his own life.
"Your passions are very personal, and I think lawyers have a hard time showing their feelings at the best of times, but if you get it out there and start being honest with yourself and other people, that's how opportunities come about," he says.
And MasterChef fans rest assured: Liaw is certainly making the most of his newfound opportunities, putting his legal career on hold to focus on food.
"I definitely haven't ruled out going back to the law in the future, but at the moment there are all these new doors opening up for me and I think I owe it to myself to explore those," he says.
"I am in Australia for the next few months working on my book ... and I am looking at opening a restaurant fairly soon."
Liaw is also hopeful that his newly chaotic life might soon return to some sort of normality.
"I've got to be honest; I am finding my situation right now far more stressful and far busier than being a lawyer ever was. I didn't think it would be as hard as it is, but it is all positive, so I can't really complain too much," he says.
"You've got to be prepared to work really, really hard. But as soon as it gets to next Monday, and nobody remembers who I am, it might die down a bit." Sorry Adam, but we're not convinced.
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