The TV host

16 Jan 2013

Author: Heather Jacobs

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One day Jason Dundas was an art student in Penrith, the next an MTV VJ interviewing the likes of Snoop Dogg and Beyonce.
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Another Australian chef taking his home-country's produce to the globe is Luke Mangan, who has extended his Salt restaurant brand into Tokyo and Singapore. He plans to open in Jakarta and Bali in 2012 and has Shanghai in his sights.

“I really like to promote Australian produce where we can; it is something I am very passionate about as I believe we have some of the best produce in the world,” says Mangan.

“Ten years ago Australia was looking to the rest of the world for chefs and ideas and I’d say the rest of the world is now looking at us for our produce and our style of cooking.”

The 41-year-old Mangan has a swathe of offshoots to his business, including cookbooks, a newspaper column and TV shows in the US and Australia. He also has Salt grills on three P&O Cruises ships and is a consulting chef for airline Virgin Australia.

The secret to his success? “I am lucky,” he says. “I get up in the morning and I love what I do, so if you can do that, that’s a start, but it’s also about employing the right people to work with and manage those restaurants, and to share my philosophy.”

“I nearly threw it in several times, but I got there somehow...”

It hasn’t all been an easy ride for Mangan.

Six years ago, in what he describes as the “worst 12 months of my life”, Mangan was forced to shut down his first two restaurants – the original minimalist Salt in Sydney’s Darlinghurst and uber-sexy Bistro Lulu in nearby Paddington – and walk away from a third – Moorish at Bondi. Mangan has also sold out of several other ventures, including one he started with a partner in the United States.

Mangan may have hit a rough patch but it didn’t hold him back for long. He was determined to move on, and luckily for him, enough influential people had walked through the doors of Salt to help him get back on track.

That included Sir Richard Branson, now a friend of the chef, and a certain Mary Donaldson, who was a regular before she encountered her prince. The week before the royal wedding between Donaldson and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, the former Sydney marketer invited Mangan to Denmark to cook a series of Australian-themed dinners. He’s since been made a Friend of Australia for his work promoting Australian food globally.

Mangan grew up the youngest of seven boys in Melbourne. When he was expelled from school at 15 for disruptive behaviour, he walked into Two Faces, a top-class fine dining restaurant where one of his older brothers was a chef, and asked the owner for a job. Told he would have to work long hours, Mangan promised he was up to the task.

In truth, Mangan hated much of his four-year apprenticeship. It was lousy pay, even after a hard slog of up to 16 hours a day, and Mangan was often landed with the menial jobs of washing dishes, peeling potatoes and shelling peas. “I nearly threw it in several times, but I got there somehow,” he says. 

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Dundas, now 30, went on to become a host of Getaway before moving to the US where he’s the co-host of Big Morning Buzz Live. The pop-culture show is filmed live daily in Times Square with Dundas interviewing actors, musicians, celebrity chefs and writers.

His segue from graphic design student at the University of Western Sydney to TV host came in 2003 when he saw an ad for an MTV presenter, which encouraged viewers to apply. He applied and was called back for a camera test hours after his initial interview.

“Later that night an MTV camera crew arrived at my house to announce the news – I had the job,” he says.

Over the next three years he hosted shows including TRL Live, Homebuzz and MTV News, in between surfing with his mates on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where he lived.

From there he got one of the most coveted jobs on Australian television – host of Getaway. Over the next fours years Dundas traveled to over 40 countries and 100 cities. A typical trip would take him to South America (his favourite continent) through the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon and on to Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro.

“During the trip it’s all a blur, you don’t sleep, you’re jumping time zones, you’re tired and it all flies by so quickly,” he says. “However, months later, you come home and you’ll be thinking about what you’ve actually done. Working on Getaway, you get to live the nation’s dreams, and portray them on TV. It’s incredible.”

Dundas had been living in Los Angeles for about two years, flying in and out for Getaway trips, when he was offered the Big Morning Buzz Live gig.

He’s been living in New York since October 2011 and thinks the positive reputation Australians enjoy in the US has helped his career.

“Having developed my TV hosting career in the Australian workforce I have a very hard working, no fuss attitude,” he says. “The US entertainment industry is an extremely hard and sometimes painfully slow game to break into, so I definitely feel being an Australian has contributed to my quick success internationally.”

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