Small fleet operator Dean Anderson would be the envy of most truck drivers around Australia after his wife and business partner Rhiannon was runner-up in the popular MasterChef TV program.
The happy couple run DRA Transport based in Townsville and 61-year-old Dean does most of the driving, whilst multi-skilled Rhiannon handles the administration side, including all the bookwork.
They have four trucks – a flashy yellow Kenworth which turns heads wherever it is, a 1984 model Kenworth, an 85 SAR and a 92 cabover.
They employ two casual drivers and the trucks travel all over the country including to faraway destinations hauling general goods, and even do house removals.
“I started driving trucks in 1988 hauling concrete for Ready Mix and started the business after that,” Dean said. “Rhiannon is the backbone of the company and does all the accounts as well and I couldn’t do without her. She is also a wonderful cook.”
Rhiannon has been on two long trips with Dean in the Kenworth to Mount Isa, 900km west of Townsville, and to Rockhampton, 700km south along the Bruce Highway.
In the past nine months Rhiannon has become famous after being selected from thousands from around the country to appear on Channel 10’s MasterChef series.
It involved being filmed cooking her delights for 50 episodes which climaxed on July 17 with the top-rating grand finale. Rhiannon was named runner-up, with the winner being Brent Draper from the Gold Coast.
The bubbly Rhiannon, 47, endeared herself to audiences around Australia with her humble attitude in praising the winner.
“I was stoked to even make the final and was happy to get to the final 10, then the last five and then it was down to three,” Rhiannon said.
Beside her was an equally emotional Dean who was over the moon for his beloved wife.
“It was tough being away all the time except for a few weeks around Christmas and it did take it out of me and was physically and mentally demanding,” Rhiannon said.
Whilst she was away, Dean was hauling freight as far away as Darwin.
But Rhiannon still managed to do the DRA Transport administration.
“I was doing it at night,” she said.
During that period Dean used to regularly patronise the local Bellevue Hotel which is a hop, step and a jump away from their South Townsville home to have a feed.
It is a watering hole where many off-duty truckies go to for a cold drink, a yarn, and perhaps a flutter on the TAB, Keno or the pokies.
“They got to know me so well there that they didn’t have to ask me what drink I wanted. It just got served,” Dean said.
When Big Rigs visited Rhiannon and Dean at their home this lovely lady walked out with a tray of delicious snacks, sections of lemon sponge cake with tasty cream filling which certainly tantalised the taste buds.
Knowing that Dean is a genuine connoisseur of fine food, I asked Rhiannon what his favourite dishes at home were.
“Dean is pretty easy to please and likes rissoles and mash as well as lamb cutlets. But he does get treated to other meals,” she said.
When Dean goes on distant jobs, Rhiannon prepares take away meals which he freezes and cooks in his truck microwave.
“I was away out near Winton for two weeks and Rhiannon prepared me Singapore Noodles and it was great,” Dean said.
Between them they have five children. Dean is the father-of-four and Rhiannon the mother-of-one and also a grandmother.
I asked Rhiannon how she became such a great cook and chef – a rule of the program was that no contestant could be a professional chef – and she said it was because of her late mum Sue who died in 2021 from ovarian cancer.
“Mum became a chef when I was aged 11 and taught me everything I know in the kitchen,” Rhiannon said.
Before she passed, she told me that I must apply for MasterChef but I never expected to be accepted.”
Since the program final, the Queensland couple – especially Rhiannon – have become famous around Townsville, which has a population of 200,000.
“People come up and congratulate me all the time and some even hug me,” she said.
Dean told of a humorous incident when they went to the local yacht club recently to give Rhiannon a well-earned break from the rigors of the bookwork and home kitchen.
“A woman came up and told us we were both famous and then wanted to take Rhiannon’s picture. I joked that if I am also famous, how come she doesn’t want my photo?” Dean said.
So, what does the future hold for the now well-known Rhiannon?
Rhiannon is looking forward to a visit from Master Chef winner Brent Draper from the Gold Coast and third-placed Declan from Sydney who are coming to Townsville.
“They want to see what life in North Queensland is like,” she said.
“During the program I thought I would like to own a restaurant but since then I have gone off that idea.
“I would love to write a cookbook full of recipes from cuisines from around the world and maybe do some guest speaking about food and my experiences. I want to also help people to eat healthy.”
Rhiannon said she was also interested in writing a cookbook especially for truckies with so many preparing their own meals whilst on the road, with the use of a gas cooker or microwave.
Rhiannon would dedicate any cookbook to her much-loved mum who had always dreamed of having one of her own.
Big Rigs asked Rhiannon for a sample of a simple but tasty meal she would recommend for truckies.
It was Mexican mince with corn chips and sour cream, with some frozen vegetables. “What was left could be used for leftovers the following nights,” she said.