To celebrate its fifth birthday, The New Daily is looking back at some of the people who made news in our first year. Husband-and-wife duo “Dan & Steph” are the first of our Newsmakers: Then and Now
As one of the last remaining competitors on the 2013 season of My Kitchen Rules, Dan Mulheron – of husband-and-wife duo “Dan & Steph” – had weathered plenty of challenges and a few scalding reviews from judges Pete Evans and Manu Feildel on the Seven Network reality TV cooking show. So he was unprepared for what happened when he stepped into Flemington on Melbourne Cup Day, ready for a canape cook-off.
“The enormity of it hit me,” recalls Dan, 37, who, along with Steph, is passionate about horse-racing.
“I had Manu and Pete either side of me. I went and hid behind a caravan and cried, because I was so emotional and couldn’t believe a painter-and-decorator and a sales lady were about to serve canapes to the who’s who of Australia.”
One of those stars was Shane Jacobson. “I spilled a canape all over his pants and it had a mango coulis,” Dan says.
“But he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s all good.’”
The popular battlers from Hervey Bay with a passion for cooking for their friends went on to claim the $250,000 grand prize. The show’s finale became the most watched TV event of 2013.
“We didn’t go on MKR to become personalities or be in the limelight or be on TV, we went on the show strictly for the money,” says Dan, explaining that with one unsuccessful IVF attempt behind them, the couple wanted only to fund further IVF treatment.
Dan is convinced their single-minded determination gave them the winning edge – that, and a staunch work ethic honed through the high-pressure jobs they held (Dan as a painter for a large company; Steph, a sales rep for Southern Cross Austereo).
“You get tired, you get cranky, but you block that out; we used to always remember why we were there. That was our strongest advantage,” says Dan, who with Steph, 36, runs the popular Hervey Bay cafe Eat at Dan & Steph’s, famed for its Italian pork sausage, Eggs Benedict and Steph’s baked treats.
Their crowning moment screened on April 28, 2013, and the days that followed were “really surreal,” Dan says.
After 14 straight hours doing interviews, the pair collapsed into bed at 8pm.
“We were absolutely exhausted and we heard a knock at the door … it was the lady who delivered the cheque! It had been couriered all the way from Sydney. I said to Steph, ‘What do we do, do we crack a bottle of champers?’” Dan says.
“But we were just too tired, we put the cheque under our mattress and then put it in our bank the next day.”
From that point, “our lives really changed,” Dan says. He and Steph launched into their second attempt at IVF and travelled to Bali, the US and Mexico. They were still overseas when they signed the lease on the future Eat at Dan & Steph’s.
Within a couple of months of returning home, it opened, “and two or three months later, Steph fell pregnant,” Dan says, smiling.
“We were more than happy to spend the 250 on IVF, but the fact that we didn’t have to was incredible, ’cause then we ended up buying a home, and we’d never thought we’d end up being in that position.”
Bright-eyed Emmy, who turns 4 in April, lights up her parents’ lives (and their Instagram feed). As well as inspiring Steph’s e-book of healthy children’s food, she’s the face of Eat With Emmy baby wear.
“She gets all excited when she sees herself on TV or in a magazine,” says Dan, with a laugh. “Takes it to daycare to show all the kids.”
Now, she’s looking forward to becoming a big sister, with Dan revealing he and Steph have once again turned to IVF. “We’re really excited about it. I guess Emmy’s more excited than anybody, to be honest!”
While they grow their business, their brand and, hopefully, their family, Dan has been shrinking: he’s shed an astonishing 75 kg since having weight-loss surgery in March.
“I’ve got a second lease on life,” says Dan, who is at work at 3:30am to prep, then runs 10 km before returning home with fresh bread to pack Emmy’s lunch.
“Before, Emmy was always, ‘Daddy, let’s jump on the trampoline,’ and I would always have no enthusiasm or energy for her. Now, she’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve had enough daddy.’ I run her ragged.”
That could also sum up the couple’s lives since their big win: “We have not stopped for five years,” says Dan, who travels with Steph for cooking demonstrations and food festivals. They’ve also expanded into off-site catering.
“Five years on, this has been our biggest year yet!”
Just as they did in 2012, when, grieving a negative IVF result, they decided to have a crack at MKR, Dan and Steph are dreaming up the next project to tackle as a united team.
“A five-year goal from now would be move into hotels,” Dan says.
“Something small, like a bed-and-breakfast, that the two of us can do.”
In the meantime, they’re still doing what they’ve always done – serving flavour-packed meals to their friends at home (even if Dan is in bed at 7:30pm most nights). Recently, Steph and sausage-specialist Dan – they go through 100kg at the café each week – surprised guests with “a really big, beautiful vege paella in the centre of the table, bubbling away. It was delicious”.
It’s been half a decade of evolution, but some things never change – and that appears to be the secret of Dan & Steph’s success, then and now.
“We had a real impact on people because we were who we are and we still are exactly who we were on TV,” says Dan, adding that customers bring up MKR “every day” at the cafe.
“We haven’t changed a bit.”