Andy Allen and Melissa Leong on how MasterChef Australia remains “fresh” every season

masterchef australia judges

Melissa Leong: “What’s brilliant about it is the format doesn’t change”

Melissa Leong and Andy Allen — alongside the late Jock Zonfrillo — have been at the helm of MasterChef Australia since 2019 and with the new season on 10 and 10Play, it’s set to be bigger and bolder than ever.

Originally scheduled to premiere May 1, the series aired on Sunday, May 7 following the death of judge Jock Zonfrillo.

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While the wholesome series has been on air since 2009, each year, with new contestants, new challenges and a whole lot of twists and turns, it remains one of the most popular shows on television and for both Leong and Allen, there’s a very clear reason.

“What’s brilliant about it is the format doesn’t change,” Leong told Mediaweek in an interview before the premiere. “But because the contestants are always new and fresh and interesting and we have returning contestants, we mix them with different challenges and there are always new stories and new things to learn from them. And that’s what keeps it fresh, it’s just that constant flow of energy always changing.”

The new iteration, which has already finished filming, will see a ‘secret’ or ‘surprise’ revealed during every episode, becoming a “different proposition” for the new crop of hopefuls walking in, and some of them will “completely change the game”.

“It changes their perspective about what they might be cooking that day,” Leong said. “It just provides excitement and just that curveball every single time that makes really exciting, interesting food, and some pretty crazy antics in the kitchen as well.”

mel leong, andy allen, jock zonfrillo MasterChef

Melissa Leong, Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen. 10.

Why MasterChef Australia never sets the contestants up for failure

For Allen, the long-running show is not made to “create drama”, instead the judges try to “push the contestants”.

“We never try and set these guys up for failure in anything because it doesn’t make good food,” Allen said during the same interview. “And that’s what this show has lived and died by for 15 seasons now… I’m sure even at the start of some some challenges, everyone in that room is probably going to go, ‘How are we gonna do this? This is actually impossible.’ But it’s not. It’s amazing what you can actually do if you have to do it and you want to succeed. So, it’s not all like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna throw this at you to make you fail’, it’s actually the opposite.”

Leong shared the same sentiment.

“It’s about providing the right amount of inspiration and the conditions for success,” she added. “You’ve got to remember what these people are all competing for. An amazing prize and an opportunity to change their career path into this industry that they’ve dreamed of being in and they want to be there. They want to be pushed to the point where they become the best possible cook, and we definitely see that trajectory happen for them all as they progress.”

masterchef australia judges

The MasterChef Australia judges. 10.

The contestants are “relatable” and are a “microcosm of who Australia is”

This year, the Top 18 contestants range from 23-year-old Declan to Robbie, an Indigenous man who is in his 60s; and Allen admitted that it creates a “relatability” for viewers at home.

“I think relatability is probably the thing that I’m most excited about,” he said. “Relatability in the contestants. There’s everything from the knockabout 23-year-old to a bloke that goes over to Paris to learn how to bake sourdough and just finds this love for bread.”

The pair also revealed that there’s also a Harvard graduate, doctors, economists, accountants, chippies and mums, which Leong says is a “great microcosm” of “who Australia is.”

“They all approach the challenge of being in the MasterChef kitchen with such heart and such an openness. It really is humbling to watch and I think that Australia, like with every other season, will fall in love with this whole new crop of cooks in a very different way.”

MasterChef Australia Top 18 contestants. 10.

Watching past seasons is neither and advantage or disadvantage for the new contestants

For fans of the show, knowing what a Mystery Box or Pressure Test comes hand-in-hand with devouring fifteen seasons of the hit show; however, both Leong and Allen say this is “neither an advantage nor disadvantage” for the new contestants coming into the new season.

“It helps to know the premise of what it is that you may or may not do,” Leong admitted. “But the great equaliser is that when you walk into that kitchen, you have to meet the brief and you have to embrace the challenge on the day. Yes, you can practice recipes, and you can think about what you might do and rehearse that, but you don’t know what’s going to happen until we throw down the gauntlet and set the  clock up.

“We’ve seen that time and time again, you come in with a preconceived notion of what you’re going to do that day and you try to jam that in there, it doesn’t end well. So, you do need to be open and you need to be loose and go with what is in front of you on the day and there’s only a set amount you can prepare for that.”

Allen, who won his season in 2012 before becoming a judge, also said that the judges encourage the upcoming chefs to “study a lot and cook a lot when they’re not in the kitchen”.

“You can tell the people who cook dishes,” he said. “And then [you can tell] the people who cook components. Components is what you need to focus on because you will never ever get the opportunity in the kitchen to cook a dish from front to back that you’ve done at home.

“The person who is at home cooking components, knowing how to make a great sauce might or knowing how to make a great tempura batter, having that in your toolkit is much more beneficial than knowing a dish or a range of dishes.”

Author’s note: This interview took place prior to Zonfrillo’s passing.

MasterChef Australia premieres on Sunday, May 7 at 7.30 pm on 10 and 10Play.

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