MasterChef Australia is back, returning for its 13th season on Monday, April 19th at 7:30 pm on 10.
Jock Zonfrillo, Andy Allen, and Melissa Leong will be entering the MasterChef kitchen for the second time as judges after a wildly successful first foray last year.
Mediaweek spoke to the trio ahead of the season premiere about how they feel now as a trio, how production went, and what to expect from MasterChef when it heats up.
Do you feel settled as a tandem now?
Leong: “When we walked back on set for this season, it very much felt like the first day back at school after the summer holidays or something. Obviously, this is still new because this is the first season of real home cooks putting themselves on the line and us in the position where we’re sort of mentoring them more than we did perhaps with the Back to Win contestants because they already had established careers within food.
“I think that unless you become severely jaded with something like this, there should always be something new to discover with a show that’s had as long a history as MasterChef has every single time you step foot onto the set for the first day of the season.”
What ingredients do amateur cooks bring?
Allen: “As much as we gave the Back to Win guys everything that we had, this is just different because there’s a different style of nurturing when someone who’s really inexperienced walks through the doors – and we’ve got 24 of them.
“That’s why I’m really excited for everyone to see it because Back to Win was amazing and everyone connected to all the people that they’d seen and loved over the last 11 years back in one season, so they got that re-connection. We were the lucky ones who were able to get a leg up and be part of that show. They’ve had a taster of what we can do in Back to Win, but this is where the OG stuff happens.”
Zonfrillo: “There’s a big difference between the two. Having the Back to Win guys was kind of its own thing, I think it sat outside the remit of MasterChef, to be honest. I think this year we’ve got contestants who – one of them didn’t even have a social media profile at all, on any account. No Instagram, no Facebook, nothing. I like that. I like to see that because they’re not worried about ‘what if my 225,000 followers see me split the mousse?’, it’s not even a thought in their minds. They just don’t care, so they’re all in when they do a challenge, they’re vulnerable. It’s a very different vibe in the kitchen and it’s one that I’m enjoying more, to be honest.
“I think it’s compelling to have people who are standing in a kitchen who want a career in food, who have had 10 years or more working in a different industry whether it’s lawyers, doctors, landscape architects, boilermakers, that kind of stuff for 10 years. They’ve had a good crack at a different career, and now they’ve decided they actually really want a career in food, and they’ve given up so much so that they are in the MasterChef kitchen.”
Leong: “This is 24 people who truly, truly are putting themselves out there and will have their lives changed by this show. I know that sounds like a tag line, but it really isn’t. These people quit their jobs as doctors, lawyers, med students, the whole gamut of professions. They’re deciding to pull up stumps and go down a different path in life, and there’s a tremendous sense of vulnerability and uncertainty that comes with that. We have a front row seat to that every single day that we go into work, we see how much they want it, we see how much they’re learning along the way, and how as they start to discover who they are in a food identity context, how much that continues to light their path. To be able to be involved in that for the first time, even though technically this is the third season we’ve been in the saddle so to speak, is huge. It’s huge and it’s meaningful.”
How have Covid protocols impacted filming?
Zonfrillo: “We love a protocol now, we’re all over it. It’s funny, we started and there was nothing, and then very quickly there was the disaster that was Covid. And then there was a lot of people wandering around with lengths of aluminium that was one and a half meters long trying to distance contestants and us, and then camera angles had to be worked out, and it was a big kerfuffle, to be honest – or it seemed like a big kerfuffle at the time anyway. Then obviously the impact of Covid globally became apparent.
“Endemol and Channel 10 did a phenomenal job of making sure that the production adhered to all government regulations in a way that still made the show watchable, it wasn’t awkward. While we couldn’t hi-five or give contestants hugs, we did a guard of honour when people left. We found other ways. Maybe that in part made us feel like we were taking the show a little bit in our own way. I can’t help but think it is what it was, would we have it any different? Looking back on it, I don’t think I would. It doesn’t feel like we just made the best of it, we made it as good as it was, and it was bloody great.”
Allen: “I’ve got good news for you, we’re doing off-sites again. We’re doing off-sites! We’re out of here, we’re out of the kitchen after close to a year. As much as that place is the home of MasterChef, it’s just so good to be out and about to visit restaurants, visit locations. It was literally like a breath of fresh air after becoming a bit repetitious.”
Leong: “To be able to take the contestants into a restaurant – a real, working restaurant environment, which for some of them that’s their dream, commercial cookery – and to see them take to a commercial kitchen with such great reverence but also such excitement is tremendous to watch.”
How did Covid affect guest judges?
Zonfrillo: “There was a promo that went to air last week or the week before and it shows Heston and Nigella and Massimo and Clare Smyth, those guys have Zoomed in in a life-sized example of themselves. Honestly, it just shows you how far technology has come, we were able to have them in the MasterChef kitchen as good as you’re going to get without them physically being there. They were standing in an amazing life-sized LCD screen and they were able to talk to the contestants live without any lag or delay. It’s as good as them being there, the contestants were able to ask them questions and they could answer them. I mean that’s what it’s all about, that connection, it’s about meeting your mentors, meeting people that inspire you. “
Leong: “The magic of television, as they say.”
Did you do anything differently this year?
Leong: “I’ve been learning from the boys many things – many, many things, but one of them being how to be louder, especially when counting down. I’m very happy to say that I have found my inner lioness if you like through the mentorship of these two fantastic brothers of mine.”
Jock: “If there’s one thing that any of your readerships should know is that throughout the season Mel has a thing that has become her own which is the thirty second egg, we call her, where Mel pretty much lays an egg she puts so much force into the 30 second time call. And she really gives it laldy.”
MasterChef Australia returns Monday, April 19th at 7:30 pm on 10.