MasterChef Australia team on S16: ‘Viewers are going to connect in a way maybe they haven’t for several years’

MasterChef Australia

“We have really exciting contestants who are so memorable. Honestly, I walk around thinking about them in my downtime. They’re in my mind, they’re under my skin.”

First airing in 2009, MasterChef Australia enters its 16th season in 2024, and has experienced its biggest makeover yet, headlined by new judges Poh Ling Yeow, Sofia Levin, and Jean-Christophe Novelli joining Andy Allen.

Ahead of tonight’s premiere on 10 and 10 Play, network EP and Paramount’s head of non-scripted Sarah Thornton; Endemol Shine’s director of content, Melbourne Marty Benson; and new co-host Levin spoke with Mediaweek about how the new season is changing things up and why it continues to be a hit with audiences. 

What does the new judging lineup bring to MasterChef Australia?

Thornton: There is a really great diversity across the panel. We’ve obviously got Andy who brings out consistency and knowledge of MasterChef and genuine skill, Poh who is the heartbeat of MasterChef, Sofia brings a kind of contemporary approach to food, and is a genuine eater, which I think is so important in shows like this. And then Jean-Christophe is bringing his experience to it. So what I think we have from this judging panel is a new point of view, and a real cross-section of the world of food, which I think is also really brilliant.

MasterChef is much-loved and there is a reason for it. It’s because it’s an incredibly truthful, authentic, and exciting experience to the viewer. And I do think this year, in addition to a spectacular judging panel, we have really exciting contestants who are so memorable. Honestly, I walk around thinking about them in my downtime. They’re in my mind, they’re under my skin. And I think that viewers are really going to connect with this batch of home cooks in a way that maybe they haven’t for several years. So I think for that reason, I’m super excited for people to see it.

MasterChef Australia

Sarah Thornton, network EP MasterChef Australia, head of non-scripted, Paramount Australia

What was behind the decision to send the show back to Hong Kong for the first time since season one? 

Benson: We do love to go away. 

We’re on air for 12 weeks so it’s nice to go away somewhere. But what’s most important whenever we go away is that we go somewhere that’s got an incredible food scene and hands down Hong Kong is just amazing. As we experienced from the streets to the Michelin Star restaurants, everywhere is a delight in Hong Kong. So really it’s because of the food scene.

And you look back at the other countries we’ve been to over the years, Japan, Italy, California, London, Paris, it’s always because of the food scene. So that was the main reason. It was wonderful to collaborate with the Hong Kong Tourism Board to create some incredible challenges while we were there, really exciting stuff.

MasterChef Australia

Marty Benson, director of content, Melbourne, Endemol Shine Australia

Why do you think MasterChef continues to be a hit with audiences after 15 years on air?

Benson: I think it’s the production values of MasterChef and it might sound cliche, but it’s also one of the most honest and authentic shows on television. Our philosophy is ordinary people cooking extraordinary food. And that is exactly what happens now. I think people can just see themselves in the contestants. We’ve also got a history of almost 70% of our contestants over the years having changed their lives by being on MasterChef.

In your opinion, what makes MasterChef stand out in the sea of reality cooking programs?

Levin: I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, and I think it’s multifaceted. Yes, it’s the feel-good, uplifting, encouraging, family-friendly show that everybody knows and loves. But from my point of view, the thing that has been most surprising has been just how on the pulse MasterChef Australia is.

Coming from the food media, restaurant journalism side of things, when we write stories, we’re looking for what’s trending. We’re looking for chefs doing things. We’re looking for chefs creating dishes and concepts that are really interesting and innovative. From the ingredients used in the MasterChef Kitchen through to our guests, they’re all topics that I would write about and pitch to a publication as a journalist.

Sofia Levin, new judge on MasterChef Australia

So if you are interested in not just the human side of things, if you’re genuinely interested in the food scene in Australia and how that translates across the world and really puts us as one of the main players on the global stage, MasterChef Australia is then absolutely a legitimate place to find out what’s going on in the world of food and hospitality. And you get to meet amazing people simultaneously.

Yes, we’ve got Jamie Oliver, who has been iconic for decades. But then you’ve got Josh Niland who’s completely changed the way we treat seafood and we have these incredible cooks and chefs who have made a name for themselves through social media. So it sounds like a cliche to say there’s something for everybody, but I feel like MasterChef invented the cliche before it was a cliche.

I’m just really, really excited for everybody to watch this new chapter because I know for the contestants, this is the start of the rest of their lives, but I think it feels that way for us as judges as well.

Last April, judge Jock Zonfrillo passed away aged 46 just before the last season was set to air. In October, the day before Ten’s upfront in October, it was revealed judge Melissa Leong would not be returning to the format in 2024, with only Allen remaining as part of the new four-judge lineup.

The 2024 season will see the cast and crew return to Hong Kong for the first time since season one in 2009, 15 years ago. The cooking show will film three episodes in the culinary hot spot, which is home to 77 Michelin-starred restaurants and over 15,000 dining establishments.

MasterChef Australia is produced by Endemol Shine Australia (a Banijay company). The format was created by Franc Roddam and represented internationally by Banijay Rights. 

MasterChef Australia premieres Monday 22 April at 7:30pm on 10 and 10 Play. 

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