Q & A
MATT MATTPREST PRESTON, CELEBRITY MASTERCHEF
After the amazing success of Ten’s cooking challenge MasterChef Australia, the network is going back for seconds with Celebrity MasterChef, which puts a diverse line-up of 18 high-profi le Australian personalities in the MCK ( that’s MasterChef Kitchen for the uninitiated) for a series of culinary competitions.
As with the original series, the eff orts of the contestants will be overseen by chefs Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris and food critic Matt Preston.
With his obvious enthusiasm for the contestants’ dishes ( and his collection of eye-catching cravats), Preston quickly became an audience favourite, and he joined us to discuss the celeb-centric MasterChef spin-off . You’ve assembled a tidy line-up of celebrities for this show, Matt, but given the success of MasterChef Australia you, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris may be more well-known than any of them. It was a bit of a big joke before we announced who was taking part: who can we get who’s bigger than Gary and George? They’re watched by millions of people every week! They’re huge stars! But because the three of us have known each other for such a long time, we don’t see any of that. We see the same chubby trio that’s always been there. How have the celebs you’ve encountered so far taken to the challenges? Being a journalist and having interviewed so many celebrities over the years, you come to see that they can be very guarded and media-savvy. What’s been interesting about this process is putting them in a situation they’re not comfortable with. They’re doing something they love but they’re put out of their comfort zone while they’re doing it, so you get to see the real person. They turn into contestants – there’s a subtle change that overcomes them about a quarter of the way through. And because the MasterChef kitchen is so huge – unlike a lot of television sets, it’s twice as big as it appears! – they can feel quite exposed, especially when there are only three cooking stations. How did you source celebs with cooking skills? Some put their hands up, some we tracked down by talking to chefs and other sources. The process is simple: The fi rst question we asked was ‘ Are you available?’ We missed out on a lot of people because they weren’t. And the second question was ‘ Can you cook?’ If the answer was no, the conversation ended there and then. Because the whole point of MasterChef is that it’s built around people who can cook. If you can’t, you don’t move forward in the competition. It was important for us to stay true to that. What’s been great is that we’ve seen some really good cooking. The last thing you want is to give them a challenge where they all crash and burn – it’d make terrible television. You want to see these people take on challenges and triumph. Given that these are people used to being in the public eye, are you seeing a bit more showmanship, a bit more fl air? Yeah. Oh, yeah. ( Laughs) Someone like ( author, broadcaster and former rugby player) Peter FitzSimons is very interesting – he’s a big man, an intelligent man, someone very used to be top dog or alpha male. And when he walks in, he’s got three other alpha males facing him! They all handle it in diff erent ways: some get cocky, some get shy, some get nervous, some overcompensate. But the really nice thing about doing this is that they’ve all approached it with a good heart. In the second episode, Peter’s up against The Biggest Loser’s Michelle Bridges, who was very, very competitive, and Hi-5’ s Kathleen de Leon, who was very quiet but also fi ercely competitive and a really good cook. So it’s a pretty heady stew when mixed together. I mentioned earlier about you becoming a bit of a celebrity yourself – how have you taken to that? I did a show four years ago called My Restaurant Rules and I quickly learnt not to read any publicity – if it’s good, your ego becomes gigantic and if it’s bad, you get depressed or angry. But MasterChef Australia was quite positive and people interacted with it in a way that went beyond viewing. They’d fi nish watching the show and then they’d go cook. We like the idea that we’re convincing people that cooking is a cool thing to do, and when we meet these people 99.9 per cent of them are charming and genuinely nice to meet, so it’s been great. While we’re talking about MasterChef Australia, it’s been reported that Sarah Wilson’s role as host has been phased out for next season. I understand the original MasterChef didn’t have a host. It didn’t have a host, that’s correct. It didn’t have a critic either, so I’m feeling nervous! ( Laughs) Sarah is lovely and whip-smart and it became obvious as the show progressed that she wasn’t being used to the best of her abilities. So in a situation like that, you take the experience and go on to do other brilliant stuff . We obviously miss not having her because she’s a gem to have around but we know that Sarah’s also got a big announcement coming up.