Dish of the day

Geelong Advertiser - TV Guide - - Feature Story -

One of Aus­tralia’s most pop­u­lar shows is about to re­turn for its ninth sea­son. MasterChef judge Matt Pre­ston tells Danielle McGrane why the cook­ing show has sur­vived as long as it has and what to ex­pect next.

Matt Pre­ston reck­ons he knows why MasterChef has been such a hit with the Aus­tralian pub­lic. It in­volves a com­par­i­son, an un­likely com­par­i­son, but one he thinks makes sense for the un­de­ni­ably pop­u­lar cook­ing pro­gram. “I think we’ve turned into NRL or AFL,” Pre­ston says. “We’ve turned into some­thing peo­ple en­joy watch­ing, – they pick a favourite team and away they go. I think at the heart of the show there’s a very sim­ple principle, which is to take cooks and make them into great cooks, and pick peo­ple who can cook and who have a de­sire to make their life in food, who have a dream. That’s why we like it.” The spe­cial in­gre­di­ent that makes this one of the most loved shows on Aus­tralian TV is Pre­ston, who has been a judge on the show from the be­gin­ning, along­side Ge­orge Calom­baris and Gary Me­hi­gan. It helps too, ac­cord­ing to Pre­ston, that over the eight sea­sons of the show more than 100 peo­ple who have been on MasterChef now work in food, which re­in­forces the show’s le­git­i­macy. And he’s not just talk­ing about high-pro­file names such as Poh Ling Yeow, Adam Liaw or Julie Good­win. “For ev­ery one you see in the pub­lic eye, there’s an­other five do­ing stuff you didn’t even know about, like run­ning culi­nary tours in their home­land or a food de­liv­ery busi­ness that’s be­come a house­hold name. It’s those things that give it a va­lid­ity,” he says. This sea­son the show con­tin­ues to bring in some big names in the world of food with guest chefs in­clud­ing Bri­tain’s Yo­tam Ot­tolenghi, Vue de monde’s Shan­non Ben­nett, Mag­gie Beer, Curtis Stone and celebrity chef He­ston Blumenthal. “I’ve al­ways been a real fan of bring­ing in in­spi­ra­tional cooks who come from the same back­ground as the con­tes­tants,” Pre­ston says. “He­ston was a pho­to­copier sales­man – he’s not pro­fes­sion­ally trained, and he ended up open­ing The Fat Duck. Yo­tam was a jour­nal­ist in Tel Aviv and then he de­cided, like our con­tes­tants, that he’d re­ally love to make his life in bak­ing. So he knocked on the door of a baker’s and said, ‘I want to learn how to bake, please can I come in and just help you out?’.” While the show is com­ing into its ninth sea­son, Pre­ston says the tal­ent on dis­play is still ex­cel­lent. Ev­ery one of the Top 24 cooks de­serves to be there. “They’re an in­ter­est­ing group of cooks this year,” he says. “You tend to find if you give peo­ple a box of in­gre­di­ents, they cook the same things, but they’ve a much more var­ied ap­proach. This year, with the mys­tery box, we’d have maybe 12 peo­ple cook­ing and we got 10 dishes that were to­tally dif­fer­ent. They’re stretch­ing their culi­nary imag­i­na­tions.” To stretch their imag­i­na­tions even fur­ther, this year a Sweet Week has been in­tro­duced – ded­i­cated solely to desserts. “That’s me and Gary, we de­cided re­gard­less of what Ge­orge thought, we needed a bit more choco­late and sweetie good­ness. “And there’s no doubt we’ve had some amaz­ing dessert cooks through the doors and you can’t win the show just be­ing savoury, and you can’t win the show just cook­ing a sweet, but it’s nice to cel­e­brate that.” The con­tes­tants have come up with some in­cred­i­bly imag­i­na­tive in­stal­la­tion-type desserts as well as cakes dur­ing the chal­lenges in Sweet Week. “There are many facets to what makes that sweet world, whether it’s bak­ing, to ice creams, to purees to roast­ing pineap­ples,” Pre­ston says. It’s re­flec­tive of what’s hap­pen­ing in so­ci­ety, he says, as sweet treats con­tinue to mo­nop­o­lise food trends in this In­sta­gram­friendly

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