From Paris to Masterchef, and be­yond...

For­mer Masterchef con­tes­tant An­drew Prior’s pas­sion for French food has taken him on an amaz­ing jour­ney from Paris to re­al­ity TV fame to the streets of Mel­bourne. He shared his story, and a few of his favourite Parisian haunts, with Kim Camp­bell.

Provincial Living - - Contents -

I’ m sit­ting at one of Mel­bourne’s top French del­i­catessens nib­bling on some of the tasti­est

char­cu­terie I’ve had in a long time. An ex­quis­ite ter­rine with juicy cran­ber­ries and crunchy pis­ta­chios, some sublime melt-in-your-mouth

ril­lettes, saucis­son, and the tini­est cor­ni­chons pos­si­ble all re­mind me that French food can be an amaz­ing panoply of de­lights. Whilst I savour ev­ery mouth­ful, I am also lucky enough to be en­ter­tained by the jovial An­drew Prior.

An­drew is telling me a range of in­ter­est­ing sto­ries about his year in Paris sur­vey­ing the French food scene, his time as a con­tes­tant on Masterchef, and the launch of his thriv­ing food tourism busi­ness. In­cred­i­bly, all these events oc­curred in the space of just two years.

Back in 2011, An­drew was a ded­i­cated, pas­sion­ate foodie – ob­sessed with TV cook­ing shows and any­thing re­lated to French food – but was work­ing as a frus­trated in­sur­ance bro­ker. When his part­ner needed to move to Paris to study for a year, An­drew de­cided to go along for the ride.

“We had been to Paris many times be­fore,” An­drew says, “and had al­ways loved it and, as my pas­sion is French food, I had to say ‘yes’ when my part­ner asked me to come. Even so, it was a bit of a risk be­cause it meant a break in my ca­reer and I wasn’t able to work while I was there, so that meant a drop to our in­come. But we both thought we had to do it.”

While his part­ner stud­ied, An­drew was free to do what­ever he liked dur­ing the day. “So I walked ev­ery­where,” he says, “and, as food is one of my dear­est friends, I got to check out the food scene from one side of the city to the other. Mar­kets, boulan­geries, épiceries, pâtis­series, the lux­ury food stores – you name it, I went to them all!

“…We lived in the Marais so it was very cen­tral and the best po­si­tion to ex­plore the city. The di­ver­sity in the city is quite ex­tra­or­di­nary and I’d have to say that, while some of the smaller boulan­geries and pâtis­series are amaz­ing, my favourite place was the Bon Marche food hall. The va­ri­ety of food there is ex­tra­or­di­nary and I used to dream about eat­ing the €1,500 per kilo jam­bon.”

An­drew kept week­days for ad­ven­tures and stuck to a rou­tine on week­ends. “We’d start to walk down to the Bastille, stop by our favourite boulan­gerie on Boule­vard Beau­mar­chais that served se­ri­ously the best cho­co­late crois­sants you’ve ever tasted, and eat them while fin­ish­ing the walk to the Bastille mar­kets. The di­ver­sity of food at that mar­ket is ex­tra­or­di­nary – from all over France – and how peo­ple can go to the mar­kets and buy just one item I’ll never know! We al­ways used to buy a crêpe from a small stall run by a fam­ily from Brit­tany…I could eat their le­mon and sugar crêpes ev­ery day for the rest of my life.”

Each of the mar­kets in Paris is very dif­fer­ent, An­drew tells me. The mar­ket at Place d’Italie, the mar­ket in the 16th arondisse­ment at Av­enue du Prési­dent Wil­son, and An­drew’s lo­cal, the Marche des En­fants Rouge (the Mar­ket of the Red Chil­dren), are among his other favourites. Each has its own char­ac­ter and unique story.

“The di­ver­sity of food… is ex­tra­or­di­nary… how peo­ple can go to the mar­kets and buy just one item I’ll never know!”

The lat­ter, for ex­am­ple, was orig­i­nally a 16th cen­tury or­phan­age where the chil­dren dressed in do­nated red cloth­ing. Although the or­phan­age closed be­fore the revo­lu­tion, the build­ing has re­mained in­tact to this day.

The area has a more re­cent tragic history, too. The Marais was home to Paris’ Jewish com­mu­nity, and the Nazis took thou­sands of peo­ple from here to the death camps dur­ing WWII.

I tell An­drew that, on my visit to Paris sev­eral years ago, I vis­ited the Marais and ate the most amaz­ing Jewish food. “Well you need to come back with me,” he in­sists, “I’ll show you a few that the tourists don’t usu­ally find.”

So what are some of his other Parisian se­crets? “Well, I love the old Art Nouveau pas­sage­ways, where there are some great restau­rants pop­ping up. But there are great restau­rants all over the

“I’d cry at the drop of a hat. Some peo­ple think it’s all for show, but it’s in­cred­i­bly stress­ful. You’re un­der pres­sure and even some­thing fall­ing into your mashed potato can ruin your day.”

city, re­ally. One of my best tips is not to go to din­ner at the Miche­lin star restau­rants, but to lunch. Many of them have spe­cials for lunch at a quar­ter of the price of a din­ner.”

At the end of their year in Paris, An­drew and his part­ner packed up and re­turned to Mel­bourne. “We could have stayed on, but we had our dogs at home and we were miss­ing them badly.”

Just a week af­ter ar­riv­ing home, An­drew dis­cov­ered that Masterchef was au­di­tion­ing con­tes­tants for its next sea­son. He had ap­plied for the first se­ries with­out suc­cess. Sec­ond time round, how­ever, he was short­listed.

“I had to go in and take a dish I’d made at home,” he says. “I made Stephanie Alexan­der’s chicken and pis­ta­chio ter­rine and it was a hit. I was asked to come back and cook in front of cam­eras…I thought maybe I was in the top 50. It wasn’t un­til we had to run out the front of the Mel­bourne Cricket Ground and were greeted by the three judges that I re­alised I was in the top 24. It was all quite sur­real.”

An­drew gives me a few fas­ci­nat­ing in­sights about a con­tes­tant’s jour­ney through Masterchef, telling me about the dif­fi­cul­ties of be­ing locked away in ac­com­mo­da­tion with­out fam­ily and friends for weeks, the busy film­ing sched­ule and the pres­sure to churn out amaz­ing food. But, he has­tens to add, there are many de­tails about the ex­pe­ri­ence he can’t dis­cuss.

“What I can say is that, over­all, it was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to cook with, and meet, some great cooks and chefs was just fan­tas­tic. It taught me a lot about food and how you should treat it. When you treat food with re­spect, it re­ally adds to the taste.”

Sadly, An­drew’s time on the show ended abruptly when he was forced to re­tire with bi­lat­eral knee frac­tures and a frac­tured kneecap. He made the news in the process, spark­ing head­lines such as, “An­drew tear­fully bows out of Masterchef”.

“I was a great crier,” he jokes. “I’d cry at the drop of a hat. Some peo­ple think it’s all for show, but it’s in­cred­i­bly stress­ful. You’re un­der pres­sure and even some­thing fall­ing into your mashed potato can ruin your day.”

An­drew stresses that he was never ac­tu­ally elim­i­nated for his cook­ing. “I was turn­ing out some of the best French food the show has ever seen. But I’ve gone on to learn so much more ever since and, ul­ti­mately, it’s about your will­ing­ness to learn, no mat­ter where you come in the com­pe­ti­tion. Some con­tes­tants who went through to the end have done very lit­tle af­ter the show and have gone back to their day jobs and oth­ers have gone on to set up suc­cess­ful busi­nesses. It’s up to the in­di­vid­ual to make some­thing out of it.”

In­deed, An­drew has since gone on to be one of the more suc­cess­ful con­tes­tants from the first six se­ries. Iron­i­cally, de­spite the in­juries to his knee (which are still sore from time to time, but have gen­er­ally healed), he launched a food tourism busi­ness run­ning walk­ing food tours in Mel­bourne’s South Yarra and CBD, as well as all-day French food tours around Mel­bourne.

“When I left the show, I thought long and hard about what I could do af­ter­wards. I thought about es­tab­lish­ing a café or res­tau­rant but, given my knee in­juries and on doc­tor’s ad­vice, I de­cided to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. A lot of con­tes­tants go on to set up restau­rants, but I thought it prob­a­bly wasn’t the best thing to do, nor did I know any­thing about run­ning a res­tau­rant… [When] I was in Paris, I used to love show­ing friends around when they vis­ited,” he says, so run­ning food tours in Mel­bourne seemed like a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion.

He es­tab­lished his busi­ness, Quee­nie’s Food Tours, 18 months ago. Now, he makes a liv­ing from “walk­ing and eat­ing my way around Mel­bourne”. His busi­ness tagline is “taste, dis­cover, in­dulge” and, he in­sists, “there’s cer­tainly a lot of that on my tours!”

I’m cu­ri­ous as to how he thinks the food scene in Mel­bourne com­pares to the food scene in Paris. As a Mel­bur­nian, I love the city’s food, but I won­der whether he longs for the rich­ness and qual­ity of Parisian fare?

“Ac­tu­ally,” he says, “there is a lot in com­mon be­tween food in France and food here. It’s peo­ple’s com­mit­ment to food – qual­ity in­gre­di­ents, taste and pre­sen­ta­tion – that makes it ex­tra spe­cial and there is no short­age of that in Mel­bourne. That’s what I look for when I re­search my tours and it’s one of the things I ac­cen­tu­ate to peo­ple who come on them. There has to be a real com­mit­ment to qual­ity that doesn’t stop at the kitchen door. It has to carry through to the way you shop for food, the food you look for, the sea­son of the year, the lo­cal­ity you live in, and even the peo­ple you know.”

An­drew seems to have found his niche in the Mel­bourne food scene, but he takes reg­u­lar trips back

to what he calls his “sec­ond home” – Paris. “We’ve been back sev­eral times and each time I get to ex­plore a dif­fer­ent as­pect of food there in more de­tail.”

An­drew is also tak­ing a tour to France in Septem­ber – a 13-day food ex­trav­a­ganza in Paris, Di­jon and Lyon. It sounds amaz­ing: vis­its to the mar­kets, cook­ing classes, din­ing at Miche­lin star restau­rants, truf­fle hunt­ing, a stay in a 16th cen­tury abbey, a tour of a for­mer royal food gar­den, wine tast­ing in the Rhône-Alpes, a visit to a snail farm… Is it ok for me to feel mon­u­men­tally jeal­ous of what sounds like a dream job?

An­drew as­sures me that, although it sounds amaz­ing, it’s been a tough road so far. “Yes, Paris was fan­tas­tic, and yes, Masterchef was amaz­ing. But mak­ing some­thing out of these af­ter­wards has been a lot of hard work. It’s like any new busi­ness,” he says. “It starts slowly, you build and you build and you have to take a few knocks on the way. But I wouldn’t give it up for any­thing. I ab­so­lutely love what I do now…My mother-in-law says that if you love what you do you never have to work a day in your life, and that’s the motto I live by nowa­days.”

Photos: – RnDmS, ueuaphoto, Maie, TEA

The Marais

An­drew Prior

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