Back to basics
IT’S the downfall of many a home cook.
It’s your old faithful recipe, everything’s bubbling away nicely, and the guests are due to arrive in half an hour.
You splash in a bit more secret ingredient and turn up the heat, imagining if it tastes good now, amping it up will elevate it to something truly wonderful.
Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s ruined by being overcooked.
For some, that’s what happened with Masterchef Australia last year as it veered a little too far from its familiar recipe – too much drama, overblown challenges, nearimpossible recipes.
With season four starting tonight, Masterchef judge Matt Preston is adamant the show is back to basics.
The mystery box challenges are back on Sunday nights, the kitchen battles are the centre of the drama, the dishes are less extravagant.
‘‘ The hard part was working out which are the right bits to change,’’ says Preston, who judges alongside chefs Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris.
‘‘ Last year we did a fair bit of off- site stuff on the Sunday show, but by doing that we lost the ‘ play- along- at- home’ element that is so loved with the mystery box challenges and invention tests.
‘‘ So we’re going back to that whole ‘ what am I going to do with a jar of Vegemite and a langoustine’ thing.’’
Of criticisms that Masterchef was too high on drama and short on real food last season, Preston is philosophical.
‘‘ TV people love to throw a curve ball. You know: ‘ There’s not enough drama, let’s let loose a buffalo halfway through the challenge’,’’ he says.
‘‘ Really, cooking in a strange kitchen with TV cameras is enough.
‘‘ It’s like cooking for your boss and your potential mother- in- law and some celebrities all at the same time – the drama that you get out of that is in the cooking and that’s the key.’’
Of last year’s final straw for many viewers – a split event that drew the finale out over several hours – Preston is circumspect.
‘‘ We took last year’s criticisms on board. You’d have to ask Channel Ten, but there was such a loud outcry about that I’d think that they won’t do that again.’’
Masterchef, like most reality shows of its ilk, is big on the word ‘‘ journey’’, and for Preston, it’s been quite a ride since the food writer first signed on in 2009.
Certainly, he didn’t set out to be a television star.
‘‘ I want to go back to writing,’’ he blurts out, then laughs.
‘‘ I like writing, I do. I rather liked doing my job.
‘‘ I didn’t come into this from a job doing dishes. I came from a job travelling around the world and Australia drinking and eating. My life was pretty good.’’
He didn’t imagine what the role could lead to.
‘‘ It’s been amazing. It does allow you to do stuff that scares you and is out of your comfort zone. I’ve even ended up doing some filming on an ABC drama called Lowdown, which was terrifying and fantastic.’’
Preston says the best dish he has got out of Masterchef is his friendship with Mehigan and Calombaris.
‘‘ Television can be long and tedious to make, so it’s no fun doing it without a couple of guys that you love and respect,’’ he says.
‘‘ George and Gary and I are food nerds. Imagine being one of those guys that collects train numbers and you’re suddenly cast in a series about trainspotting – it’s like ‘ really, you want to do a show on that? Yes please.’ That’s what Masterchef is like for us.
‘‘ My wife rolls her eyes at me and says, ‘ It’s not all about food, you know?’ ’’
‘‘ I tell her: ‘ But it can be’. In my sad little trainspotter world it can be.’’
BACK TO BASICS: Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris.