The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - COLIN VICK­ERY

Let’s face it, last year’s MasterChef Aus­tralia was a dud. It be­gan with a whim­per – the very first chal­lenge was cracking eggs – and never re­cov­ered.

The show’s chief fault was that most of the con­tes­tants weren’t good cooks. Judges Matt Pre­ston, Ge­orge Calom­baris and Gary Me­hi­gan looked bored, no doubt be­cause they re­alised most of the com­peti­tors didn’t cut the mus­tard.

MasterChef Aus­tralia 2014 is a dif­fer­ent story. On-air pro­mo­tions sug­gest this year’s con­tes­tants are go­ing to roll out some stun­ning dishes. No won­der Pre­ston has the fire back in his belly.

“This show has to be about good cooks and this top 24 are the best cooks we’ve seen,” Pre­ston en­thuses. “Maybe (last year) we (Pre­ston, Calom­baris, Me­hi­gan) weren’t as en­gaged as in pre­vi­ous years.

“There were too many team chal­lenges and not enough in­di­vid­ual chal­lenges. In team chal­lenges you see per­son­al­ity and tragedy, but in in­di­vid­ual chal­lenges it’s real cook­ing.

“We’ve had to look at what can we do to make it bet­ter. We want to be daz­zled (by cooks).

“The au­di­ence’s in­volve­ment is cru­cial. You want chal­lenges that pro­duce food that’s clever but not to­tally un­achiev­able to home cooks.”

Ten has plenty rid­ing on the sixth sea­son. It needs a rat­ings hit and MasterChef, along with Off­spring, could do the trick.

The net­work has dumped spin-offs this year in the hope view­ers would be ex­tra hun­gry for the main event. The pro­duc­ers also have gone back to ba­sics. The mys­tery box and in­ven­tion test re­turn, then it is pres­sure test time. Team chal­lenges will re­main and con­tes­tants will vie for im­mu­nity be­fore weekly elim­i­na­tion chal­lenges.

The top 24 are a di­verse bunch, rang­ing from 18 to 55, and in­clude a bob­cat driver, deck­hand, wine­maker, den­tist and bar­tender. “The whole chal­lenge this year was to go out and find the best cooks,” Pre­ston says. “When a show’s in its sixth sea­son, you can’t rely on writ­ten ap­pli­ca­tions. The cast­ing team went to cook­ing schools and farmer’s mar­kets and found cooks who are mildly ob­ses­sive and cook a lot. I think we’ve got the two best pastry cooks we’ve ever seen in the com­pe­ti­tion.”

One is 22-year-old NSW law stu­dent Nick Doyle, who shed 50kg in eight months and put his stud­ies on hold to ap­pear on MasterChef Aus­tralia.

So the stage is set for a mem­o­rable se­ries, but can it ever get back to its glory days? Al­most four mil­lion Aussies watched the fi­nale of se­ries two.

My Kitchen Rules is our most pop­u­lar cook­ing show, with more than three mil­lion view­ers watch­ing last week’s grand fi­nal.

“When good shows are on, people find them,” Pre­ston says.

Matt Pre­ston

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