Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston serve up 10 years of MasterChef Australia magic
BACK when MasterChef Australia first went to air – an instant hit which will mark 10 years this season – its trio of judges weren’t convinced it would last that long.
For Matt Preston, a Britishborn food journalist who brought with him a fierce reputation and f lair for fashion not seen on our small screen before, it was like a one-night stand that turned into a long and satisfying marriage.
“We were the new experiment, after nine years of Big Brother, and all thought we’d be the quick love affair you have to have before you move on to the next big show. At worst, we’d end up on Eleven in the afternoons and that would be that. We spent three months [filming the first season] in Sydney and thought it would be a good experience,” he tells TV Guide.
“We could all say, ‘ I did TV once, and it wasn’t for me’. So the idea of us still being here, after all this time where we get to sit around and eat cake, and get paid for it, well, it’s a total con,” he jokes.
Some sleight of hand, with the Endemol Shine series now regarded globally as one of the most influential food TV franchises – which airs in more than 35 countries – and has made international superstars of its judges and many of the show’s most popular contestants. Household names to have emerged from the format include
MasterChef’s first winner, Julie Goodwin, her runner-up Poh Ling Yeow; and favourites, Justine Schofield, Adam Liaw, Hayden Quinn and Marion Grasby.
For George Calombaris, the cultural diversity of the show and the cuisines it has elevated, is one of the proudest parts of its legacy and a validation for many with migrant backgrounds like him.
“As an Aussie boy, with migrant parents, you keep telling people you’re an Aussie but you’ve always got people who say, ‘ Oh he’s the foreign guy, the Greek guy’.
“But it’s moments like the first episode [when a contestant cooks with her Italian- speaking Nonna cheering her on] that make me realise it’s the reason why
MasterChef does so well around the world. “MasterChef doesn’t discriminate, it’s not racist. It doesn’t care about colour, religion, nothing. It’s truly representative of this great country and people around the world.”
That reach came home for Calombaris last year, when UK actor Dev Patel revealed he had modelled his Aussie accent for the box- office hit film Lion on the Melbourne restaurateur;
after bingeing on episodes of MasterChef.
“I couldn’t believe that, actually,” Calombaris says.
“I definitely blushed and was very humbled by those comments. I don’t really go to the movies, but it forced me to go along and I have to admit, I had a tear in my eye when I watched it.”
For all the accolades that have come for Gary Mehigan, the critical approval he’s longed for most over this decade has been that of his daughter, Jenna, who was six when the series first started.
“She’s turning 17 this month, but I remember her going to school in [Sydney suburb] Willougby and the other kids would say, ‘ Your dad is on
MasterChef’ and she would out and out lie, poker face and say, ‘ No, that’s not my dad’. And I used to be so torn about that.”
All these years later, not much seems to have changed, with the teenager still keeping her famous dad humble at home.
“She recently had a gather at the house … which is what teenagers say now; they don’t have a party or a gathering, they gather … and she said, ‘ Oh those boys over there are being silly’ and when I asked her why, she said, ‘ They’re excited to meet you, which I don’t understand’. And I’m like, ‘Come on baby, give me something!’”
The endorsement of the show has come from others, including getting the royal seal of approval this season, when contestants cooked for Prince Charles during his recent visit to Darwin.
Preston, whose sister used to edit royal bible Majesty magazine, it was one of many “wow” moments; but a credit to the quality and integrity of Ten’s f lagship program.
“The show has always been about ordinary people, chasing their dreams, cooking good food and all about the food. It made it an easy decision to do TV for people who wouldn’t normally do TV.” While copycat series My
Kitchen Rules – created by Seven to combat the rampant ratings of
MasterChef – has been embroiled in an ugly bullying scandal this year, Preston said the recipe for their longevity had been all heart.
“From beginning to end, our first episode [this year] is why the show matters: the food has to be delicious and we find wonderful ways to celebrate people and their achievements,” he says.
“It’s great that the tears are happy not sad.” MASTERCHEF AUSTRALIA 7.30PM, MONDAY, MAY 7, TEN
Hungry for more: MasterChefAustralia judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris.