Gary Mehigan, Ge­orge Calom­baris and Matt Pre­ston serve up 10 years of MasterChef Aus­tralia magic

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - TV Guide - - Front Page - writes Holly Byrnes

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

Pic­tures: Tina Smigiel­ski

Hun­gry for more: MasterChe­fAus­tralia judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Pre­ston and Ge­orge Calom­baris.

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