Dish of the day
One of Australia’s most popular shows is about to return for its ninth season. MasterChef judge Matt Preston tells Danielle McGrane why the cooking show has survived as long as it has and what to expect next.
Matt Preston reckons he knows why MasterChef has been such a hit with the Australian public. It involves a comparison, an unlikely comparison, but one he thinks makes sense for the undeniably popular cooking program. “I think we’ve turned into NRL or AFL,” Preston says. “We’ve turned into something people enjoy watching, – they pick a favourite team and away they go. I think at the heart of the show there’s a very simple principle, which is to take cooks and make them into great cooks, and pick people who can cook and who have a desire to make their life in food, who have a dream. That’s why we like it.” The special ingredient that makes this one of the most loved shows on Australian TV is Preston, who has been a judge on the show from the beginning, alongside George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan. It helps too, according to Preston, that over the eight seasons of the show more than 100 people who have been on MasterChef now work in food, which reinforces the show’s legitimacy. And he’s not just talking about high-profile names such as Poh Ling Yeow, Adam Liaw or Julie Goodwin. “For every one you see in the public eye, there’s another five doing stuff you didn’t even know about, like running culinary tours in their homeland or a food delivery business that’s become a household name. It’s those things that give it a validity,” he says. This season the show continues to bring in some big names in the world of food with guest chefs including Britain’s Yotam Ottolenghi, Vue de monde’s Shannon Bennett, Maggie Beer, Curtis Stone and celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal. “I’ve always been a real fan of bringing in inspirational cooks who come from the same background as the contestants,” Preston says. “Heston was a photocopier salesman – he’s not professionally trained, and he ended up opening The Fat Duck. Yotam was a journalist in Tel Aviv and then he decided, like our contestants, that he’d really love to make his life in baking. So he knocked on the door of a baker’s and said, ‘I want to learn how to bake, please can I come in and just help you out?’.” While the show is coming into its ninth season, Preston says the talent on display is still excellent. Every one of the Top 24 cooks deserves to be there. “They’re an interesting group of cooks this year,” he says. “You tend to find if you give people a box of ingredients, they cook the same things, but they’ve a much more varied approach. This year, with the mystery box, we’d have maybe 12 people cooking and we got 10 dishes that were totally different. They’re stretching their culinary imaginations.” To stretch their imaginations even further, this year a Sweet Week has been introduced – dedicated solely to desserts. “That’s me and Gary, we decided regardless of what George thought, we needed a bit more chocolate and sweetie goodness. “And there’s no doubt we’ve had some amazing dessert cooks through the doors and you can’t win the show just being savoury, and you can’t win the show just cooking a sweet, but it’s nice to celebrate that.” The contestants have come up with some incredibly imaginative installation-type desserts as well as cakes during the challenges in Sweet Week. “There are many facets to what makes that sweet world, whether it’s baking, to ice creams, to purees to roasting pineapples,” Preston says. It’s reflective of what’s happening in society, he says, as sweet treats continue to monopolise food trends in this Instagramfriendly