Do you think MasterChef Australia has changed over the years? How would you describe the evolution of the show?
I think its intention is still the same. Its intention and its core value hasn’t changed at all, which is ordinary people that have a dream and a desire to cook and change their lives through food. I think what’s definitely changed is the standard of cooking. The standard has risen by 100 per cent, if not 200 per cent. It’s extraordinary. I think that that’s what has evolved. And obviously the calibre of chefs we get on as guests; we attract the best chefs. Like any good thing in life you’ve got to evolve, you’ve got to push forward, you’ve got to get better and that’s what MasterChef has done. We are not going to sit on our laurels or sit in the past.
Most people have a favourite part of the show – Pressure Test, Mystery Box, Team Challenge etc. As a chef and judge, what element of the show do you enjoy the most?
Good question. Yesterday we shot MasterClass, and geez I like doing that because it’s an opportunity to not just ‘talk the talk’ but ‘walk the walk’ and actually show the contestants stuff with my hands. On the flipside I love the Mystery Box challenge; it’s a great opportunity because it’s literally lifting the lid, seeing an ingredient, and that’s all you’ve got…go for it. It really pushes the contestants, it makes them work hard to create something. I also love the Invention Test. I love that opportunity where there is a core ingredient and then there’s an open pantry and an open garden - the garden at MasterChef is extraordinary, it is full of the most amazing produce. But I’d say, it really just depends on how I’m feeling. I also think about a Pressure Test where the contestants have to follow a recipe - generally it’s from a top chef - and to see them go through their paces to achieve a dish only really achievable for a trained chef is extraordinary.
It’s very exposing for the contestants, do you think?
Yeah, 100 percent - there is nowhere to hide. MasterChef is an extraordinary beast and it exposes the contestant not only in terms of their cooking ability but more importantly, exposes them personally and that’s nice. I’m not saying personally in a bad way, but in a way where we really get to see who the individual is, what they stand for and what their beliefs are. Where they want to go, where they want to take this thing. Because it’s like a rite of passage, you’ve got to earn your right to win MasterChef, you’ve got to go through your paces. We want someone that is going to represent the show forever. Just like the past winners like Julie Goodwin, what an incredible representative she is for this career.
What one piece of advice can you give to this year’s contestants?
I think it’s all about honesty and integrity. I never ask contestants to come on the show and be something they’re not, we don’t need anyone to come on and act – that’s not what we are about. Come on and be truly honest with who you are, what your capabilities are, where you want to go and what your dream is. Don’t hold back and open up. All those things are so important and I’m a true believer that life is a wonderful thing, so if you can let yourself go then you are going to do really well. If you hold back and you are timid and don’t really want to give much away, then you are going to get exposed. So the best thing to be is open and honest with everything that you do.
It’s almost like contestants have to leave a lot of things the door?
Yes, exactly. You get one crack at it and if you get on the show it’s extraordinary; the opportunities it opens you up to are priceless and I don’t like people taking it for granted. Because this show means a lot to us.