You’ve said that cooking exposes you, what have you learnt about yourself through your cooking?
I’ve been cooking for 20 years now. It’s everything about life; without cooking, without the idea of putting nutrients in your body, you can’t live. The social aspect of food is a wonderful thing. Think about the cave man hunting for food every day then sitting around a fire cooking it with other people. Cooking is my life, it’s everything I am.
What does MasterChef mean to you?
I think of it as a dream, a desire, a want, a will, happiness, joy, heartbreak, failure and pressure. All of those things are wonderful; they’re a privilege. It’s a privilege to have pressure, to have a dream, to be on MasterChef.
Viewers are chomping at the bit to meet this year’s hopefuls. What can we expect?
They’ve got to be respectful, they need to have belief and a love and desire for food and cooking. They’ve got to have all those things or they’re not going to be on the show. And then, they’ve got to have their own influences, the culture they’ve been brought up in, where they come from, their religion, their background. All those things that influence their food are so important.
MasterChef has welcomed so many culinary legends over the year, is there anyone on your personal wish list still to make an appearance?
We’ve got so many chefs throughout the year and so many want to be a part of it. Who would I like to appear next? Probably [French chef] Alain Ducasse. It would be wonderful to have him, he’s an incredible chef. To be quite honest we’re very privileged to have such great guest chefs, and I’m sure they feel lucky to be on the show as well. The best chefs are on MasterChef, the best want to be a part of it and I love that.
Why do you think MasterChef Australia in is so beloved?
I think it’s real. It resonates with so many people around the world because we are a multicultural boiling pot. We are diverse, which people around the world can connect with. It’s so multicultural; MasterChef Australia is a common language around the world.
Last year saw one of the most difficult challenges in MasterChef history: Heston Blumenthal’s Botrytis Cinerea. How are you going to top it this year?
Oh don’t you worry about that! Food is so diverse, there’s so many different influences that can change it. If you thought the Botrytis was a difficult dessert, it was! But we’ll top it for sure.
Is there a particular message at the heart of MasterChef?
I think it’s all the political statements the dishes make. They’re about integrity. We’re always thinking about sustainability, waste and all those things. It’s a true reality show, there is no smoke and mirrors. It is what it is.
What’s your favourite food trend from the past year and what do you think will trend in 2016?
I look at it this way: MasterChef is a bit of a cult now and creates a lot of food trends and brings back a lot of things we’ve probably forgotten about. The macaron was something that was forgotten and now suddenly it’s back. The croquembouche is an old classic dish that MasterChef brought back and now it’s everywhere. I think we’re going to go back to a bit more technique-based cooking which is nice because it’s an incredible craft based around great ingredients but it also needs great technique.
Viewers love the Pressure Test, Mystery Box and Team Challenges in particular. What’s your favourite?
I love Team Challenges. I do it every day in my own restaurant and I love that. I love the feeling of having people underneath me and myself their leader, striving to achieve an incredible goal: great cooking and great food. It’s very challenging, and I love it.
Is there a food you hated as a kid but you’ve gradually learned to love?
Probably oysters. I hated them as a kid and now I love them.
What did your lunchbox look like when you were in school?
Always whole and real; there was no processed ‘packet stuff’ in there. Crusted bread sandwich with salami, vegetables of some description, and leftovers from the night before. Nothing processed. I never had a packet of chips in my lunchbox.