Do you think MasterChef Australia has changed over the years? How would you describe the evolution of the show?
I think it’s been a matter of evolution and refinement, we’ve kind of worked out now the essence of the show is take ordinary people who are good cooks and turn them into extraordinary cooks. And that’s the heart of the show – the heart of the show is the contestants. And we’re really just the rails on which the contestants run. But for us, it’s all about the development of the contestants and giving them challenges that on first glance the contestants may think they can’t do, but at the end they achieve them. There will be trials and tribulations along the way but they’ll normally get there and that’s exciting - watching the contestants grow as they chase their dreams to work in food is a really beautiful thing to be involved in. In terms of evolution, that means we’ve removed some of the more tricksy TV things, “You got to do this with only one hand”, things like that. We try to make this show as real as possible and as transparent as possible and that’s where the show has evolved to. The other thing is that the show has evolved in a changing Australia, where people think about food and they’ve a broader knowledge about food and they’re better cooks generally, they’re eating better – and because of that, the show has to evolve on that basis as well.
Do you think that MasterChef Australia has helped shape how Australians think about food, but has also responded to the growing interest?
Oh yeah, absolutely. We walk hand in hand with a whole range of people, whether it’s Stephanie Alexander and the Kitchen Garden Foundation, whether it’s what parents and teachers are doing in terms of talking about nutrition and food education in schools, whether it’s people reading food magazines. Our whole job is to encourage people to cook more, and MasterChef is definitely part of that change, especially with kids, and we’re very proud of that. So I see it as a coalition.
Most people have a favourite part of the show – Pressure Test, Mystery Box, Team Challenge etc. What element of the show do you enjoy the most?
As a food writer, who’s all about seeing new dishes that you can cook at home, which is what I kind of do rather than cooking at a restaurant, I love the Mystery Box and I love the Invention Test. I love seeing the ideas that the contestants come up with and I love that they come up with ideas that make the three of us sort of go “Oh, that’s so good!” and we’d never have thought of that and that’s really exciting. So my favourite days are Mystery Box and Invention Test days.
What one piece of advice can you give to this year’s contestants?
Cook something that you want to eat. Very simple – in a nutshell that’s it. The other thing is understand and know the basics. Have in your head the ratios for good pastries and pastas – for those kind of building blocks for good food and then you can actually put up delicious food, in no matter what circumstances and no matter what we throw at you.