'There Are No Boundaries': Adriano Zumbo On His Return To The MasterChef Kitchen

The Sweet Assassin and the crowned prince of pastry Adriano Zumbo opens up about returning to the MasterChef Kitchen.

It was one of the most -- if not the most -- memorable challenges from the very first season of the show, Adriano Zumbo rounded the corner holding his now infamous croquembouche in 2009.

One chef who battled and overcame the terrifying tower of choux -- Poh Ling Yeow -- now stands next to Zumbo at the judging table, watching on as a new crew attempts to wow them with their best-baked goods and perfect patisserie.

But being on both sides of the table is also a familiar feeling for Zumbo who, after over a decade of traumatising hopeful home cooks with his pressure tests, competed in the first season of Dessert Masters.

"Judging is great," Zumbo told 10 Play, "there’s not much stress, you get to eat and watch, inspire, and guide the passionate cooks. But there's something about cooking, the adrenaline and the hustle of freestyle creativity, that definitely has a place inside you.

"The most enjoyable thing is creating a special dish for a challenge, as you get to cook and judge - best of both worlds," he added.

Throughout sweet week, the kitchen has become a warehouse of wonderment. A mystery box full of layers of wobbling jelly, clouds embracing the signature croquembouche, it's a Wonka-esque feast for the imagination.

"In sweets and desserts, there are no boundaries and you never stop learning or being challenged," Zumbo explained.

"Pastry and sweets are indulgences that we grow up knowing as special treats, and when those special treats connect with imagination and creativity they form a new experience and visual for people," he continued. "Strap on some nostalgia, food illusions or nature inspiration and a whole new world of fun and tasty experiences evolve.

"Most of the time, to the amazement of: 'Wow it looks like that, and it also tastes totally epic!' For me, it’s more about building something mentally that requires complete focus, combining flavours in the mind that in application reflect a visual thought, then someone enjoying it: that’s the priceless moment."

Returning to the kitchen over the years, Zumbo admits there is "something special" about walking through the MasterChef doors, being swept up in the nervous excitement in the seconds before a challenge begins, seeing the contestants achieving things they never thought they could do, and watching them conquer their self-doubt.

"I am really amazed by their determination, the grind, the final results. It's this, plus the amazing team in the MasterChef family over the years, that keeps me stopping by."

Looking back to Season 1, Zumbo reflected on how the competition itself has evolved as well as the skills and knowledge of the chefs competing for the title of MasterChef Australia. "The growth in skill level and expression of creativity is massive," he added.

But it's not just the brave few who walk through the kitchen doors to compete who have grown in skills. With shows like MasterChef, and the rise in food content on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, home cooks have more access and more resources than ever.

"The growth in skill level and expression of creativity is massive," Zumbo said adding, "but the atmosphere and the feel when inside the MasterChef kitchen hasn't changed one bit from season one to now. The consistency of stepping inside those doors has carried on through the years."

For the chefs in the competition, bringing up a dish to the judges is always a nerve-wracking experience, and adding a dessert wizard like Zumbo to the mix only increases that. So when they are bringing their sweets to the table, Zumbo said aside from nailing the brief he has his criteria for what makes a successful dish.

"It's about how well-executed and balanced the flavours are, the fun and thought that has been put into it, and texture (whether it's a dish of all smooth layers, or a combo of hot, cold, crunch, and airiness)," he explained.

"It's how the contestant has taken my senses on a journey, and can I connect and understand that deeper layer of imagination that's not presented but is a reflection of the thoughts and mind of the person who created it."

Throughout the week, the chefs have been battling for immunity to avoid having to cook in Sunday night's elimination. With Alex, Mimi, Sumeet, and Nat all winning their safety, six chefs will have to bring out the big guns to impress Zumbo, Andy, Jean-Christophe, Sofia and Poh.

Zumbo, who has watched the chefs reimagine his croquembouche, challenged them to use jelly in unique ways, and even tackle the twin challenge, admits that when it comes to watching chefs take on his pressure tests or see what they come up with on their own -- he prefers the perfect combination.

"My preference is seeing cooks come up with their own dish, and then the bottom three come into a pressure test set by me!"

No wonder he's known as the Sweet Assassin. Don't miss Zumbo as Sweet Week wraps up this Sunday.

MasterChef Australia continues Sunday - Wednesday at 7.30 on 10 and 10 Play