Cooking show still dishing up a culinary dream
THE concept of MasterChef, Australia's longest running reality food competition, can be distilled down to just words: dishes and dreams.
That's what judge and co-host Matt Preston keeps front of mind as the show heads into its 11th season.
"We know what the show is now and we make that show," he says during a visit to the Melbourne set.
"Dishes and dreams are the two key words that we think of in terms of contestants, and we concentrate on that. It's what people like. I think it's reassuring. You don't change the rules of NRL or AFL every season; you just get new players coming through that you fall in love with and want to barrack for."
Helmed by Preston and chefs George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan, MasterChef both reflects and influences Australia's ever-changing food scene.
"There's been a bit of a change in Australia over the past five years in terms of what's getting liked on Instagram," Preston says.
"That really tricky, thoroughly modern food is sort of on the outer. People are more interested in a brilliant schnitzel - that's a pinnacle far greater than a dish you've never had or have no frame of reference for.
"It's about ingredients and techniques that resonate. When MasterChef is at its strongest is when people don't just watch the show but it inspires them to do something on the weekend."
"You want them (the contestants) to go 'Oh we've had Nigella, it can't get any better than that'. OK, well here's Rick Stein," he says.
"You want to give them a reason to cook harder. To have any of these luminaries advise you on cooking, taste your food and give you feedback is an amazing experience."
In one of several new twists, this year's contestants will be mentored by three successful alumni: Poh Ling Yeow, Matt Sinclair and Billie McKay.
"We'd talked about who would make good mentors going forward, and the idea of putting someone on the floor with them who understands where their capabilities are, understands the restrictions of that kitchen, the pressures you feel and can say 'I've been there'... it's a very powerful proposition and it's producing some really good results," Preston says.
"Poh, Matt and Billie are no longer ex-contestants, they're peers. They're eminently qualified. And they're very competitive."
Season 11 of MasterChef Australia premieres on Monday at 7.30pm on Ten.