Having watched from afar for so many years, we were delighted to finally have the opportunity to visit the heart of the much-loved food television series MasterChef.
Ok, we lie. Delighted doesn’t really cut it!
We were a little more than over the moon at the prospect of being in MC HQ, standing at the kitchen benches, our star-struck eyes meeting with those of the celebrity judges and, of course, the prospect of witnessing reality-TV history in the making. Safe to say our expectations were running high!
Served up from its more recent home in Australia’s culinary capital of Melbourne, the new series promises to be a breath of fresh, delicious air for its loyal food-loving viewers. From what we witnessed we can assure you that this year’s show has its fair share of surprises install!
Relief does not even begin to explain how we feel when we hear that this new series will do away with the emotionally-taxing qualifying stages – there’s nothing worse than getting attached to a contestant who doesn’t make it pass the first chicken-plucking, egg-beating, onion-chopping challenge!
Instead, the competition begins from the top-22 stage, throwing its willing contestants into a heart-pumping, nerve-racking high-pressure showdown of epic proportions. While we know ‘girls vs. boys’ is not a new competition creation, we do feel strongly that girl-power could prevail.
We make our way to the top-secret filming location and are greeted by one of the team who ushers us across a patch of faux lawn and passed a series of demountable offices – which we later find out serve as the judges ‘green rooms’ – proving reality-TV is anything but glamorous. After signing a clause to make sure we don’t give too much away, we find out we are about to witness an elimination challenge that will take place almost halfway through the series.
The walk towards the set makes us feel like we’ve fallen down a rabbit hole and into to a whole new culinary world. Hundreds and hundreds of pots, pans, mincers, blenders, plates and glassware adorn shelves of a converted warehouse.
Every prop, utensil and kitchen appliance you can think of is there, much like in any regular kitchen, but to the power of a thousand and in sizes one can only assume would be necessary in a commercial kitchen. We spot a pot big enough to fit a small family and the image serves as a reminder that we are trespassing on serious gastronomic territory here.
Walking through another doorway and into the darkness the sound of Gary Meaghan’s voice can be heard, there’s also a distinct tension in the air, you know, the kind that makes your hands shake uncontrollably.
We shuffle into a tall barn-like room and squeeze in behind 3 cameramen filming the scene unfolding before us – there are a lot of people in here. The kitchen and benches come into view and looking up the signature MC clock demands attention. As do the small huddle of contestants to our left, and the three judges standing before them.
No one notices our arrival and we aren’t surprised, considering the prospect of someone being eliminated very soon is before them.
The cameras keep rolling and the contestant’s fidget before the director’s voice booms: “Cut…let’s do that again please.” Before you know it women with tool belts full of bandaids, tissues and powder descend upon the participants, one contestant’s mic is adjusted and given new batteries, a judge walks off to take a phone call and the crew begin to discuss what they did over the weekend and wish a colleague ‘Happy Birthday’ – whispers of a birthday-inspired lunch cart, complete with cupcakes and fairy bread are overheard – we’ve really hit the big time now!
Greeting the judges in between takes is exciting yet humbling all at the same time, like re-connecting with a distant relative we’ve heard a lot about but haven’t seen since we were babes. In the distance a contestant is told to button up his shirt and stop slouching and when the cameras are not watching them they signal their needs across the room, waving hand gestures at the team standing in the wings to assist them.
The relaxed relationship between the cast and crew is evident, the jokes and banter are much what you’d expect to find in your office or ours. The contestants continue to taunt one another while awaiting their next instruction. One particular take is shot up to 10 times before the director is happy and then its time to move on. We’re told filming can take anywhere from 8 to 10 hours for one show – we’ve been there for all of 15 minutes and already the process is becoming tedious. Suddenly the whole experience begins to lose its shine.
Then, suddenly, people wearing aprons appear and usher in trolleys with the same ingredients sitting before us. The look of confusion on our faces must have our host laughing, as she quickly informs us that the food has been sitting out for too long in between takes and needs to be swapped out. So that’s what they mean when they say ‘heres one I prepared earlier’? It suddenly all makes sense, perishables can’t sit out for that long or they’ll… well… perish.
Apparently the food team has it all under control; they watch from another room and rush in when a food swap or top up is needed and they also have the task of testing the contestant’s recipes before they’re allowed to be published, we know whose job we would love to have.
The clock starts ticking and the challenge begins; suddenly we are reminded of why we’re here. Pans begin sizzling, pots boiling and contestant’s whiz around the kitchen like chooks with their heads cut off, now this is what were talking about. Contestants begin shouting out in support, with all manner of advice and instruction, some of it very conflicting – making us wonder whose really playing the game!
Over to the side, Matt Preston begins to talk to George Calombaris and the producer about what one contestant could be conjuring up for them to taste. We assume the cameras are rolling but soon realise in fact they’re not, this is real, their eyes are lighting up and we immediately feel the love, the love for food and a passion for culinary innovation. They are as genuinely intrigued and full of wonderment as they observe the scene before them, as we would be watching from home, on the couch.
We’re just about to get into the real guts and glory of the challenge before we are told our time is up. It’s time to go. While we’re initially disappointed, we quickly begin to feel much more relaxed as we exit stage right. It feels as if we’ve been holding our breath for a very, very long time.
Back to the outside world – it’s as if none of it ever happened. On the taxi ride back into the heart of Melbourne we resist the temptation to pick up our phones and call the first available person to blab about what we just saw. Although there is so much we want to divulge, unfortunately, for now – our lips are sealed!
The new series of MasterChef premieres this Sunday, June 2nd at 7.30pm for more information or to check out the new contestants visit www.masterchef.com.au