Reality TV

MasterChef Australia’s Andy, Melissa and Jock reveal how they went from strangers to close friends

MasterChef Australia's three judges enjoy a growing friendship.
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Joining a Zoom call with MasterChef Australia judges Melissa Leong, Andy Allen and Jock Zonfrillo, it’s hard to believe the trio were complete strangers before MasterChef Australia: Back To Win in 2020.

Quipping and joking before the interview begins, it feels like a catch-up between old friends. But they all admit they were nervous when they first met.

“They [the show’s producers] put us in a room together to have lunch, then quietly backed away and shut the door,” food writer Melissa, 39, tells TV WEEK.

“Thankfully there was never an uncomfortable moment.”

It’s clear from the banter bouncing back and forth that their relationship has well and truly blossomed.

Being judges together has been to Andy, Melissa and Jock’s taste.

(Credit: 10 Network)

“We’re definitely tighter and the bonds stronger,” Melissa says. “We all have our individual relationships within the dynamic – and it’s been wonderful watching the love affair between Jock and Andy, or ‘Jandy’, as we call them.”

Andy couldn’t agree more. An electrician with a penchant for cooking, he went on to win the fourth season of MasterChef in 2012 and co-own farm-to-table restaurant Three Blue Ducks. Andy knows exactly what it’s like to be scurrying around the kitchen putting his culinary skills to the test.

He says the trio are growing closer, stronger and more in sync every day.

“We continue to get more friendly,” Andy, 32, explains. “There’s more banter, and we relax into the

gig more every episode. I couldn’t think of doing it with anyone else, because we’ve got that bond now.”

While their first season as judges on MasterChef: Back To Win aired to the show’s best viewership figures since 2016, the trio had been worried that fans wouldn’t take kindly to them replacing longstanding judges Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan.

“All eyes were on MasterChef,” Jock, 44, says, reflecting on last season. “There was a pressure I’m sure we all felt,

on both sides of the camera.”

“Being on the show as a guest, and for Andy [formerly] being a contestant on the show, is very different to standing at the top of the room as one of the judges,” he says.

“I don’t think anything can prepare you for it.”

This season, instead of inviting back contestants who’ve shone in previous years, MasterChef is returning to its roots, showcasing the best amateur cooks in the country.

While Andy admits he was worried about what he’d say in the first few episodes, the standard of the dishes put in front of him allayed his fears.

“It’s just awesome,” he says.

“If that’s the starting point, what will it be like at episode 61?”

Jock believes it’s the fresh faces that make this season special.

“We’re seeing ordinary people who have had established careers as lawyers, landscape architects, doctors and housewives giving it all up on a wing and a prayer that their food dream is successful,” he says.

“They’re just such passionate, wonderful people.”

They started off as strangers, but now they can’t imagine doing the job without one another.

(Credit: 10 network)

When a doorbell interrupts Jock’s flow, sending him off to see who it is, Melissa can’t suppress a giggle.

“It’s probably a fried-chicken delivery!” she says. “You have no idea how much this man eats – it doesn’t stop!”

Jock decides to return fire.

“Have we talked about how much Andy eats?” he asks. “It’s disgusting!”

While there are plenty of foods that the judges love, fried chicken included, there are some the culinary experts would much rather avoid.

“I don’t like brussels sprouts,” Jock declares. “I eat one every year at Christmas time to remind myself how much I hate them.”

But just as Jock won’t allow his dislike of brussels sprouts, pears and nasturtiums to get in the way of a MasterChef tasting, he won’t let having an allergy to marron – a type of freshwater crayfish – stop him either.

“We were doing a challenge with crayfish the other day and I had to get [medical] treatment because of the shellfish overload,” he says. Ultimately, tasting something they’re not that fond of is a small price to pay for doing something they love.

“The reality is, there’s no bad part of our job,” Jock says.

“We’re very lucky to have a job, let alone a job like this. We all feel it; we all love it.”

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