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Masterchef

TV WEEK is granted exclusive access to the MasterChef kitchen for a behind-the-scenes look at Foodies vs Faves

''All of the filming for that day, which is usually around 10 hours, has to get cut down into an hour or 90 minutes.''

By Laura Masia
Deep down, I always dreamt that I'd end up in the MasterChef kitchen. What I didn't expect, was that I'd be there in a journalistic capacity for TV WEEK, rather than donning my own apron and giving the challenge a crack myself.
But as I stood with my back against the wall, watching the chaos of a mystery box challenge unfold in front of me, I'd never felt more relieved that I decided to use my words, instead of very sharp knives, for a living.
At the head of the room the judges Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo quietly chatted as they surveyed the kitchen.
Judges Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo are back! (Image: TV WEEK)
"Ten minutes to go!" Andy bellowed, making the producer next to me jump.
With the clock counting down, the judges begin to glide from one workstation to the next.
Jock is tasting everything in sight, Melissa provides some calm encouragement while Andy asks a few too many questions to flustered contestants attempting to ignore the cameras centimetres away from their scurrying hands.
With three minutes left, the room is filled with an array of spices, smoke from the signature hibachi grill and pure adrenaline. In front of me, a contestant accidentally slices his finger.
While a nurse tends to him immediately, his other hand keeps going, madly stirring and pouring to make sure his dish is plated ready for tasting.
"When you're here, there's a real energy on the set but you just don't see that on the episode." (Image: TV WEEK)
When time is up, a collective sigh of relief is heard around the room. But believe it or not, it's not time for the judges to taste the dishes as we'd see on TV – it's time for a much-needed lunch break.
Sitting down for some sushi, Melissa and Andy are careful not to fill up too much before the tasting, while Jock happily fills his plate.
Known for his insatiable appetite, the Scot is excited to taste the array of flavours waiting for him when the cameras start rolling again.
After just one hour on set, it's become clear to me that there's a lot of things that us viewers aren't privy to. There's the pantry, stocked so beautifully that it feels like the grocery store of my dreams.
There's the garden where a full-time gardener tends to hundreds of plants blossoming with fruit, veggies and edible flowers ready for the contestants to use at any time. But most of all, there's the unmistakable electricity in the air that the cameras just can't capture.
TV WEEK's Laura Masia visited the MasterChef set. (Image: TV WEEK)
"On TV, you only see a snippet of it. All of the filming for that day, which is usually around 10 hours, has to get cut down into an hour or 90 minutes," Andy, 33, explains.
"When you're here, there's a real energy on the set but you just don't see that on the episode."
According to Andy, it's pretty common for guests on the show to assume that there is some sneaky TV magic at play, too.
"One of the best chefs in the world came on the show for the first time this season and half way through a challenge he pulled me aside and said 'so did they get the challenge last night?'" Andy says, laughing.
"He and was fully taken back on how quickly the contestants had to react and the quality of the dishes they came up with in such a short space of time. He couldn't believe that it was all in real time."
As I dipped my inigiri into some soy sauce, I couldn't help but think how well casted the three judges were. Together, sitting around the table, their comfortable, relaxed and jokey relationship felt identical to the one we see play out on screen.
"We're all very grateful that the three of us naturally get along," Melissa, 40, says.
And thankfully, they all agree that it's been that way from the very beginning.
"From the minute we were cast together we have been bonded and we appreciate each other for our differences of perspective and what we can learn from one another. When you have that inherent respect, it really it makes it a wonderful place to be," the food writer shares.
Rob Mason is the new man in Melissa Leong's life. (Image: Instagram)
"I still recall when the three of us were standing backstage for the first time to be announced as the new judges of MasterChef. I remember holding both their hands and saying 'this is a moment that we will remember for the rest of our lives," Melissa reminisces.
Andy couldn't agree more.
"I think we complement each other really well. You know, I'm that kind of easy-going knockabout bloke who people can relate to. I've also been a contestant so I can relate to a lot of what the guys are going through," he explains.
"Then you've got Jock, who brings that swagger of knowing so much about food. And Mel, she is really professional and puts an amazing spin on how she critiques food.
"We really do mesh together. Obviously, on the outside, we're really good friends too and that helps a lot."
"On TV, you only see a snippet of it," Andy says. (Image: TV WEEK)
But it's not just the connection between the three food fanatics that keeps them coming back - it's the crew too.
For Jock, who is used to life in the fast lane with his young family at home, there's nothing he enjoys more than taking some extra time to connect with the crew in the morning before the work day begins.
"I'll make everyone's coffees in the morning," Jock, 45, shares. "I get anxiety a lot so I'll arrive on set an hour before my call.
"I bought a coffee machine to put in my dressing room so I'm the set barista in the morning making everyone coffees and having a chat because, as you've seen, once we start filming, it's very rush, rush, rush. It puts me at ease and everyone appreciates coffee, right?"
This season, Foodies and Favourites, features some of the show's most-loved past contestants from Julie Goodwin to Sashi Cheliah, cooking alongside mega-fans of the show.
"As a nation, our IQ when it comes to food, and appreciating each other's backgrounds, has just gone through the roof." (Image: TV WEEK)
And although I'd hoped to sense some juicy rivalry between the two groups on set, I didn't take long to realise I was out of luck.
"When you're a part of the MasterChef family, you are part of the family for life," Melissa, 40, explains.
"I think the former contestants really felt a duty of care to the new contestants to provide that nurturing environment and make them feel like they are a part of that family."
But that doesn't mean we should underestimate the fans this season. In fact, Melissa says they're giving the favourites a run for their money in the kitchen.
Jock and his wife Lauren share daughter Isla and son Alfie. (Image: Instagram)
"As a nation, our IQ when it comes to food, and appreciating each other's backgrounds, has just gone through the roof," Melissa explains.
"The kinds of food our youngest contestant Montana is producing at home on her own is very different to what Julie would have been cooking years ago. However, the wonderful thing is that all truly delicious food that has a place in the MasterChef kitchen."
With my visit coming to an end, I'm bummed I can't jump into hair and makeup to join Andy, Jock and Melissa as they taste the array of dishes waiting for them.
But, with a new appreciation with what it takes to be on the show, I think I made the right decision to be a writer, and not a contestant.

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