How Gary keeps it fresh after 10 years on TV
NEARLY a decade ago, Channel 10 was riding high on the success of Big Brother and Australian Idol. Looking for the next big prime-time show, the network decided to try a competitive cooking show out of the UK.
Now, 10 seasons on, MasterChef is an Australian TV mainstay that has been exported all around the world. Thanks to the series, most Aussies know their croquembouches from their macaroons.
"Not bad for a show we thought would do one or two years," judge Gary Mehigan reflects. "Who knew a prime-time cooking show would work?
"MasterChef has been credited with all sorts of things, from putting people back down at the family table to bringing a new language into the everyday Australian vocabulary.
"I think it was timing and that we were different. The judges, we weren't cut from that beautiful cloth presenters are normally cut from. Timing-wise, we just seemed to be part of that explosion and interest (in food)."
Mehigan admits the show has had its ups and downs, including too many spin-offs and the bizarre "battle of the sexes" theme of season five.
"I've turned down lots of opportunities to do other stuff because my timetable is just jammed with MasterChef, but I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it," he says.
"There was a period five years ago where the show changed directions. It was a glitch in the matrix and I didn't enjoy that."
Luckily, the series has returned to its core values. This year's contestants are returning to basics too, impressing Mehigan with their ability to make everything and anything from scratch.
"We've been very deliberate in terms of digging our fingers in deep and finding a variety of innately good cooks, who are making everything from Hokkien noodles to kataifi pastry," he says.
"I really like people having a go at making everything. It keeps me engaged in food, more so than before when I was a chef or restaurateur. Often you ostracise yourself in your own business...Now I have the privilege of looking at what everybody else is doing. I enjoy food much more now than I've ever done."
A star-studded line-up of special guests has been assembled for the milestone season including Prince Charles, Nigella Lawson, Curtis Stone and in his first MasterChef appearance, Gordon Ramsay.
"He's a superstar. The contestants were stunned. They couldn't believe it and they were scared to death," Mehigan says.
"He just calls a spade a spade. We'll beep the odd swear word out. The man knows what he's doing, regardless of what people think of him. Our gentle mentoring went out the window because he just says it as it is. (He was) cyclone Gordon, and we'll pick up the pieces afterwards."
MasterChef airs Sundays through Thursdays at 7.30pm on Channel 10.