‘You Can’t Eat Everything’: What Melissa, Jock And Andy Have Learnt About Being MasterChef Judges
Melissa Leong, Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen have spent their careers surrounded by food, flavours and feasts but stepping into the MasterChef kitchen is a whole new learning experience.
The trio have been tasked with standing underneath that giant kitchen clock, providing guidance to the top 24 returning contestants and offering their honest opinions about the dishes they taste.
As two head chefs and a food journalist, Andy, Jock and Melissa's bread and butter is using their fine-tuned palates and their love of the stories behind meals to champion the very best cuisines in the country.
But, as experienced as they are, the new judges told 10 daily about some of the more surprising aspects of their brand new jobs -- which we'll get to see when MasterChef: Back To Win premieres on Easter Monday, April 13 at 7.30 pm on 10.
Andy Allen knows what it feels like to walk through the doors of the MasterChef kitchen, having won the top spot in Season 4, back in 2012.
"It’s weird because it was eight years ago but it feels like an eternity away and it feels like that season just went so fast when you look back at it now," Andy told 10 daily.
"It’s definitely different being on the other side of the bench, I suppose -- you’re judging the food rather than putting the food up," he said.
Andy explained that his new role isn't as simple as taking off his chef's toque (metaphorically, anyway) and putting on his judging cravat.
"The thing I really didn’t think that would happen, and it’s been very new, is being swept up in all the emotional sides of things with the contestants," he explained.
"They’ve put all their businesses on hold, some of them have families, and all that sort of stuff, they care so much," he added.
Andy knew he'd empathise with the plight of contestants back to win, but said the feeling of having "their fate lie in your hands" is a responsibility he's taken very seriously.
"That’s the part which has got me, which is an amazing thing to feel," he said.
You may remember Melissa Leong from her time as a judge on SBS' The Chef's Line, a series that pitted home cooks against professionals throughout a week that focused on the cuisine of a particular country.
Melissa learnt a lot from her time on the series, which has come in handy for her new role on MasterChef where she's trying dozens more dishes during a single episode.
"When you’re on TV and you’re critiquing people, you learn pretty quickly that you can’t eat everything, even if you want to," Melissa told 10 daily.
"You can if you’re Jock Zonfrillo because, I will tell you, that man can eat and eat and eat and eat," she laughed, adding that her new colleague even "snacks between breaks".
"It’s actually quite astounding, it’s a magical thing to watch -- he’s like a human hoover, he’s crazy," she continued.
Melissa said she's learnt over the years to listen to her body when it comes sampling a smorgasbord of food placed in front of her.
"I know to stop when I’ve tasted enough to inform my judgement," she said. "Once I’ve tasted, once I’ve done my job, as much as I’d love to finish the plate of food, I usually don’t."
Jock Zonfrillo of Restaurant Orana has appeared as a guest judge on MasterChef in the past -- last year he brought in a selection of Indigenous ingredients for the contestants to use.
Speaking to 10 daily ahead of the Back To Win premiere, Jock explained that he, Melissa and Andy thought very carefully, and had lengthy discussions about the type of judges they wanted to be.
"It was a bit of an integration, it’s not a job I take lightly. None of the three of us do for that matter," he said.
"Collectively, the three of us really decided that, at the end of the day, no matter what happens that we be ourselves at all times right from the outset," Jock told 10 daily.
He added that they also made a conscious decision to judge each dish in a completely self-contained way, without considering a contestant's past work.
"We’re just judging what’s on the plate in front of us at that moment and we don’t carry any judgement beyond that plate of food after its left us.
"And that was really important for us, that we’re judging plates of food, not people."