The contestants on season three of MasterChef Australia won’t just be standing in a studio and impressing the judges with their culinary skills. They will be getting out in the field and testing their abilities among real diners. “They will fly into the depths of the Australian desert – a huge open cast gold mine to feed 450 miners for 24 hours,” says the show’s critic-judge Matt Preston, adding, “They will cook their way around New York for some of the city’s greatest chefs and run the service in a top Sydney restaurant.”
To maintain a greater focus on developing the skill of the cooks, the show has roped in big names from the culinary field, including Nigella Lawson, Heston Blumenthal from the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Fat Duck, Marco Pierre White and Thomas Keller from Per Se and The French Laundry in the US.
“The drama and the delight should come from our contestants cooking. Oh and some rather tasty new shirts and cravats for me,” says Preston. Enlisting the basic criteria that he judges a dish on, he enumerates: “Taste or texture, concept or accuracy of meeting the challenge brief and presentation in that order.” His favourite cuisine include “Japanese, Italian, Australian, Shanghai cuisine, Indian (in almost all its forms), French, Mexican, Southern US BBQ, Thai, Vietnamese, Loatian and Burmese among others.”
A big fan of Indian food, Preston actually has an Indian connection, as his grandfather was born here. “I’ve been to India a couple of times and I loved it there. Indian food is so diverse and so much more than the tiny snapshot you tend to see outside the country. I love it! Every time I come there, I find more things to fall in love with at the table,” says Preston, who doesn’t see what’s wrong with a Bollywood actor, Akshay Kumar in this case, judging the first season of the Indian edition of the show.
"If the Hindi film actor loves and knows his food, then I can’t see a problem with this. Critics don’t have a monopoly to understanding what makes a good dish,” says Preston.
Calling himself an omnivore, Preston has no preferences. But ask him what is the weirdest sounding dish he has had to eat as part of being the show’s judge and he says, “It has to be a Chinese delicacy called ‘hashima’, which are frog ovaries served in a sweet dessert soup but they tasted like sponge cake. This does have you thinking ‘Why not just use sponge cake instead and leave those poor frogs alone!’”