Series Review

Is 'MasterChef' Oz any good without the show's beloved original judges?

Here's a taste of what to expect from season 12 of the popular cooking contest

14 November 2020 - 07:30
Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo are the new judges of 'MasterChef Australia: Back to Win'.
Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo are the new judges of 'MasterChef Australia: Back to Win'.
Image: Supplied/DStv

Fans of MasterChef Australia have eagerly been anticipating the premiere of season 12, Back to Win, which kicked off in SA in early November. Who could blame them? After all, this is no ordinary season of the popular cooking contest.

For the first time in the show’s history, charismatic chefs Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris, and flamboyant food writer Matt Preston, have not taken their seats at the judges’ table. The trio suddenly parted ways with the long-running franchise in a shock move last year.

Instead, MasterChef Australia has welcomed three new judges: chef and MasterChef Australia season 3 winner Andy Allen, Scottish Australian-based chef and restaurateur Jock Zonfrillo, and food writer Melissa Leong - along with 24 old contestants from past seasons who are back to battle it out for the ultimate redemption and a AU$250,000 (about R2.8m) cash prize.

Some fans of the cooking show’s original judges were unconvinced that MasterChef Australia would survive without them, but when the first episode of Back to Win premiered in Oz in April, it garnered record ratings.

Watch the trailer for 'MasterChef Australia: Back to Win'.

As the season unfurled, criticism was levelled at the new judges, most notably against Leong, whose expertise and merit were questioned. They were also accused of playing favourites, particularly when it came to season 1 runner-up Poh Ling Yeow.

Despite the expected resistance to change, it was high time MasterChef Australia relooked at the configuration of their white male-dominated judging panel after 11 seasons, and it only seems fair that you get a taste for their replacements before passing judgment (you can binge all the episodes that have already aired on DStv Catch Up).

There have been some tweaks to the show's format with far fewer master classes and a change in the way immunity works

If anything, the introduction of new judges of diverse origins and experience seems to have breathed new life into the cooking show, as has the return of favourite contestants from previous seasons.

Heading into the MasterChef kitchen for the second time, many of these contestants have also carved out successful careers for themselves in the food industry as professional chefs, restaurateurs, TV presenters and business owners. It is exactly this level of professionalism that elevates season 12 from previous years: the pool of talent is striking.

While producers have largely stuck to the same format we know and love, there have been some tweaks with far fewer master classes and a change in the way immunity works. That said, you can still expect to see intense pressure tests, surprising mystery boxes, and gobsmacking beautiful dishes (keep an eye on the creations flowing from dessert king Reynold Poernomo).

You can also look forward to seeing famously shouty chef Gordon Ramsay — who makes a few appearances throughout the show alongside other exciting celebrity judges — show off his tender side.

The ingredients that have made MasterChef Australia such a success for so many years are present: moments of vulnerability, dead-set determination, compassion for fellow contestants, laughs, tears and lots of hugs, until social distancing protocols were brought in.

It goes without saying that you’d better have eaten before attempting to watch a single episode.

• 'MasterChef Australia: Back to Win' airs week nights at 6pm on M-Net (DStv channel 101). Past episodes are available on Catch Up.