For many, last year was rife with lockdown lows and pandemic panics after being required to stay indoors for the foreseeable future. For some, the extended time at-home meant binge-watching The Queen’s Gambit—and manically attempting to learn chess—or frantically baking endless loaves of banana bread.
But for others, it meant tuning into the best reality TV that the country had to offer—Masterchef Australia.
Bidding adieu to the franchise’s main trio—Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan—their departure meant that there were three new seats up for grabs.
Naturally, fans were quick to put forward their suggestions, with front runners including Poh Ling Yeow, a former contestant from the first season, as well as famous Aussie cook, author and manufacturer, Maggie Beer.
However, Australia saw neither big names end up with the scorecard, with Network Ten confirming the new faces cracking the culinary whip to be Melissa Leong, Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen.
This year, as longtime fans welcome back their familiar faces, others—who weren’t keen on watching old favourites fight for the title once more—are only now getting to know the trio.
A food and travel writer, food media consultant, radio broadcast, TV presenter and cookbook editor, Melissa Leong has done it all. And yes, she’s incredibly good at all of it. Leong is first-generation Singaporean Australian and often writes about culturally diverse cooking. As a writer, Leong is ever-so-eloquent in her critiques and offers the contestants the knowledge, sound advice and comfort they need to deliver their best cook yet.
“It goes without saying, that it is an honour to be passed the baton and asked to help bring the next chapter to life on a show like MasterChef Australia,” Leong said, as per News.com.au.
“It came as a huge surprise for me, and is, without a doubt the opportunity of a lifetime. I am really looking forward to getting stuck in!”
As far as chefs go, Jock Zonfrillo is one of the most acclaimed worldwide. Born in Scotland and based in Adelaide, his restuarant Orana was named the best in Australia in the 2019 Good Food Guide. A campaigner for Indigenous empowerment through his use of native foods—and even starring on an episode in the 2019 latest season of the cooking show— he challenges contestants to think critically about food wastage.
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Zonfrillo spoke of being offered the job as a judge on the show. “MasterChef is culture, it is food; food spans across every single culture we have here in Australia… and the age span it hits, from small kids all the way to grandparents, they love it!”
“They can’t get enough of it. And that’s food. Food brings us all together at some point or another, and when you add a little bit of competition dust in there it’s really good. It appeals to everybody.”
The most recognisable face out of the three, Masterchef Australia fans will know Andy Allen as the winner of the show’s fourth season. When starting off as a contestant, he was an electrician who hoped to live out his food-loving ambitions. But after his win, Allen went onto open and establish Three Blue Ducks, a culinary institution for Aussie foodies.
Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, Allen spoke of taking on the role, and how it feels like coming “full circle.” He added, “Being a contestant, winning it, then going out into the crazy world that hospitality is and being accepted by my peers, and now coming to be a judge on the biggest cooking competition in the world. It’s pretty special. I’m pumped.”
Season 13 of Masterchef Australia 2021 premieres tonight at 7:30pm on Network 10.