As the hit reality show phenomenon MasterChef returns for its third season tomorrow night, judge George Calombaris is in no way resting on his laurels. While last season’s finale episode achieved a record breaking audience of 5.2 million, Calombaris is cautious.
“I’m a pessimist,” he insists. “It’s like when I open my restaurants I’m always anxious, worried, concerned, and it’s fine. If you don’t do all that I think you’re a bit too relaxed. I’d rather be concerned on my toes and that’s the way we are on the show.” Having just returned from Greece where he reopened his restaurant in Mykonos for the season, Calombaris admits he’s still shocked by the show’s success.
“People are talking about it in Greece, when I was in Abu Dhabi and Dubai last month people noticed me on the street; they all know the show now, it’s aired in 27 countries, so it’s exciting. I can’t wait for it to get back”.
Tomorrow night will mark the start of an exciting season for MasterChef fans, Calombaris insists. “It’s like a footy season kicking off, the whole of Australia is waiting for this Sunday, they’re excited,” he says. “We broke record ratings last year, it was massive. So this year that stress is off and it’s just about creating a really good cooking show that demonstrates how if someone wants to change their life, and their love is for food, we can help them facilitate that.” The success of the show, and the increase in cooking-based television programs, has seen a shift in Australian home cooks, Calombaris says.
“Kids are cooking now, they’re talking about food. I was at a building site a couple of months ago and there’s tradesmen on scaffolding talking about croque en bush and macaron, and it’s exciting,” he says. “Kids are coming to my restaurants and wanting to know more about a dish or more about food and if we’re changing the Australian psyche at that age, that’s promising. In years to come there’s going to be some serious dinner parties happening around Australia, and I’m sure they’ll all be sitting there wondering whatever happened to those three chubby judges.”
The show’s appeal is in its accessibility to all viewers, Calombaris says. “It’s everything: it’s reality, it’s real, it’s positive, and if someone does something wrong we tell them but we also tell them how they can make things better and fix them,” he says. “MasterChef has come at the right time where people are looking for positive family TV where they can sit around the couch together as a family.
It appeals to people from all walks of life, it doesn’t matter what nationality, culture or race, people want to watch it.” While Calombaris has been filming this season’s series since last October he is also set to open his restaurant St Katherine’s, in Melbourne’s Kew, next week. “It was two years in the making. The name comes from the church I was baptised in, I’m very excited,” he says.
The restaurant is themed around Ottoman food, spanning from Cyprus (where Calombaris’ mother is from) through to Turkey, Lebanon and Malta. At the end of the year he and his business partner will also open a new restaurant, Mama Baba, in South Yarra. “People say ‘geez, you’re opening up a lot of restaurants’ but I only open them with the right people. My partner at Mama Baba, Vasilios Donoudis, is a brilliant pasta chef and we’ve been very excited about doing this project,” he says.
While in Greece last week the 32 year-old was “foraging” for ingredients and making olive oil. He considers travel just one of the “amazing rewards” for the hard work he puts in. The chef will also soon be wearing yet another hat with fatherhood fast approaching.
His partner is five and a half months pregnant, and due to give birth on July 30. “My parents are very, very excited they’re going to have grandchild number five in the family, which is cool. And I can’t wait,” he says. With so much on his plate, Calombaris is often faced with the question of whether he even has time to cook anymore.
“When I’m at the Press Club I’m in my chef’s jacket, but do I sit and chop onions? No, that’s not my job anymore,” he responds. While Calombaris writes his own menus and is still very “hands on” in the kitchen from morning until night, he admits he doesn’t peel potatoes anymore, instead delegating these tasks to his chefs. “Valentino doesn’t sew the buttons on his suits,” he says.
MasterChef season three begins tomorrow night on Network Ten with the Top 50 week. Once the Top 24 contestants are chosen and enter the renowned MasterChef kitchen team challenges this season will include a 24 hour endurance test to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for 450 miners in a remote Outback gold mine, a BBQ on one of Australia’s most iconic beaches and, of course, cooking for some of the most acclaimed – and fearsome – chefs in the world.
What MasterChef is serving up this season:
SUNDAY: This night will change slightly from last series and will feature a mixture of Mystery Box and Invention Test, or a Team Challenge.
MONDAY: Pressure Test and Elimination – The contestant/s (as determined by Sunday night) facing elimination compete against one another in the pressure test challenge. One must leave the competition for good.
TUESDAY: Celebrity Chef Challenge will be known as Immunity Challenge in 2011 – the winner of Sunday night takes part and goes into a cook-off with anyone from a renowned chef to an apprentice, or another home cook. Neither competitor will know what dish they will be cooking until the judges reveal it just before the clock starts ticking. If the contestant’s dish is voted as the best, they will win an Immunity Pin, which can be used to avoid an elimination.
WEDNESDAY: Team Challenges – All contestants will face a cooking challenge on a major scale, often out of the MasterChef Kitchen. This could be anything from a backyard party to serving a new menu at a Chefs Hat restaurant.
THURSDAY: Elimination 2 – Contestant/s from the losing team of the Team Challenge face an elimination challenge, with one contestant to leave. The style of the elimination challenge varies from week to week. Sometimes it may be the whole team facing elimination while at other times it’s the worst performers from the losing team.
FRIDAY: Masterclass – Each week, MasterChef Australia’s top chefs George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan will teach the contestants – and viewers – how to cook a dish from their repertoire. This season, an offsite Masterclass by a guest chef will also feature prominently. Some of the contestants will be rewarded with interstate and overseas trips for a private Masterclass with a guest chef.