Thursday, October 30, 2014

Aussie 'MasterChef' a celebration of people, food

(Oct. 5, PDI Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

“MasterChef is…not about the meltdown [or] other chefs who yell and scream demands,” said restaurateur George Calombaris, a “MasterChef Australia” judge, in a recent phone interview. “It’s a celebration of people who want to make a change in their lives.”

The show (airing Monday to Thursday, 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Lifetime) returns for a sixth season and is accessible to first-time viewers, according to Calombaris, one of three judges. “It’s about ordinary people [and] extraordinary food. It’s about a taxi driver making the most amazing agio chocolate [among other stories],” he said.

The Australian iteration, he added, has given a distinct twist to the reality-competition program, one of many spinoffs of the original UK series.

“MasterChef Australia” is seen in 101 countries…it resonates with people because the Australian Ridge is a multicultural boiling pot,” explained Calombaris. “Sudanese, Indian, Greek, Italian, Singaporean, Colombian, Afghani—we have people from all walks. That’s what makes Australia what it is.”

The judges had a tough time in the selection process for the sixth season, he said, because of exceptional talents. “With the Top 50, we experienced amazing food that made you go, ‘Wow! What is this?’ I was over the moon,” Calombaris recounted. “Seeing them in the Top 24 [was] a big deal. We went back to the drawing board…to raise the bar and the intensity of every challenge!”

Calombaris said the show has “learned” a lot from previous seasons, and is considerably better now at screening contestants: “People already know our expectations before they walk through the door.”

He said he related with certain contenders, in terms of personality and culinary styles. “We’ve worked with the contestants for over six months. I treat them like my staff, who are like my family, so it’s super important for us to succeed!”

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