By VICKII BYRAM
Dieters who watch food feast Masterchef Australia live vicariously through the tastebuds of hatted judges Jock Zonfrillo and former winner Andy Allen, and food and travel writer Melissa Leong.
Non-dieting viewers drool as they watch every exotic spice and herb known to man stirred into feats of culinary delight presented by the 24 home cooks vying for the Masterchef crown.
The passionate judges had big shoes to fill in taking on the mantle of the highly successful show in 2020,
Zonfrillo says he didn't feel out of his comfort zone as he had been a guest judge and hosted master classes in previous seasons.
"We sat down together and agreed we were happy to just be ourselves. If people like our approach and they are entertained by it, great."
He says the trio have become quite close friends.
"Then we had Junior Masterchef, which was not so full-on serious, and now we are back to unskilled home cooks. It feels like it's been three different jobs to be honest," he says.
With Masterchef filmed in Melbourne, it has become home, but he and his wife have family in Sydney so he is "a bit of gypsy".
Zonfrillo has Scottish and Italian heritage but is a proud Australian, and is well known for shining a light on Australia's Indigenous food through his non profit The Orana Foundation.
"I made sure we planted five times as many Indigenous ingredients in the Masterchef garden and put them in the pantry too, it's great to see."
The father of four says it is clear the home cooks have absorbed whatever they could from past masterclasses and learnt what they could before entering the Masterchef kitchen.
"Once here, they are immersed in food. Back at the house they are cooking for each other and researching in their days off and practising what they're not good at preparing or plating.
"It's such a cross section of food cultures this year - Bengali, Vietnamese, Greek - the breadth of different cuisines is exciting."
He admires the determination and focus the contestants have.
"A lot of them have had a 10-year career at something - and they've thrown caution to the wind - because they are so passionate about being in the Masterchef kitchen and following their food dreams."
If you have wondered how the judges handle eating so much food and still stay slim, Zonfrillo says he's like a" bottomless pit".
"Andy and Mel struggle a bit, especially at the beginning when there is 24 dishes to try. Everybody hates me. My wife says i deserve to be fat.
"Andy says it''s disturbing the way I can eat."
This year the competition is more real than ever, says Zonfrillo.
"There's always a tag line, this time it's 'ordinary people cooking extraordinary food'. But I think they are extraordinary people, he says.
"They are a long way from being a professional, but as they get better, the show takes you on a journey with your favorite contestant.
"That's why Masterchef Australia is so loved all around the world."
In summing up his fellow judges, Zonfrillo says: "Mel says big words, sometimes she says words Andy and I don't understand and we just look at each other. Andy and I have a good laugh. He's got a great perspective having been a contestant. We're both as bad as each other, we're just like big kids really."