Inside the MasterChef Australia kitchen, as Poh talks ‘never-seen’ twists and turns and one ‘orgasmic’ dish

Your first look at 'MasterChef' season 16

Source: Network Ten

Walking into the MasterChef Australia kitchen for a sneak peek at the 16th season of the award-winning cooking show, it’s no wonder contestants feel excited and a little overwhelmed.

Located somewhere in Melbourne, the elaborate set-up is just as it is on TV, with an expansive herb garden and hot house, an over-stocked supermarket pantry, shelves of shiny saucepans, kitchen appliances and blast freezers.

Dozens of crew line the walls, camera operators, clappers, directors and dedicated contestant producers cling to clipboards, running sheets and walkie talkies.

It’s a well-oiled machine behind the scenes.

And in front?

Well, here’s the thing … there’s a perfectly relaxed Andy Allen carrying on late chef and judge Jock Zonfrillo’s legacy, standing patiently alongside three elegantly dressed recruits – MasterChef Australia alumnus Poh Ling Yeow, food critic Sofia Levin and Michelin-starred chef Jean-Christophe Novelli at a tasting table.

There’s also international FIFO guest judges (none here on our set visit), 22 amateur cooks vying for the crown and a $250,000 prize waiting in the wings.

As the fifth-generation Chinese-Malaysian-Australian cook Poh and the judges taste a “zinger” of a dish – no spoiler alert – it’s the beloved 2009 runner-up who sets the tone.

Levin throws down her serviette in awe, UK guest judge for two weeks Jamie Oliver walks away speechless, Allen thanks the kitchen gods above and Novelli wonders how it all came together.

“It is a little orgasmic,” Poh says, deadpan, slumping forward on the judge’s table on the first day of filming.

On that day, there were so many nerves. We were a new ensemble. We hadn’t worked together before. Throw Jamie in the mix, food hero. Could this get any better or worse?” she laughed, recalling the cooking session to The New Daily.

“Definitely the most nerve-racking day of the season for all of us … to see that translate so early on, without us even trying, we all had these different physical reactions,” adding the four reached “a level where we look at each other and we know what we’re thinking”.

“That is how powerful things can resonate on an emotional level.

“You can’t run away from yourself right, you have to lean into it … I do like to be a bit of a provocateur. I do like pushing people to feel and express themselves in a way that pushes boundaries a little bit.”

So much to look forward to in season 16.

Poh gets in groove

Since the show started in 2009 with Julie Goodwin as the winner (Allen won in 2012), the hugely popular reality TV series has averaged more than 1.1 million viewers a night over 15 seasons.

It’s seen as multicultural, contestants become life-long friends and benefit from increasing their profiles and career prospects in a commercial kitchen or business start-up, and it’s a marketing windfall for supermarkets and book publishers.

Poh admits joining the MasterChef family was “intimidating”.

MasterChef 2024

Source: TikTok

“There’s many factors … it would have not been made possible had it not been for this very tragic incident of Jock passing [he died on April 30 last year, a day before last season’s premiere].

“There is that in the back of my mind … he was so great at his job and had such an amazing presence up front. I think that was intimidating … [also] I’ve never seen myself as a front woman … to being the face of this juggernaut that has a national and an international reputation to uphold.

“I just felt not sure how my goofball vibe would translate to top of room, because it is a place where you need to have a sense of authority and gravitas … It has been interesting to navigate slotting into that.”

By the end of the competition, she says she “found her groove”.

“I don’t know if my performance changed dramatically, but internally I feel like a sense of, yes, I do feel like I can do this, and that there is a space here for me.”

The contestants

This year, the contestants have flown in from around Australia.

We’re told they’re bringing a “fresh perspective” to the competition, which takes them to Ballarat, Bendigo and Hong Kong, with audiences in for “never-seen” moments.

Poh, whose favourite cooking ingredient (besides seasoning) is eggs, and go-to utensil a whisk, says she feels her mentoring role is where she’s at.

“I want to help these contestants manage and navigate their headspace and also to get them to understand what wins challenges,” she said, reminding us she served two five-month tours as a contestant.

“It’s about making the right decisions and it’s something that I struggled with in all the seasons I’ve been on the show. I can identify what the problems are really quickly. I just am there with them.”

You’ll meet bank worker Savindri Perera, 30, who serves a breakfast curry dish that the judges can barely eat because it’s so hot, and insurance staffer Khristian Walker, 26, who loves Oliver and learnt to cook because of his TV shows.

Wearing a crocodile tooth proudly around his neck from the time one nearly took his leg off is Queensland tour guide, Stephen Dennis, 62, who cooks quail Provence.

Barista Nat Thaipun, 28, cooks a Thai dish using kangaroo, while an unnamed contestant bravely serves good old pumpkin soup.

Pumpkin soup. Yikes. Ingredients are pumpkin, chicken stock, cream and salt and pepper.

“If you attempt something that is wildly ambitious and you don’t manage to nail it, and someone does something that is delicious and simpler, but aces it, that’s who wins on the day,” Poh said.

“So it’s a fine line, sticking your head out but not making decisions that put you in the firing line.

“That’s what it’s about.”

MasterChef Australia premieres on Monday, April 22, at 7.30pm on 10 And 10 Play

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