MasterChef Australia 2020 Judges Q & A

As seen on MasterChef
Three MasterChef Australia judges with one holding a box of fresh produce

MasterChef Australia 2020 Judges; Melissa Leong, Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen

It’s our favourite season of the year: MasterChef season! This year, MasterChef Australia has three new judges ready to take the contestants on the next chapter of their food journey. Who better to inspire these cooks than MasterChef Australia alumni and season four winner, Andy Allen, now a cookbook author and a co-owner and head chef of Three Blue Ducks. Andy is joined by chef and restaurateur Jock Zonfrillo – bringing with him more than 30 years of experience in professional kitchens – and Melissa Leong, whose long list of credentials includes food writer, media consultant and television presenter. We asked the MasterChef Australia judges to tell us more about this year’s competition and contestants.

Q: How is this year’s competition different from previous years?

Jock: “To me, it’s all about the contestants. These are much-loved previous contestants, who now have their own following. Some of them have their own restaurants! You can imagine the level of competition is really high – these are people who have a point to make. They feel as if they didn’t do the MasterChef Australia kitchen justice the first time and they’re back to win.”

Andy: “Each returning contestant has been out in the big, bad world of hospitality, making a name for themselves in their respective fields.”

Melissa: “The quality of the food has been exceptional,and I can’t wait for Australia to see what they get up to.”

Q: What trends have you been seeing on this year’s show?

Andy: “I know it’s been around since the beginning of mankind, but there’s a lot of cooking over coals and open fire this season. I’ve seen everything from butterflied fish to discs of taro and vibrant Tuscan kale being kissed with smoke and the open flame.”

Q: What are you enjoying most about working on MasterChef Australia?

Jock: “This industry has been really good to me and it’s nice to be in a position to give back. MasterChef Australia helps our industry in a number of different ways. Audiences have a greater level of appreciation after watching the show, and they realise how much hard work goes on in a restaurant.”

Andy: “You can’t help but get swept up in the emotion of every cook and, with each contestant coming back to win this year, there’s a lot more on the line. This makes for a certain energy that I haven’t witnessed before in the MasterChef Australia kitchen. We’ve plucked some serious talent from the last 11 seasons and the food has been amazing.”

Melissa: “It’s truly been the experience of a lifetime. Being part of MasterChef Australia, I jump out of bed every morning excited because I get to work with the best crew, taste truly inspired food, and be part of such a special team with Andy and Jock.”

Q: What can home cooks learn from watching the show?

Jock: “Everything. About 99 per cent of the produce is sourced from Coles and the cooking times are real. The contestants normally cook for 75 minutes on gas stoves and in domestic ovens, so nothing is overly crazy except for on special challenges. Generally speaking, the contestants are cooking dishes you could achieve at home using everyday ingredients.”

Melissa: “There’s so much to learn as a home cook at any level. From the simplest of things, like remembering to season your food properly, to kitchen hacks that save you time, to what to have in your kitchen pantry at all times – there’s plenty to take away from the show.”

Andy: “When it comes to the competition, I think it’s all about taking ideas that you see and then putting your own spin on them for the dinner table. Make sure you watch the masterclass episodes, where you can see Jock, Melissa and I share our cooking tips and tricks. These masterclasses are more about taking certain techniques that you can comfortably achieve at home, rather than trying to remake the complete dishes.”


Q: Have you learned anything from the contestants?

Jock: “Heaps. I’m constantly surprised every day that I’m in the MasterChef Australia kitchen. The biggest thrill I’ve had so far is watching a contestant making flat noodles by hand. I’ve been in kitchens for more than 30 years and I’ve never seen that done in front of me before.”

Andy: “There are contestants on the show who can definitely do techniques better than I could ever dream of doing – I’d be silly if I wasn’t taking inspiration from them!”

Q: Do you have any advice for young cooks who dream of being on MasterChef Australia?

Andy: “Eight years ago I was an electrician who liked cooking for my family and friends. I entered series 4, fell more in love with cooking while on the show and somehow won the season. I then went out into the industry and joined [Sydney restaurant] Three Blue Ducks. Now I get to mentor some of Australia’s best cooks – all from taking that leap of faith back in 2012.”

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you were given when you started out in your career?

Jock: “Be honest about your abilities and what you want to do. If you work that out early on, you’ll quickly realise what area of food you want to be in and what you’re drawn to. This becomes your voice in cooking.”

Andy: “That you should take every opportunity as a learning opportunity.”

Melissa: “I was told to do the hard work first. Working hard to be good at what you do is what really matters.”