MasterChef Australia season 16 premiere - what does it look like ...

27 days ago

The brand-new lineup of judges joining Andy Allen and guest judge Jamie Oliver on MasterChef Australia: Sofia Levin, Poh Ling-Yeow and Jean-Christophe Novelli. Photo / Channel 10

MasterChef Australia - Figure 1
Photo New Zealand Herald

MasterChef Australia is finally back on screens here in New Zealand, with the 16th season marking “a new era” after the death of Jock Zonfrillo last year. With his co-host Andy Allen taking centre stage and an all-new lineup of judges, what does the show look like now?

A bittersweet season 15 of MasterChef Australia, which aired last year, was the final one to feature beloved celebrity chef Jock Zonfrillo.

It had been filmed and completed before Zonfrillo’s death, and after a brief delay, screened with the blessing of his family. It followed a special episode of The Project in which Allen, among several other celebrity chefs and public figures, paid tribute to him.

The show opened with a statement from Network 10: “It is with deep sadness that Network 10 and the MasterChef family acknowledge the sudden and tragic passing of judge Jock Zonfrillo. This season of MasterChef Australia was completed in March 2023 and we would like to dedicate it to Jock and his family.

Celebrity chef and former MasterChef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo died in April last year. Photo / Getty Images

“Please enjoy it as a celebration of his work, life and irrepressible passion for food.”

What followed was exactly that - a celebration of Zonfrillo and his love of cooking. It was the end of a chapter, and now season 16 marks a new beginning for the enduring cooking competition.

So, what does it look like without him? And what can aspiring Kiwi chefs and fans of the show expect from the new season?

The first episode, which screened on TVNZ2 and TVNZ+ tonight, opened with a nostalgia-filled montage looking back at the history of the show. Zonfrillo, of course, pops up many a time during this, and while his name is not mentioned, his presence is felt in host Allen’s emotional voiceover.

As he notes, “MasterChef is not just a cooking competition - it’s so much more than that. It has literally given me my whole career and everything good that I have has come from MasterChef.”

Allen previously spoke of the impact both the show and Zonfrillo had on him over the years, writing on Instagram last year. “You’ve become such an inspirational and important part of our lives,” he said.

“Sure, you’ve taught me so much about food, but it’s the lessons I learnt about what it means to be a great father, husband and friend that I’ll take away from our time together and will last forever.”

Speaking to The Project ahead of the new season airing in Australia a couple of weeks ago, Allen admitted it was “tough” going back to the kitchen without Zonfrillo. “I didn’t know whether I was going to do it or not, but I’m so glad that I did - but it was hard,” he told the hosts.

“The first scene is just me in the kitchen alone, all dark, just me - and that’s when it was like, whew.”

It’s clear Allen has some big shoes to fill, but he gets to do that alongside three new judges in an “exciting” new chapter.

The new lineup includes food critic Sofia Levin, Michelin-starred French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, and beloved celebrity chef and artist Poh Ling-Yeow, who came runner-up to Julie Goodwin on the show’s inaugural season.

It’s these three, along with Allen, that give the show a fun and fresh new look that’s apparent within moments of tuning in.

As Allen says, “This season marks the start of a new era for all of us,” before welcoming the group of hopefuls flooding into the kitchen, introducing his fellow judges and handing out 22 aprons.

The return of Jamie Oliver as a guest chef - for two whole weeks, no less - comes as no surprise. The man who’s arguably taught half of Australia and New Zealand to cook appeared on the previous season as well. He jokes he’s considering retiring in Australia. Maybe he should just jump across the Ditch - there are no snakes here and according to rival celebrity chefs Manu Feildel and Colin Fassnidge, we’re better cooks.

The first challenge is fitting - to create a dish “worthy of a new beginning” to win the coveted and only immunity pin of the season, as well as a trip to work with Oliver for a week in his new London restaurant.

The first cook of the show is relaxed, the calm before the storm that’s sure to come as the challenges intensify. Contestant Juan’s infectious smile and corn porridge charms the judges, while buffalo-wrangling, shark tooth necklace-wearing Steven gets an “incredible” endorsement from French chef Novelli for his food.

Contestant Khristian is perhaps Oliver’s biggest fan, and meeting his idol brings back memories of “learning how to cook from watching him on TV” as a kid.

He tells viewers that when he was growing up, “My mum couldn’t cook for us because she worked 14-hour days as a cleaner to keep the lights on, and it was a case of, if you don’t cook, you don’t eat.”

It was Jamie Oliver who taught him how to cook and provide for his family from behind the TV screen, and now Khristian hopes to show other young people “there’s nothing stopping them” from chasing their passions.

In the end, the advantage can only go to one of two cooks - Nat, whose kangaroo larb knocks the judges’ socks off, and Savindri, whose Sri Lankan breakfast serves up milk rice and blackened coconut snapper all while she hard launches her new boyfriend on national TV.

Those unscripted moments are one reason MasterChef manages to be refreshing amid a wealth of reality TV shows today - it’s still all about real people with real day jobs outside of cooking, who have given them up and left friends and family behind to chase their foodie dreams.

But who will be jetting off to London with Oliver? It’s Nat who earns the prize, and the precious immunity pin, which she can later use to save herself from elimination.

Season 16 may mark a new era for MasterChef Australia, with a new judging line-up and celebrity guests to show for it, but the reason we’re still watching has nothing to do with that.

It’s because amid a wealth of TV shows landing on streaming platforms for us to binge-watch these days, MasterChef is still truly comfort food to be savoured.

MasterChef Australia airs Sunday – Wednesday, TVNZ 2 and TVNZ+

Bethany Reitsma is an Auckland-based journalist who joined the Herald in 2019. She covers entertainment, lifestyle and travel stories, and recently hunted down the bakeries selling viral ‘crookies’ in New Zealand, explored whether low-carb beer is really better for you, and chatted to a Kiwi mum attempting to cook a year’s worth of meals for just $5000.

Read more
This week's most popular news