Entertainment TV MasterChef hunt for new judges fires up as frontrunners emerge

MasterChef hunt for new judges fires up as frontrunners emerge

Poh Ling Yeow MasterChef
Poh Ling Yeow (left) as a guest on MasterChef on July 21: "The assassin's got her Hobbit face on." Photo: Instagram
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With news barely digested that judges Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris have negotiated themselves off Ten’s MasterChef, speculation is already rife on who will take up their spots at the tasting table.

The network is “currently casting the judges for 2020 and no decision has been made,” is all a Ten spokesperson would spill to The New Daily.

Whatever the new version of the show serves up, the overhaul could be a double-edged sword, reckons Fusion Strategy media analyst Steve Allen.

“They’ve tinkered around the edges, but really, MasterChef hasn’t ever had a major refresh, and after 11 seasons you’d have to argue it does need it,” Mr Allen tells The New Daily.

While there are positives in the potential for more culturally diverse panel than the current crop, “Ten may take another tack and think it’s gone too highbrow and too into the hospitality industry and go in the other direction,” Allen speculates.

“That would be a mistake. One of the reasons MasterChef is so special is because it’s nothing like, say, My Kitchen Rules. It’s a world phenomenon in terms of ratings, but also because of the reputation it carries with established chefs and industry people.

“That might not carry over with a new batch of hosts. They have to get the mix just right.”

So who could be on the menu?

Curtis Stone

With a Roger Ramjet jawline, reality TV background – he came fourth on the US Celebrity Apprentice behind Sharon Osbourne – the Oprah-approved chef and former host of ABC’s Surfing the Menu and Seven’s My Restaurant Rules is a no-brainer.

“No question he’d be great,” Allen agrees. “He’s contracted to Coles – they’d be barracking for it – but he lives in America. It would be hard to see how he would be prepared to relocate for three months.”

Maggie Beer

Like the contestants she’d be judging, the foodie favourite doesn’t have formal training as a chef but has accumulated a successful career spanning almost five decades including stints on ABC’s The Cook and The Chef and LifeStyle Food’s The Great Australian Bake Off.

“She’s a legend,” offers Allen. “But if I were Ten, I wouldn’t go in that direction. She’s of the generation of the current judges and even beyond it.”

Poh Ling Yeow

The photogenic Season 1 runner-up nailed her role as a mentor on Season 11, and with cooking shows under her belt (ABC’s Poh’s Kitchen and SBS’s Poh & Co) the Malaysian-born chef, artist and author has industry respect.

“It’s likely Ten be looking at a younger crew, maybe some of the contestants who have been mentoring on recent seasons,” predicts Allen.

“They’ve handled themselves very well and that gives an indication of what Ten might be thinking.”

Kylie Kwong

The Sydney restaurateur and TV host was quickly trending on Twitter as a top pick. As a mentor and guest judge, she’s knowledgeable, personable and fair. Kwong “would have credibility with other chefs and contestants,” says Allen.

Shannon Bennett

Renowned as one of the most successful and well-respected chefs in Australia, the head chef at the three-hat Vue de Monde was MasterChef‘s resident mentor for four years up until 2018, the longest anyone had been in the role.

A downside? He’s been the focus of Calombaris-style tales of financial woe, targeted by an A Current Affair investigation in April after three suppliers alleged they had not been paid.

Adam Liaw

Winner of the second series, the lawyer turned media personality, cookbook author and host of Destination Flavour on SBS has a YouTube channel with 100k subscribers, but doesn’t seem to be throwing his chef’s hat in the ring.

“K, I’ve thought about it and do you know who I think would make a great new host/judge on #MasterChefAU?… [US Top Chef host] Padma Lakshmi,” he tweeted. Double blind?

Silvia Colloca

The Italian-born, Sydney-dwelling actor, opera singer and cookbook author is a natural in front of the camera (hosting Made in Italy with Silvia Colloca on SBS and Silvia’s Italian Table on the ABC). She’s part of a glamorous showbiz union (her husband is actor Richard Roxburgh) and also has MasterChef cred, collaborating with season 2 favourite Marion Grasby on the web series Wok X Pot.

Scott Pickett

The Melbourne chef and restaurateur provided a blooper-reel highlight MasterChef moment when he was squirted in the face with jasmine rice foam while judging contestant Stephen Phe in 2014. Will he be game for more?

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