Five Minutes with MasterChef Australia’s Matt Preston

It’s nearly that time again: the MasterChef Australia grand finale is this Sunday night! Emma, Lynton and Samira are all competing for the coveted reality television title, and in the lead up to the big announcement, we caught up with MasterChef judge, food journalist and cookbook author Matt Preston, to gauge his feelings on this year’s competition.

Matt PrestonQ: How have you enjoyed this season of MasterChef – and how has it stacked up against previous years?

I’ve come off the back of MasterChef: The Professionals with Marco Pierre White, which was a very intense experience. Then I had the pleasure of working with Gary and George again, which was lovely and very easy. We’ve done 400 episodes of MasterChef now, over four and a half years. I don’t think we managed to find as-good cooks this year as we have done previously, but we have been able to see is amazing growth in those cooks. Lynton has become an absolute star. Samira is a different cook now to when she started. These shows are about transformations, like Andy Allan the year before. We’ve enjoyed the theme weeks. But again we’re in that weird situation, and it happens every year, that the finalists don’t include the person we all thought was going to win, who was Rishi. It was similar to Mindy last year, we all thought she’d be in the final and the favourite to win, and she just started to lose confidence and focus. Rishi’s food was always so good, the risotto and the barramundi – he was used to being top three. MasterChef is like the Melbourne Cup, it’s a long race – you can lead for the first three-quarters of it and then get pipped at the post.

Q: What was it like having to send Rishi home when, up until that last dish, he’d been performing so well?

We can see it and do everything in our power to level things out, but think back to Marion – she was brilliant and she went out on a Thai dish. There’s a brain freeze. I think if this was a traditional reality show where only the winner does well, it would be different. But Rishi is going to be a huge star in India, where the show is big. He has the smarts to do what he wants to do. We’ve seen it already. We’ve had Poh, Kylie, Ben and Andy. I’m sure we’ll see more of Samira, Emma and Lynton, regardless who wins, and we’ll see more of Rishi.

Q: What are your thoughts on who’s made the top three?

Emma has always been an assured cook. I don’t think we saw what she was really capable of, but the dish she put up with Matt Germanchis was truly spectacular. That’s what we want from finals week. Lynton was probably one of the weaker cooks coming into the competition, but he listens and he reads, and takes it seriously, he’s focussed and quiet. And it’s almost like Samira had an evil twin – before her elimination, her food was tasty but it was very home-style. And then she came back and let go of her fear of leaving, and started putting up beautiful-looking dishes.

Q: You’ve eaten in all the best restaurants and written two cookbooks [the latest, Fast, Fresh and Unbelievably Delicious, is on sale in October], but you’re also a dad to three kids. What’s dinner like at your place?

It’s a constant surprise. My youngest one is one of only 12 children in Australia who doesn’t like pasta or lasagne or pizza. She’s not mine! And then she’ll decide she loves beef rendang. One boy unloads the dishwasher, one boy sets the table, they all clear the table, Sadie feeds the dog, and my wife cooks 70% of the time. There’s lots of conversation, there’s a certain amount of bartering of the food – I’ve got more, you’ve got less, I’ll swap you this for that. The food that’s in the new book is exactly the food we cook. It’s not time consuming and it’s not hard. Let the oven do the work – throw ingredients in a pot and in the oven. In the new book, I’ve done a section on what kids will eat. And they’re obsessed with shapes and appearance – put things in a wrap, and they will eat it. Put it in a ball, and they will eat it. Put it on a skewer, and they will eat it.

Q: What three words best describe your family kitchen?

Heart. Chaos. Tasty.

Q: And what three words best describe the MasterChef kitchen?

Loving. Stressful. Hopefully delicious!