How not to audition for Masterchef

As Masterchef fans around the country rejoice now that Season Two is about to air, I must declare an interest.

Last year, I was a contestant.

You didn’t see me on TV but having been chosen from 7000 auditionees, I was asked to meet producers and judges as one of  ‘The Final 200′.

I never made the cut.

When I received the invite, I was given a set of strict instructions. I had to get to Darling Harbour in Sydney – a two hour train ride away – for 7 in the morning. I had to bring a dish that I thought would impress judges. I would have no kitchen facilities, no heating facilities and fridge space was minimal. It was advised that whatever I chose to bring should be kept in an esky.

In groups of twelve we were summoned into a room, one group at a time. Each group would disappear for 20 to 30 minutes at a time and then the next group would head in. The rumours from those who had been in and out of that room soon started circulating. Good cooks with great dishes were not being chosen. A man who had given me an in-depth description of how to bone a duck didn’t get a look in. The unicycling student from Canberra who planned on showing the judges a pasta dish (with his secret ingredient, some sweet chilli sauce) went through. I was starting to see a pattern  – it was people being chosen, not food. But surely not? This was about great cooking, no?

Finally, it was my turn. In the group were equal numbers of men and women, ranging from 18 to mid fifties. We were herded into a large room, down the centre of which was a long table and we were invited to plate up our dishes for the judges to look at. And no, before you ask, there was no sign of the three television judges that were soon to become household names – it was another man who works with George, and who name dropped a few other first – rate chefs when giving his credentials.

A woman who had been sitting at the end of the room introduced herself and the man beside her as producers of the show and casting agents. She then invited everyone to tell us a little about themselves and the dish we had prepared, which now sat among all the others on the table.

There was the man who prepared duck – very popular as an audition food as it turned out – that was rare and, well – still bloody. I declined to eat it and I normally love duck. There was the girl in seven-inch high heels and a barely-there skirt who announced that she loved to cook in between modelling assignments and that the dish she had bought in was a …. er… “What is it again? Oh yeah that’s it! A chocolate mousse!”. Then there was the woman, all cleavage and heels in a baby doll dress who bought in strawberries and cream. Her reason? “It’s great cream”. To prove her point, she then hand-fed the strawberries and cream to the astonished producer. “See?” she asked, “I told you it was good!”.

And then there was the man who announced that he was a barista and he was sick and tired of going to three-hatted restaurants and having a great meal only to be given a lousy cup of coffee at the end of it. Everyone in the room leant forward in their chairs. He was great. He was passionate. He was knowledgable. He was incredibly cute. His dish? A simple wobbly strawberry jelly and cream pannacotta. I tasted it later. It was perfection. I have been trying to perfect that recipe all year since I tasted it.

And then there was my dish. A date tart with a limoncello mascarpone cream and an earl grey tea syrup that I had spent ages trying to get right. The tart was a beautifully crispy pastry, the cream had somehow stayed chilled despite it being in an esky for more than 8 hours by the time I got into that room, the presentation was lovely. I was very very pleased.

The casting agent leant forward in her chair and turned to me.

“So”, she said, “It says here on your application that you met your partner in Paris. That must have been quite something.” And again, people leaned forward in their chair.

And in that moment I froze. I couldn’t speak except to get very shaky and nervous. I was still manically hoping that my dish would save the day. This was a show about cooks and chefs and their food dammit. Instead, I nodded mutely, and answered, “Yes, I did”. End of subject. And with nothing left to be done, the chef tasted the tart.

“Shame about the pastry” he observed, “It’s suffered for being kept so long out of a fridge”. And with that, my audition was over.

Of the twelve in that room, the barista was the only genuine cook who went through to the next round, the round which was the initial meeting with the judges and which aired in the first episodes of the series. The other two to be selected? Why the model and the cleavage and cream girl of course.

As I watched Series One play itself out, I was entranced by the dishes, yes it’s true, but I was also mindful that this is, first and foremost, a show about people and personalities. Did the right person win last year? That’s been a matter of some considerable debate. There is one thing that can’t be disputed however. In the end, as she must have had in that first room of twelve, Julie didn’t have a signature dish. She had a killer sales pitch.

With that in mind, I wait for Series Two with great anticipation.

Meanwhile, here’s my audition piece, minus the cleavage.

Photo courtesy of The Guardian

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8 thoughts on “How not to audition for Masterchef”

  1. This was very interesting LPC, sorry you missed out, I have no doubts that your talent will be recognize soon in TV, you can start your own show on ” you tube” , good luck love ooxx

  2. I experienced the exact same thing at the Brisbane auditions! In my group, I was up against a local radio celeb (who made chicken parcels with chicken from red rooster!) a school teacher with a baby voice who said the only cooking she does is cupcakes, and a long haired fellow who shucked a dozen oysters for his dish and painted temporary tattoos on people while we waited 6 hours to have our food looked at! I made a finger lime tart with a wattleseed mascapone, and I was a nervous speaker like yourself. No guessing who made it through! We didn’t even have a chef taste our food. They didn’t even look at it!

  3. Hi, I have an audition for the up coming Season 5 of Masterchef, any further advice you can give having seen the subsequent seasons?? What would you do differently at the audition if you could do it again?

    1. First of all, congratulations for getting this far, you are in grand company already.

      Essentially, Masterchef is equal parts TV show and cookingg competition. Producers have an equal say in who gets through in the first couple of rounds until the competitors meet the judges. They are looking for a person that will be a good fit with the other contestants, someone who is articulate without being gushy, who may have an interesting back story, or who adds an indefinable something to the overall dynamic. They want people that the rest of the country will talk about.

      Now is NOT the time to try a new dish out – stick with what you are good at and make it as sexy as you can. The emphasis always is on how it tastes, but do practise your plating up. Have a look through current food blogs and magazines to see how the professionals do it.

      Look for new trends without being pretentious and too hip – old fashioned baking works well, as several previous contestants have shown us.

      Most of all, practise technique. Great televison comes from contestants failing at basic skills such as knife skills, filleting a fish, boning a joint of meat or baking a cake, or making pasta dough. Great television comes from this but most contestants don’t survive. You MUST know the basics – how to bake a cake, make pastry, cook a piece of meat to doneness, how to make stock, a variety of hot and cold sauces, how to make caramel, etc. You will not get through if you can’t manage these essential skills.

      If you have a signature dish, get cracking on another one – you will need several over the series. Also, think in terms of how one core ingredient can be paired with different flavours or prepared in different ways. It’s especially valuable when doing the invention tests or mystery box challenge. You must be able to think fast – the more you do this now, the better.

      And finally, remember that you are a bloody awesome cook to have gotten this far. Your personality must shine throughout the show, and your food must be just as approachable and workable. If you get through you will never work so hard and you will never have so much fun. Enjoy every moment, however long or brief your time is.

      best of luck and let me know how it goes.

      Sx

  4. Hi,
    After much tossing and turning I have just filled in an application for the show. I’m really glad I read your article. It’s sad that the food was given such low importance, I think this came back to bite the producers in season 5. It wasn’t nearly as good. I’m second guessing my decision!
    J M

    1. I must add one important addendum to this post.

      I auditioned for the very first series and you will note that no audition process has been televised in subsequent series since then. From memory substantial changes were made to the audition process and I thinks probably stops that whole issue of ‘style over substance’.

      I know you’re second guessing yourself, but if you can overcome your nerves I really encourage you to jump in and give it a red hot go. You never know where it will take you. Do it!

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