Jean-Christophe Novelli brings French touch to new MasterChef recipe

He had never met any of the MasterChef judges before saying yes to the show -but Jean-Christophe Novelli certainly knew its reputation.

French-born restauranteur and chef Jean-Christophe Novelli was all at sea when an approach was made for him to join MasterChef Australia.

Novelli (pictured top right) was working on a cruise ship when his staff took a call from producers.

“My associates received a phone call from a gentleman with a Scottish accent asking if I might be interested being on the new judging panel of MasterChef,” he recalls.

“Just before I went into international waters out of signal, she came back and said ‘It’s somebody called Marty Benson from Endemol Shine.’ Apparently we met 20 years ago, but we haven’t spoken since, I believe, when I was on Hell’s Kitchen. So it’s a small world.”

Getting a TV invitation is not unusual for this Michelin star chef. After all, he has 76 credits on IMDb, had featured on the original UK MasterChef series in the early 1990s.

“I was on the early MasterChef 35 years ago, as one of the guest chefs…. and thought I understood what MasterChef was. But I was wrong because MasterChef Australia (evolved the format).

“I don’t watch cooking shows”

“I don’t want watch TV shows. I don’t watch cooking shows, because when I go back home I’ve put so much in. I don’t want to see chefs anymore.”

Indeed, the reputation of the Australian series is formidable amongst the culinary world. And even within Novelli’s own family.

“My son is 11 years old. He is an amazing cook. He’s genius, a gourmet, and he loves cooking shows. He doesn’t watch La Vuelta, he loves watching chefs,” he insists.

“He said, ‘Oh my god, that show, it’s the best MasterChef in the world!’ So I sat down with a padnote and pen and started taking notes from him about the show!”

Novelli joins (pictured L to R) food critic Sofia Levin, Andy Allen, Poh Ling Yeow in the new-look 2024 series -none of whom he had met before.

“You’ll see when I walked through the doors, all judges arrive one by one, and the contestants are there in the middle of the MasterChef kitchen, which is huge and very intimidating,” he says.

“The only one that actually knew was Jock (Zonfrillo), but not very well. So it was bizarre because I’m stepping to a new world, a new chapter of my life.

“The most extraordinary cooking competition on the planet”

“But it’s cooking, and I’m a chef. I’m passionate. I love cooking. But we are privileged, small particle of the most extraordinary cooking competition on the planet. It’s just unbelievable.”

This season sees 22 home cooks chasing their dreams and a $250,000 prize -plus one money can’t buy experience. Guests include Jamie Oliver for two weeks, Adriano Zumbo, Anna Polyviou, Curtis Stone, Rick Stein, Vincent Yeow Lim and Mikiko Terasaki. There’s even a visit to Hong Kong as the competition heats up.

“I was mesmerised”

According to Novelli, the level of skill amongst the Aussies surprised him.

“When I first met the contestants I was flabbergasted. I was mesmerised. It was fascinating to see how smart they were…. there were no boundaries. I’m French and we tend to be quite formal about everything,” he explains.

“They were very confident, with very interesting names of dishes. I can’t say too much, obviously. But there were so many. It was quite fascinating from start to finish…. the level of competition this year is unbelievable.

“When you watch the show, I can promise you’re going to be absolutely shocked… There is a lot of emotion, intense energy. It took me two weeks to unwind. It’s unbelievable how much they put into the job…. it’s probably the best show ever.

“It’s like a new recipe.”

MasterChef Australia screens 7:30pm Monday – Thursday on 10.

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