MasterChef Australia's new chapter
WHEN I sit down with George Calombaris on the set of MasterChef he's full of beans despite a long day of filming.
Who could blame him?
The unknown reality cooking show he, fellow chef Gary Mehigan and food critic Matt Preston signed on to eight years ago is still going strong and fostering the next generation of food stars.
The show has also assembled its best line-up of celebrity guest chefs to date: Nigella Lawson (in her first ever MasterChef franchise appearance), Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White and US food wunderkind Flynn McGarry, as well as Aussie favourites Maggie Beer, Curtis Stone, Luke Nguyen and Kylie Kwong.
"There's a reason why it's probably the only cooking competition show in the world where the best chefs in the world want to be on it," Calombaris says.
"It's not a question of twisting their arms; they want to be on it.
"We get the best cooks because the integrity is there, and the real in reality is there."
While this is arguably the biggest season of MasterChef to date, with entire weeks dedicated to the likes of Lawson, Blumenthal and White, Calombaris refuses to ever say one season is better than another.
"It's another chapter in this MasterChef life. If this was a novel then it would be a pretty interesting read thus far," he says.
"This year has made me go 'wow', 'interesting', 'okay'.
"I think the show's grown up a lot as well. We don't do all the stuff that just needs to be done for the sake of it. Let's taste a dish, chat to you and go.
"The auditions are quick and simple; we don't drag it out."
He promises "mind blowing" food that will join the ranks of the croquembouche, macaron and snow egg.
"You know the food's getting better (each year) because you look in the pantry," he says.
"In the beginning there were the basics; now you go in there and there's heaps of stuff.
"Just think the dessert in the finale in year one was a chocolate tart made by Matt Moran and last year it was Botrytis Cinerea (which has 80 ingredients) by Heston Blumenthal.
"There are some pretty exciting dishes (this year) that will blow your mind."
Vue de Monde's Shannon Bennett also returns as mentor to the contestants and his Snickers-inspired chocolate bar will feature in the final round of auditions.
"Last year was a bit of a test," he says.
"I wasn't given a brief. It was a mentor role and I was told to 'make it your own'. I look at it the same way I treat my apprentices.
"This year I'll be doing more of the presenting side of things. Being yourself on camera is a lot harder than you think."
Season eight of MasterChef Australia premieres tonight at 7.30pm on Channel 10.