Word on the street is that MasterChef Australia’s Top 50 auditions have started. Late last year, when I auditioned after waiting for five whole years to be eligible, I remember frantically Googling for tips to try and find out any snippet of information that would help me get through those auditions. After all, that’s the hardest part right – when the thousands of applicants get down to a mere 50.
Unlucky for me, the interwebs had no answers. So while I’m a bit late to give you tips for 2015’s Top 50, in the spirit of sharing, helping others recognise their dreams and of course, making sure Google has the the answers to all of life’s questions, here are my top tips for making it through to the Top 24 and living in the MasterChef house. (There are no pictures of the MasterChef house – cameras are forbidden but here’s one of us getting ready – I think at the Top 50 auditions).
These are general tips only (obviously, and for good reason) and even if I gave you the step-by-step walkthrough of the entire audition process, there is no way to fudge it into the Top 50.
Top tips for making it through to the top 50
Accept that the application process involves an element of luck
The first step is of course the 6 page, 60 question, tell-me-everything-about-your-life application that stands between you and being called in for auditions. And you know what? It’s just luck. It depends on what the producers are looking for this year, how thorough they’ve been with reading through applications, how far along they are in filling out their Top 50 – are they just looking at a few key questions? You know how I know – I submitted EXACTLY the same application, word-for-word, last year as I did the year before.
Of course, if you want to increase your chances of getting lucky, it’s best to give as much detail as possible and try to include details of every significant positive and negative event in your life. If, like me, you’ve lived a mostly normal life – well then, you take your chances.
The other thing worth mentioning is that in my experience, the producers run auditions until the Top 50 spots are filled – the closing date is sometimes extended until they find the right contestants for that year.
Make like a boy scout and be prepared. The off camera audition process has changed over the years, so think of a dish you can cook using any meat (refer to it as protein for bonus points *jokes) – like a curry, for instance. Think of a dish you can cook using a cut of mystery meat i.e. you can’t be sure exactly where it’s from – meatballs, for example. And think of a dish that you can adapt to any situation – like dumplings, you can stuff those little suckers with almost anything.
Have a signature dish. Yes, yes I know it’s a little pretentious and I personally don’t invite guests over to have dinner featuring my ‘signature dish’, but at least think of one. If you don’t, like me, you risk going to auditions on two hours sleep, can of V in hand, after being up til 3am trying to wing it creating one. It does not look good to be on camera almost drunk on no sleep, eyebags galore. Plus it wreaks havoc on your ability to make simple decisions.
You have to really know your stuff. No one is born a good cook, so practice. Know your flavours, research other cuisines, watch past episodes. You only get one shot at this.
Learn to salt food properly
The main criticism that I was given at first auditions was that I didn’t add enough salt. Ask any chef (and in fact, Heston refers to it in his book, Heston at Home) and you’ll find that the biggest difference between amateurs and professionals is that the latter season their food properly.
Google the various ways chefs try to teach this – they are often practical ways – there are many and you might just understand one way better than another. It’s a very simple skill, and one you can only master with practice – so learn it well before you go to auditions.
Remember that every audition for a reality TV show is essentially a casting session. Before you get on camera, you have to prove you are going to be worthwhile. And standing between you and the judges, are producers. MasterChef, like any other show, is about making TV, and for every TV show there needs to be heroes, villains and everyone in between. If you can get the producers/judges to identify with you, you’re halfway there. You don’t need a story, you just need to be your genuine self.
Know what you’re in for
Remember what you’re signing up for – long days of filming, months away from family with barely 20 minutes a week in phone calls, potentially giving up your job and a very, very much reduced stream of income (I don’t think I’m allowed to say, but Google it). If you’re anything like me, you’re sick of seeing people whinge about missing their families, cry needlessly on camera and refer to their ‘food journeys’. So decide what kind of game you want to play. Either be true to yourself or commit to the game, like Survivor in a way, and play the game, tears and all.
After many, many emails from 2018s MasterChef hopefuls, I just wanted to add a short segment covering the first auditions. If your written application is successful, you will be emailed an invitation to attend an audition. If the format is anything like it was in my year, the email stated it was a Mystery Box audition.
I cannot tell you how to make it through these auditions because quite simply, there are absolutely no tips I can give you to help you get into the Top 50 if you weren’t already capable – so believe in yourself. The process is tough and designed to cherry pick the best of the best cooks. I think thirty people auditioned with me, and I was the only person on that day to make it through to top 50.
In my opinion, I think the first auditions are run to assess a few things – how you deal with pressure in a kitchen; how you cook when faced with a tight one hour deadline; whether your basic kitchen skills are up to scratch; how you deal with an unfamiliar kitchen; how you adapt to your recipe not going according to plan. Ever watched a contestant stick their hand into a still spinning food processor and go ‘noooo, why would you do that!’ – everyone makes bad decisions under pressure. Even from watching MasterChef on television, the audience can gauge which contestants are more comfortable in the kitchen. Think of these first auditions as MasterChef lite – Gary isn’t hovering over your bench asking a dozen questions (yet).
Things start to go wrong when you get flustered in the kitchen and the best antidote for that is experience, so cook every chance you get from now until auditions. Cook favourite dishes, trial new cuisines, practice your basics and memorise key recipes and ratios.
Good luck, and I look forward to hearing from those who have auditioned. Once you’re in, you’re part of the MasterChef family. It’s a small family, but we are stronger through our shared experiences. And good and bad, it will be like nothing you have ever experienced before. I had a tough time, but there is no doubt in my mind that if I was asked to do it again I would say yes in a heartbeat.
A quick note: I don’t have anything more to add to the above, and even if I did, it wouldn’t be fair for me to divulge more information. I also have no idea what the audition process will be this year, nor do I know what previous food qualifications would make you ineligible. Please don’t email me asking for more tips – the audition process is long, and it is difficult for a reason. If you have any questions, leave them below and if I know the answer, I will reply.