Food, glorious food is what we can expect from the 24 returning chefs in the 12th season of MasterChef

Former contestants back to taste victory

Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo are the new judges eating the delicious and inspired dishes the MasterChef alumni deliver in season 12 - Back To Win.

The returning contestants are chefs, cooking school and restaurant owners, television personalities and cookbook authors in their own right, but all are eager as ever to claim the coveted trophy that eluded them the last time they cooked in the MasterChef kitchen.

Added to this recipe is superstar ingredient guest chef Gordon Ramsay, who will oversee proceedings for the first week, mentoring and putting the contestants through their paces.

Talking about the contestants, Ramsay says: "Kudos and respect to have the balls to come back because you have amazing, glowing careers and to put that all on hold, that does show the determination, guts and hunger all of you have to get your hands on that stunning trophy."

One of those returning is Callum Hann, runner-up in season 2. Life has been pretty interesting for him in the past few years - in a good way.

He has a three-month-old daughter, a wife, and three businesses - Sprout Cooking School, Sprout Health Studio and Sprout Training - all of which were booming at the time he made the decision to return for another crack at the title.

"Now that I'm filming, it has put a huge strain on everyone. We made the decision to stop classes temporarily, no one wants to be responsible for everyone to get sick," he says referring to coronavirus.

In past years contestants have shared a huge house, but due to social distancing requirements they are all in different serviced apartments.

"It's a different feel, but there is more of a balance. We are cooking in the competition during the day, then I am making business decisions, chatting with my wife, and practising my secret techniques," he says laughing.

Hann was just 19 when he was first on MasterChef. "I didn't understand techniques, I had no experience of other cultures of the world. I have learnt a lot more about food with the cooking school, I've come a long way, because when you teach others you learn more."

He says it was daunting knowing how much success all the contestants have achieved since being on the show.

"But we are so open to sharing recipes, and special techniques. It's a double-edged sword, because I am a much better cook and have better food knowledge, but no one is really cooking any bad dishes."

At the start of filming all the cooks would try each other's dishes Hann says, but with social distancing laws they had to stop that.

This season, with so much talent behind the benches, the contestants were asked to submit an idea for a Master Class. "I've been asked to share some of my techniques."

Hann says the first time he competed it was just for himself. "Now I want to do it for my family and for my team. I want to keep getting creative ideas, to keep being the best I can be. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Hann says he thinks the new judges are doing a really good job. "Their feedback is well articulated. As much as I loved the other judges, I think it's a fresh start.

"Andy is coming from a lovely perspective, he knows how challenging it is to get thrown in the deep end to come up with something amazing. He knows he's not there to judge the person but to judge the dishes."

Gordon Ramsay was exactly as you would imagine, Hann says.

"I love watching his TV shows. He had high expectations, but he wanted to bring out the best in all of us."

Hann's favourite challenges are when there are teams collaborating and the mystery challenges. "But it's all so relatable, there is so much creativity. Elimination challenges are stressful, you can't cook a bad dish. You might have a great time in the kitchen but there is not a lot of wiggle room. Everyone's knowledge is higher and you end up cooking against friends. But we all want to win, and 23 of us aren't going to."

Hann says it has been a great opportunity to get back in the kitchen and pick up tips and recipes and techniques. "I'm in the office more than the kitchen these days."

His favourite food to cook depends on the time of year. In winter there is nothing better than slow roasting a lamb shoulder, or cooking curry or laksa. But while the sun is shining it's salad, seafood, a barbecue, and oysters, he says.

Hann's favorite ingredient is lemon. "As soon as you add lemon you add freshness. It sneaks its way into almost everything I cook. His other favourite food - "anything that someone else is happy to cook for me".

"My cooking is produce driven. If you start with the best produce our job is made easy. Things in season are at their best."

If he were to win, Hann says he would put every cent back into the business to keep his staff working so they can pay their mortgages.

Producers Endemol Shine Australia issued a statement: " All recommendations outlined by federal and state government health authorities are being followed. New measures include, but are not limited to, social distancing measures across every facet of the production and additional hand sanitising stations positioned around the set and offices.

"On the set, changes have been made to the spacing of contestant cooking benches and gloves provided for team challenges where equipment may be shared, as well as when handling food in the pantry. Additional sinks have been added as dedicated hand washing stations, so as to separate from any food preparation. Judges will step up to taste individually portioned meals and no cutlery or plates will be shared."

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