The Biggest Difference Between MasterChef US And MasterChef Australia - Exclusive

After a seven-month hiatus due to COVID-19 concerns, "MasterChef" re-started production in October 2020, and in June 2021, its 11th season premiered as "MasterChef: Legends" (per Deadline). But the most successful spin-off of the franchise is "MasterChef Australia," which won the 2020 Global TV Demand Award as the world's most in-demand reality television series, according to Viacom CBS.

The Australian version resembles the U.S. version, but as revealed by Season 10 contestant Jenny Lam in an exclusive interview with Mashed, there are two big differences between them that might explain why the Aussie version is so beloved worldwide. Post-"MasterChef," Lam opened a successful restaurant, Bunn Mee, in Perth, and her acclaimed cookbook, "Eat Like A Viet," just went into its second printing. Lam gave us a behind-the-scenes look at "MasterChef Australia," starting with the "really rigorous auditioning process."

Lam was one of thousands of people who filled out the 20-page application and submitted an essay, photos, and videos. She was selected with 199 other aspirants to audition in Perth. Over two rounds of intense cooking challenges, that number was winnowed down to 10. Lam and the other hopefuls underwent a psychological examination, and only Lam and two of the 10 were flown to Melbourne to join the top 50. It took three months, but Lam was chosen as one of the 24 competitors. 

On her first day, she met the two guests judges: Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsay. "Nigella's so sophisticated, and she's everything you would expect, but so warm." Ramsay surprised her. One contestant ("she was really tiny," Lam recalled) struggled with lifting the deep fryer, and Ramsay stepped in to help. "'Just leave it, and I'll give you a hand.' Yeah, he was really nice."

The contestants are treated very differently

That sense of teamwork might be what sets "MasterChef Australia" apart from "MasterChef U.S." The competition is fraught with stress, but the judges never pit contestants against each other. They're more like coaches and don't ask contestants to pick the winner and loser. "Never, ever... would you get asked 'who do you think is going home today?', ' who do you think is going to win?' or 'pick your own teams,'" Jenny Lam explained. Such heated situations create rifts between contestants and "make[s] it a bit awkward later on when you go home."

The second big difference is the competition itself. "We rarely had opportunities where it was apples versus apples when it came to our culinary skills," she said. In the U.S. version, Lam noticed that contestants' culinary skills were judged on how each made the same dish. But in "MasterChef Australia," contestants pick their own recipe. "So it's almost like you were judged on the execution of your own dish, but very rarely were we cooking against each other." 

The relationship between judges and contestants is also starkly different. For Lam's first challenge, the contestants had to create a dish that would wow the judges at a dinner party. Lam chose to make two types of dumplings from scratch. "They're just so moreish and easy to eat. And I think something therapeutic about the plating, the folding of them." The judges were impressed, and afterward, judge Gary Mehigan approached Lam and asked if she could teach him how to fold the dumplings. Could you imagine Gordon Ramsay doing that?

For more information about Jenny Lam and her restaurant Bunn Mee, visit her Facebook page. Her cookbook "Eat Like A Viet" can be purchased as a Kindle version on Amazon.