It ain't easy being a judge on TV's most famous cooking show. Just ask MasterChef UK judge Gregg Wallace, who recently came under fire online for remarking that a contestant's chicken rendang wasn't crispy. So we ask the newly-minted trio of judges of MasterChef Singapore to sound off about Rendang-gate, plus the kind of reality TV drama we can expect from them.
8 DAYS: What kind of judge do you think you’ll be on MasterChef Singapore?
BJORN SHEN: I'm just going to be myself on the show — no airs, no fluff. I'm an approachable guy, I’m patient and I give constructive feedback. I'm always there to lift people up, not put them down. I hope that my involvement with the show can positively impact the careers of at least some of the contestants.
DAMIAN D’SILVA: Critical but forgiving, if I see effort.
AUDRA MORRICE: Always a fair and inspiring one! Many contestants who come on the show have dreams and it’s important we don’t crush their spirit. However, we also want to be honest and constructive. My experience as a judge on MasterChef Asia was amazing and this one will be even better because being a Singaporean, it’s even closer to my heart. I’m on a mission to get more Singaporeans back into the kitchen to cook.
Why did you agree to be part of this show?
Bjorn: I believe in paying it forward. I am where I am today only because certain people in my past invested their time in me. The best way I can pay them back — and do this industry a service — is to invest my time in others the same way they did with me.
Damian: So that a chef's perspective can be seen on a reality TV show.
Audra: MasterChef is about incredible experiences that are potentially life-changing, and it was for me. In 2012, I was a finalist in MasterChef Australia. In 2015, I was a judge in MasterChef Asia. Today I’m one of the three judges in MasterChef Singapore. But most importantly, I’m living my dream. I cook for a living, I’m writing my second cookbook, I’m a restaurant consultant, I give talks to inspire people to dig deep and live the dream. It’s come full circle for me and I owe much of it to this incredible brand.
What’s your take on the controversy surrounding ‘rendang-gate’ on MasterChef UK?
Bjorn: It's unfortunate, really. You can't expect all the judges across this franchise to know every single dish from every cuisine in the world. If a judge hasn't encountered a certain traditional dish before, it's a fine line between judging it fairly [taste-wise] and giving it too much benefit of the doubt. Imagine giving an unfamiliar dish a pass even though it’s poorly-executed, just ’cos it has the disclaimer: "That's how it's done traditionally". Balance is key, and it swung the wrong way for [judge] Greg Wallace this time. But it could happen to anyone, even me.
Audra: Taste is very subjective. However, when you’re dealing with facts, traditions and heritage, knowledge is key. Then again, our judgment is also based on what we personally experienced and our interpretation of it. It’s never easy judging someone else’s food, but I think as long as there is honesty in our comments and no malice; we're on the right track.
How are you preparing for your judging duties?
Bjorn: I've stopped eating!
Damian: I haven’t done anything much, but it's still early days.
Audra: One of the most important things as hosts for the show is the chemistry between the three judges. Thankfully, Damian, Bjorn, and I get on like a house on fire! We’re very similar: honest, decent and we all love our food. We hit it off from day one and this will no doubt shine through in the series.
MasterChef Singapore will air Sept 2 on Ch 5 and Toggle's Video On Demand.