Margie Bashfield may mould the eating habits of millions of Australians in her role as the executive producer of MasterChef Australia, but she doesn’t like cooking.
She readily admits her food journey so far hasn’t resulted in a highly refined palate. “I’ve got really simple tastes,” she tells The Power Index, as we chat in the plain conference room of the MasterChef offices in Sydney’s Alexandria. “You’re not likely to see me eating truffle and foie gras.”
But Bashfield knows how to make good telly. The show made its trio of judges — chef and restaurateurs George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan, along with food critic Matt Preston — famous, but it’s Bashfield who really calls the shots.
Adam Liaw, the season two winner (the first season with Bashfield in charge), sings her praises. “I think she’s really talented, very intelligent, and driven to producing world-beating food television,” Liaw tells The Power Index.
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As EP, Bashfield is in charge of 150-170 staff, including food, art, editorial, production and editing teams. “My job is to try and facilitate the ability for them to do their jobs properly,” explains Bashfield. “Do I work out what colour knives we’re using? No. But sometimes I might.”
Bashfield is the first to admit the MasterChef phenomenon is bigger than any one person — and even bigger than the show itself. “A lot of time you’ll be listening to the radio and they’ll be talking about nothing to do with the [show] but they’ll talk about ‘the MasterChef influence’,” says Bashfield.
Nearly every chef, restaurant critic and member of the food industry The Power Index interviewed noted the impact of MasterChef on the way the Australians talk about and view food. When asked why our bookshops are over-saturated with cookbooks, iconic Penguin cookbook publisher Julie Gibbs replies: “We can happily blame MasterChef”.
Parents and teachers talk of children playing MasterChef at lunchtime and practising “plating up”. “The most positive thing that has come out of MasterChef is the influence the show has had on children,” says chef Kylie Kwong. Or, as Bashfield likes to call her, a member of “the MasterChef family”.
At least you know the catering would be good at that family reunion, with Bashfield reeling off Maggie Beer, Peter Gilmore, Neil Perry, Christine Manfield, Jacques Reymond, Shannon Bennett, Justin North, Guillaume Brahimi and Adriano Zumbo as other Australian chefs who have an ongoing relationship with the show.
But if Bashfield isn’t a foodie, who’s the one prompting increased sales of Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise and croquembouches?
It’s a collaborative effort. The food team and producers sit around the very same table The Power Index is perched at, brainstorming ideas on a white board: “Some that are dogs, some that are good,” says Bashfield, laughing.
The judges then help refine them. “They’ll go ‘why don’t we get some heirloom carrots?’… or ‘forget that bit, go with this bit’,” explains Bashfield. The judges and food team examine practical issues like cooking time and how far participants can be pushed.
Sometimes planned challenges can get shelved at a moment’s notice. “You’ll get a phone call saying ‘guess who is in town?’ and you’ll go ‘great’ and you change everything to make it work so you can get to that person,” says Bashfield.