The MasterChef bug
George Calombaris, Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan in Italy for MasterChef. Picture: Ten.

Anyone suffering from gastroenteritis would struggle to find much positive about the experience but a bout of the stomach bug hitting the crew of MasterChef Australia in Italy in May did have an upside for show judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris; a few extra days in Rome.

"How lucky are we," said Mehigan by phone on Wednesday during a break in filming MasterChef All-Stars.

"We were told to stay in quarantine, which of course we didn't.

"We misbehaved as we should do between the three judges and we went out to eat in some beautiful places in Rome. I reckon it was perfect: George, Matt and I had no complaints."

Mehigan said the top 10 contestants "went nuts" when told they would be heading to Italy to film the episodes that will air from Sunday.

"A couple of the boys, Andy and Beau, had never even been overseas so for them it was a truly amazing experience."

On Sunday the contestants are joined by three Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura, owner of one of the world's top-rated restaurants, Osteria Francescana.

"That was a big thrill, he's one of the best chefs in the world at the moment, especially for our foodie contestants," said Mehigan.

"Some of the dishes we got on that day were some of the best we have had in the competition so far."

Joining the show for Tuesday's immunity challenge is respected London-based Italian author, chef and restaurateur Antonio Carluccio.

"He was wonderful, he has been a bit of a hero of all of ours, he's an older guy now, in his 70s," said Mehigan.

"We were lucky enough, the night before the shoot we went out for dinner with him to Buca Mario which is a classic Italian restaurant in Florence, he did all the ordering on our behalf.

"We had wild boar pasta, deep-fried crispy artichokes and just listened to his stories, it was wonderful, and he did exactly the same with the contestants."

Filming took place in Rome, Florence, Parma and the picturesque medieval village of Monticchielo, where contestants had to cook a five-course meal for villagers in Thursday's elimination challenge.

For Mehigan a highlight was seeing the factory of the world's biggest pasta maker, Barilla, where the show filmed a team challenge cooking for 500 workers.

He also enjoyed meeting Massimo Spigaroli from Antica Corte Pallavicina, famous for his Culatello di Zibello, a cured meat in demand from restaurants and royalty.

Fan favourite Amina Elshafei was eliminated from the show on the eve of the Italy trip, which Mehigan likened to the shock exit of Marion Grasby in season two.

But WA's Wade Drummond, who was also in the losing blue team, is still in the competition.

Mehigan said Drummond was a bit lost when he entered MasterChef but the show had given him a real sense of direction and he could often be found practising his skills in the MasterChef house.

The show has clawed its way back up the ratings after a slow start in the face of stiff competition from The Voice and The Block and is still a hot topic on social media most nights.

"Media have made a lot of the fact, they called it a ratings slide," said Mehigan.

"People forget we have done other incarnations, we are seven series in, four main series plus a celebrity plus two junior.

"We hit nearly 1.4 million as an average on Monday night and Tuesday 1.355, so we are really happy. It will be nice to see a climb and a great finish to the end of the season.

"We know we have a massive fan base out there that enjoys watching our program."

MasterChef Australia airs today at 7pm and Sunday at 7.30pm on Ten.

The West Australian

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