Heston creates a boiling point
Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston, Heston Blumenthal and George Calombaris on MasterChef Australia. Picture: Supplied

It's not every day you wake up to find one of the world's best chefs standing in your kitchen but that's what happened to the top seven remaining contestants on MasterChef Australia when Heston Blumenthal arrived to start a week of challenges.

"Yeah, I basically kicked the week off by sneaking into their house - it was still dark - and sitting at the breakfast table with the newspaper and I had a cup of tea," Blumenthal says by phone from London.

"There was some screaming and one of the blokes said 'F me' and walked out. They will either be bleeping that out or editing that out altogether, that one!"

In the first challenge, the amateur cooks must create a dish using only the ingredients and equipment found in the contestants' kitchen. The contestant with the most impressive dish will win an advantage in the Blumenthal-set invention where they must use Australian produce and native ingredients, think about family eating habits and use their own creativity.

With the show heading rapidly towards finals week, emotions got the better of many of the contestants.

"We had some emotion; actually on a couple of occasions we had emotion," Blumenthal says.

"There was one day everyone was on it; half of them had slight lumps in their throats or tears."

Another challenge sees the contestants making Blumenthal's beetroot risotto with no recipe, trying to keep up as he cooks the dish in front of them.

There's also an off-site challenge with the English gastronomic guru overseeing contestants as they pimp up the menu of a local Melbourne pub, serving 120 customers.

"It was a diverse set of challenges, it was hard," Blumenthal says. "The guys on the production team say they think it might have been one of the hardest. Like ever. There were some brutal challenges. Some of the challenges I thought 'Mmm, I might have pushed this too far'.

"I nearly pushed it too far on myself."

This could perhaps explain why the contestants got so emotional.

"I think that has got something to do with it actually," he laughs.

"This year, this set is the highest standard of all the seasons I have done definitely. From the first moment in the house, I noticed from day one this was a step above."

One of the dishes in the pub challenge is the classic parma, something that was new to the superstar chef, who will return to WA in November for Gourmet Escape in Margaret River.

"A chicken parmigiana I had heard of but when it is a chicken parma, I had never heard that phrase before and I had never had one in Australia," Blumenthal says.

"So there was an extra, another little tick in my cultural box and expansion of my Aussie food culture."

Blumenthal will have plenty of time to expand his Aussie food experiences next year when he moves three-Michelin-starred The Fat Duck from Bray, England, to Crown Melbourne for six months from February while his kitchens are renovated. When the Duck moves back to the UK the space will reopen as Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, the London version of which is a two-Michelin- starred restaurant, ranked No 5. on this year's San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants.

Bookings for the Melbourne Duck are expected to open in September. Blumenthal had offers for his first international venture everywhere from Dubai to St Tropez but Melbourne won out, partly due to his history with Crown and his friendship with Rockpool's Neil Perry.

To some it might seem like a long way to move but Blumenthal says it makes sense given his associations with Coles, Breville, MasterChef and his "selfish" love of Australian produce.

"The food explosion, it is the biggest food explosion I have seen in a country," he explains. "Everyone has gone food mad. It is brilliant because Australia doesn't have a historic regional food culture, not like Italy or France.

"It means I think Australians are now a lot more open-minded and really keen and eager to try new things."

Blumenthal's Heston for Coles range will be added to each May and September, meaning he will continue to be back and forth every few months.

Of note is his use of native ingredients such as lemon myrtle and pepperberry.

"Australian produce is fantastic, the shellfish, some of the best beef in the world . . . and Australian truffles, we got more from Australia this year than we did from France," he enthuses.

"I said my Coles range should really be all about that, discovering produce and native or indigenous produce.

"Not everything I have has indigenous produce in it but as the range expands it is a great vehicle for me to learn more and incorporate that and give people more awareness about some of the stuff that is being grown here, and has grown here naturally for years."

Heston Week on MasterChef Australia starts on Sunday at 7.30pm on Ten.

The West Australian

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