‘I Was Heartbroken’: MasterChef Australia’s Montana Hughes Recalls Auditioning For Old Judges

MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites contestant Montana Hughes has already survived eight eliminations so far, but she says it's actually taken a few attempts to make it into the MasterChef kitchen in the first place.
The 24-year-old Queenslander says she first auditioned for the cooking show's 11th season a few years ago, and getting some stern feedback from then-judges, Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston, was hard to swallow.
Image courtesy of Channel 10
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites contestant Montana Hughes
"I went through to the judges' room, got three no's and was absolutely heartbroken, which was really tough," Hughes tells Refinery29 Australia. "I was only 19 at the time so I took it pretty hard."
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The TikTok influencer had been expecting the judges to ask her to return the next day for a second chance to impress them.
"I remember there was one line, I don't know who said it," she recalls.
"They were critiquing my dish — the old judges — and they said 'Go home, come back...' and I thought they were going to say, 'Come back tomorrow' and they said, 'Come back next year'. Everything other than that is just a blur because my heart just sunk. [I thought], 'Oh my god it's over, this is it.'"
Image courtesy of Channel 10
Previous MasterChef Australia judges Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston
Hughes then auditioned for the 2020 Back To Win season but didn't qualify as it was an all-stars season featuring old contestants. After also not making the cut last year, she finally got through to the current season and in hindsight is grateful she's been able to work with the current judges, Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen, whom she says are very different to the previous trio.
"Obviously they had their different takes on the food industry. Matt was obviously the food critic, Gary was the home-style cook and George is the very fine dining one," Hughes reflects.
"But I think Andy, Jock and Mel's perspective is a lot fresher," she continues, emphasising Leong's approach made her feel particularly at ease on and off camera.
Image courtesy of Channel 10
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites judges Andy Allen, Jock Zonfrillo and Melissa Leong
"Just to have Mel's presence in the kitchen as well is really soothing and calming. She just knows what to say. The way she is on TV — how lovely and sweet she is — she's more so in the kitchen. She has chats to us off-set after a cook and she's just feeling what we're feeling. Obviously we don't have family here and to have someone to lean on and chat to is so helpful."
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Mehigan, Calombaris and Preston held the judging roles for a decade — from the first season in 2009 starring Julie Goodwin and Poh Ling Yeow, up until 2019. In 2020, Channel 10 replaced them with Zonfrillo, Leong and Allen. Leong's casting has since been widely praised by audiences and cast members for signifying a positive move towards better female representation, encouraging women in food to thrive on their own terms.
The previous judges have gone on to continue their food careers, and Preston was recently announced as a new judge on the 2022 season of My Kitchen Rules.
Meanwhile, Hughes, is one of 16 contestants remaining on this year's season of MasterChef which started off with 12 contestants from previous seasons (favourites) competing against 12 amateur home cooks (fans).
Image courtesy of Channel 10
The cast of MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites
The favourites include Julie Goodwin (Season 1), Billie McKay (Season 7), Sashi Cheliah (Season 10), Alvin Quah (Season 2), Michael Weldon (Season 3) Mindy Woods (Season 4), Christina Batista (Season 5), Sarah Todd (Season 6), John Carasig (Season 7), Aldo Ortado (Season 10), Minoli De Silva (Season 13) and Tommy Pham (Season 13).
The fans joining Hughes are Ali Stoner, Jenn Lee, Chris Tran, Daniel Lamble, Dulan Hapuarachchi, Harry Tomlinson, Keyma Vasquez Montero, Matt Landmark, Max Krapivsky, Melanie Persson and Steph Woon.
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites airs Sunday to Thursday at 7:30pm on Channel 10 and 10Play.
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