Meet the chefs on MasterChef Australia 2024’s judging panel

There’s a new line-up of judges whipping the cooking rookies into shape

The fate of MasterChef Australia was up in the air after the unexpected loss of beloved judge Jock Zonfrillo in April 2023, but his family assured viewers he would want the show to go on and for new and experienced judges to enter in 2024.

In his honour, judge Andy Allen, season-one runner-up Poh Ling Yeow, celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and food critic Sofia Levin are taking to the kitchen to continue his legacy. Not returning for the 16th season is writer Melissa Leong, who decided to leave to focus her energies on MasterChef: Dessert Masters following the show’s successful first series.

Here, we chat to each of this year’s judges about why this season will be the best yet…


The Malaysian-born, Adelaide-based chef found fame on the very first season of MasterChef Australia. Since then, she’s made several guest appearances on the show and become a household name, so it’s easy to forget she never actually won.

“As much as winning is the aim of the game, I’m thrilled to be able to show new contestants that hard work is even more important,” the 50-year-old says. “You don’t have to win to win! MasterChef positively turned my life on its head, so this is a thrilling, full-circle moment to go back to where my story first began. It feels like coming home.”

After losing her mother last year, Poh was ready to slow down when this opportunity came knocking. “It was hard to decide,” she confesses. “I was in a very serene space of painting, gardening, running my food stall and making a little bit of TV. This decision churned everything up.”

But having already bonded with this season’s contestants, Poh’s glad she said yes. “They are the most wholesome, beautiful bunch of people. There are a couple of daredevils who remind me of me – volatile but never boring!”


The spicy new ingredient added to the MasterChef judging panel is French celebrity chef Jean-Christophe, who was just 14 when he decided to become a baker – a choice that had the unexpected result of his first girlfriend dumping him.

The 63-year-old recalls, “I really loved her and I remember her standing there with her hands on her hips, saying, ‘I want to be with a real man with a real job!’”

Since then, Jean-Christophe has certainly had the last laugh, with the master of gastronomy awarded multiple Michelin stars and owning one of the world’s top cooking schools, The Novelli Academy.

A self-confessed “yes man”, MasterChef was a no-brainer for British-based father-of-three Jean-Christophe – and his 11-year-old son Jacques is extra-proud.

“My son is a gourmet,” Jean-Christophe shares. “He loves to cook and was in ecstasy when he found out I was going to be on MasterChef Australia. It’s hard being away from home, but I love the show – it doesn’t feel like a job, really.”


After Jock’s shock death, fellow judge Andy says he didn’t know if he could return to MasterChef.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through,” admits the 35-year-old, who won the show’s fourth season in 2012. “We were thick as thieves in that kitchen and I didn’t know whether I’d be able to give it my all.”

Eventually, Andy realised that returning to the series was exactly what Jock would have wanted him to do. “He loved MasterChef,” he tells. “He loved the mentor aspect.”

Andy says he’s glad he agreed to another season, even though there have been some “bloody tough times” on set.

“It’s amazing how grief hits you and when it decides to come rock you. There have been instances where I’ve been totally overwhelmed, but I’m so proud I said yes. Obviously, I wish Jock was still around to continue what we started, but I’m flying the flag for him. I’m proud that I can do that.”


Sofia will judge MasterChef Australia 2024

Being interviewed is tricky for self-described “culinary travel journalist” Sofia, who laughs, “I do this awful thing where I ask questions back. It’s in my bones. It’s bizarre having people so interested in me when I’m usually the one interested in everything else.”

Having written for countless publications and started the blog Seasoned Traveller, which encourages readers to “eat curiously”, the Melbourne writer wanted to communicate her passion for food to a larger audience when MasterChef came calling. “Be careful what you wish for,” she grins. “What came back was a call that is as big as it gets.”

Sofia goes on to describe her new role as a “wonderful, delicious, exciting dream come true”. She adds, “When you burst through the MasterChef doors, it’s what I imagine bungee jumping feels like. I’m giddy with excitement at the people who I get to stand beside. To start day one of work with Jamie Oliver was kind of a big deal.”


Jamie will return to MasterChef Australia 2024 as a guest judge

He’s become a key ingredient in the success of MasterChef Australia, but this season, the superstar chef, cookbook author and restaurateur breaks a new record for the show, making an epic two-week guest appearance

“Returning to MasterChef and spending time in Australia makes me very happy,” says the UK star, 48. “It’s the best food show in the world. I love seeing how the contestants constantly surprise themselves with what they can achieve.”

But coming back to MasterChef was bittersweet, adds Jamie.

“Jock left a huge hole and it was devastating for everyone. That made this year very important and very emotional. This was an important year to get right for Jock, for the show and the contestants. I wouldn’t want to get involved unless the show was being done right and I feel we have.”

Of the new panel of judges, the father-of-five says, “It required a lot of people to fill the hole Jock left and we’re all very different. We’re trying to cover all the bases, and make sure the judging
and mentoring panel can look after the contestants and competition.”

MasterChef Australia premieres 7pm Sunday 12 May on TVNZ 1.

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