Secret spice in MasterChef judge’s bromance
THERE was a moment just before Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan went away on the ultimate boys trip last year, that Mehigan wondered if they'd make it through the 16 days alive.
"We've worked together for 10 years now," he tells News Corp Australia, "but I thought are we going to enjoy each other's non-stop company, living in each other's pockets, for the time we're away?"
He need not have worried, with the bucket list gourmet tour to Barcelona, Naples, Cophenhagen, Chicago and Lima like the honeymoon of dreams for TV's most famous bromance.
Just before season 11 began filming - with auditions banked last October - the trio's tour de force was as much about "recharging our batteries" after a decade of MasterChef success, as it was reaffirming their bond.
"You need to go away to remind yourself you do still love each other and god willing," Preston says, "you're happy to spend time with each other. If you're in a long-term relationship, there's that dreadful moment after 10 years of marriage and you go away just with your partner and you have that moment where you think, 'when we sit down for dinner on the second night, will we still have stuff to talk about?' And the answer for us was yes. I mean, the moment we were in the cars on the way to the airport, we were overexcited."
What lay ahead was the stuff of foodie heaven, and a rare moment for the judges to treat themselves and feast without a camera crew watching their every bite.
The three met in Spain to eat at Barcelona's acclaimed, Disfrutar; then jetted to Italy for a day eating pizza; before catching up with MasterChef guest judge, Rene Redzepi in Copenhagen at his famed restaurant, Noma and another Michelin-star favourite, Geranium.
They hit their first hurdle en route to Chicago, as Mehigan explains.
"George and I lost Matt on the way. He just went storming off to get his lost property, he had to get his laptop … for journalists, that's life and death. But he just got the terminal wrong, he got everything wrong and when we settled ourselves in on the plane, we thought, 'I
don't think he's going to make it' and sure enough, he missed it. So George and I were on a hot date on the first night in Chicago. We went to The Publican, which was a recommendation Curtis Stone gave us; and we went to Roister, Grant Achatz's fun bistro. [Matt] missed out on the best fried chicken with whiskey butter … it was so good," Mehigan coos.
My Kitchen Rules judge Manu Feildel had previously told News Corp he envied the MasterChef trip - which chuffed Preston, he says.
"We loved your interview with Manu, where he said he really wanted to come. We love Manu. I could easily imagine Colin and Manu coming away with us, they'd fit in absolutely perfect. Pete might be a bit too virtuous. Having been to George's wedding with
Manu, we had a great night eating souvlaki in the Old Town together."
For Calombaris, that wedding made the trip away with the boys even more incredible - considering it was technically his honeymoon, after marrying his partner of 11 years, Natalie Tricarico in Greece before jetting off with his MasterChef mates.
"I spent my 40th birthday with the boys in Barcelona, then went on my honeymoon with them."
His milestone birthday was spent at Cella Con Roca, but wasn't the boys gone wild adventure he was expecting.
"It's a bucket list restaurant we all wanted to eat at with a couple of other chef friends of mine from Greece, who flew over as well. We had a lovely dinner and that was it … no antics," he laughs.
"[Growing up] is rubbish, isn't it?"
He admits throwing his toys out of the pram only once on the trip.
"When they tried to get me on an architectural tour of Chicago, I told them to leave me alone and went and sat in my from and watched [NFL] football all afternoon," he explains.
"I do need those moments where I go and lock myself in my room and watch telly and just zone out."
Calombaris has relied on his co-stars to get through the ups and downs of celebrity, but says he's made peace with his fame and all that it involves.
"The reality is Aussies own us and that's okay," the Gazi, Hellenic and Press Club restauranter says.
"Maybe in the beginning I found that really difficult and probably couldn't deal with it. But you learn really quickly just to throw yourself into it and understand [fans] take time out of their lives to be part of this thing called MasterChef. It's not just about how the three of us perform at the top of the room, it's about our contestants, it is the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes and the consumers, the people who watch the show. Without them, we are nothing."
MasterChef Australia, 7.30pm, from Monday April 29, Ten