WITH millions of viewers tuning in to the past three series, MasterChef has solidified itself as a mainstay in Australian primetime TV.
There have been spin-offs, both within the MasterChef brand with MasterChef Jr and Celebrity MasterChef, and through the on-going success of past winners and finalists including Julie Goodwin, Poh Ling Yeow and Justine Schofield.
The fourth series of the reality cooking show starts on Sunday with the new judges' auditions in Melbourne, from which the Top 50, and ultimately the Top 24, will be chosen.
George Calombaris, who returns alongside fellow judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and regular guest judge Matt Moran, said he was looking for passionate cooks, not reality TV hopefuls.
"I want the honesty. I don't want sportsman-like answers because they know they're on TV," he said.
"Not all of them want to be chefs. Some want a van to go around to schools to teach kids how to cook; some want to open up a little shop and make artisan sausages.
"I love that they've come in and thought about what they want to do, not I just want to be on TV.
"I want people who are going to do something with this, like the Pohs, the Julias, the Alvins."
Calombaris said the new series was "refreshed and revitalised".
"We've looked at what we've done good and bad and taken that into consideration," he said.
"We're questioning everything that we do, you know, how can we make it better? Can we change that? We want Australia to fall in love with MasterChef again, like they do every year."
The day I visit the MasterChef set, the contestants are hard at work at their benches during an invention test.
Looming over them is the MasterChef clock, but the trademark black-and-white timepiece seems less imposing in real life than it does on TV.
But, of course, I'm not the one cooking.
The mouth-watering smells that keep wafting up to the balcony make me want to run downstairs and devour something, but we can only watch and salivate - the privilege of tasting is left to the judges' discerning tastebuds.
After the challenge is finished and the clean-up begins, we get a quick tour of the set.
The new and improved pantry is foodie heaven with shelves packed full of perfectly arranged vegies, fruit, meat and spices. I can't help but run my fingers along the crystal curtain which separates the cooking area from the judging area, where the results of the invention test are arranged on a table ready for tasting.
Calombaris said it was important that the various challenges and cook-offs pushed the contestants beyond their comfort zones but, at the same time, didn't set them up to fail.
"There's not going to be a twist where it's like we make it that hard that they just can't do it. It's realistic," he said.
"We want them to succeed, but they have to go through a bit of bitter to get to the sweet, a bit of pain for pleasure."
Calombaris is tight-lipped about this year's celebrity chef visits, but it has been reported that Britain's Jamie Oliver visited the MasterChef set during his visit Down Under.
"The guy's a culinary legend and he wants to be on MasterChef," he said.
"Even as an Aussie that's a nice thing that this person wants to be a part of our show."
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