The upcoming sixteenth season of MasterChef Australia has started filming after some major cast changes.
Following the death of Jock Zonfrillo and the exit of Melissa Leong, the new series will see three new judges – series alum Poh Ling Yeow, Michelin-star chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and food critic Sofia Levin – join returning host Andy Allen.
Photos of the contestants on set in Melbourne surfaced this week.
A number of hopefuls were seen entering and leaving the warehouse where the competition is filmed.
Some donned official MasterChef aprons, while others wore their normal clothes.
Leong, who starred as a judge in the reality hit for four years, maintains she left the program ‘on her own terms’.
She meanwhile remains part of the 10 family and will be presenting Dessert Masters, a MasterChef spin-off series, alongside Swiss-French pastry prodigy Amaury Guichon.
Zonfrillo’s widow Lauren Fried previously took to Instagram to say her late husband would be ‘very happy’ with the new line-up of MasterChef Australia.
Her remark has sparked speculation that Jock, who died on April 30 of natural causes at the age of 46, did not get along with Leong behind the scenes.
In a lengthy post, Fried gushed about Allen returning to the franchise and congratulated Ling Yeow and Novelli on their new roles, but in a somewhat telling move failed to mention Leong’s departure or her four years on the show.
The announcement for the new line-up followed rumours of tension between the judges.
Eyebrows were raised when Leong failed to take part in The Sunday Project’s moving tribute to Zonfrillo a week after his death.
Allen and renowned chefs Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Curtis Stone all shared their memories in the heartbreaking special.
Conspicuously missing was Leong, who did not appear in the program.
‘There was a very emotional tribute from Andy on The Project and it was surprising Melissa wasn’t there sitting beside him,’ an insider tells Daily Mail Australia.
‘You would have thought they would have taken on the media together. Especially since the company line was that they were all best friends.
‘It was pretty strange that Melissa went to ground during this time and yet pretty smart to keep her decision to leave the program until now.’
A few months after The Project special, Leong explained that the grieving process is a quiet one for her, after she was criticised for not taking part in a special tribute to late co-star.
‘We all deal with loss differently, and we need to honour that,’ she wrote in a column for Stellar magazine.
‘Some people need to talk in order to process emotions, while other take more time to find the words, if they can at all,’ she continued.
‘Some people need to be with people, while others need time alone to stare at a wall, clean incessantly or sleep.’
Zonfrillo died on April 30 of natural causes at the age of 46.
He joined MasterChef as a guest chef for season 10 in 2018, and become full time in 2020.
For the show’s upcoming season, celebrity chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver will join the cast as a guest judge for a handful of episodes.
Food critic Sofia Levin and restauranteur Jean-Christophe Novell will also be judges.
Meanwhile, TV Tonight reports that Oliver’s two week stint on the coming season will be the longest appearance by any guest judge in the show’s 14-year history.
Oliver first appeared as a guest judge on MasterChef during season four in 2012.
It was previously rumoured that he would replace Jock Zonfrillo as a permanent judge for the show in a $2million deal.