MASTERCHEF has lured one of the world's best chefs to join its ranks this season, with food lovers' favourite Yotam Ottolenghi due to fly into Australia for filming this week.
The former journalist, turned restauranter and author of best-selling food bibles including Jerusalem and Plenty will take the place of Marco Pierre White, who defected to Seven, where he will host a local version of Gordon Ramsay's franchise Hell's Kitchen.
While White found new fandom thanks to MasterChef - selling himself as a repentant hothead, who'd put his wicked ways in the kitchen behind him - he will now have to fire up his temper again if he's to match Ramsay's trademark aggression; critical to that show's combative style.
By contrast, Israeli-born Ottolenghi has long been hailed as a humble hero and worshiped by epicureans everywhere, including MasterChef's judging trio of George Calombaris, Gary Mehigan and Matt Preston, who admits he turned into a "total fan boy" the first time he met the 48-year-old seven years ago.
"I went up as a real total fan boy and said, 'hi Mr Ottolenghi, can I have a photo please?' and he went, 'oh, you're on MasterChef...we love that show."
Preston said producers have been trying to tempt the London-based restauranter to join the program ever since.
In a statement, Ottolenghi told TV Insider he was "thrilled to be joining MasterChef for their incredible ninth season. I know how important it is to the contestants who up their lives to join [the show] and I'm really looking forward to working with them to expand their culinary experience."
He added: "I also have the added bonus of returning to Australia, which I love, and experiencing more of the wonderful food on offer."
Preston predicts Ottolenghi's warmth will make him a viewer favourite and connect with contestants.
"He was a philosophy student who moved into journalism then decided he wanted to bake. The resonance of his journey with our contestants is so obvious...you can do it."
His Middle Eastern flavours already influence local cuisine, while his latest cookery tome celebrating vegetables is "absolutely bang on in terms of trends," Preston said.
As for their old mate, Marco, he said: "we run our own race and focus on making our show the best it can be. We're all very happy that Marco's got himself a great gig and we wish him all the best with his new endeavour. There is no doubt there are so many brilliant cooks out there and it's fantastic to bring some of these guys to Australia."
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