By: Vivienne Pearson
The filming was surprisingly low-key for a TV show. Just two hand-held cameras, a couple of radio-microphones, and a host cooking up a storm.
The host was Andy Allen, 28, winner of MasterChef 2012, and now co-owner/chef of the Sydney version of Three Blue Ducks. The show is Andy & Ben Eat Australia, a 17-part series that will take the MasterChef friends on a cooking trip through most of Australia (except for WA and NT, which will have to wait for the possibility of a follow-up series for their turn).
Of the duo, only Andy was here this week for the filming of a Byron-region episode. Andy and the film crew dug potatoes at a hinterland farm, visited Milk and Honey in Mullum, and cooked at both the Three Blue Ducks and the New Brighton Farmers Market.
For those unfamiliar with Andy Allen’s story, before 2012 he was a nearly qualified electrician who liked cooking for family and friends. He entered MasterChef as a bet proposed by his best mate. Andy won the $500 bet and found himself a new career.
Andy attributes his success to being an ‘open book’ about food. ‘With no traditions passed down from my family to follow, I like to explore each and every cuisine,’ he says in a charmingly disarming website video. Over lunch at the Three Blue Ducks, Andy said, ‘When I was a kid, Dad would cook the same chicken curry for three weeks straight. Dad has broadened his horizons a bit since then but Mum still can’t boil water.’
Andy loves the Byron region, having worked for two months at Byron’s Three Blue Ducks when it first opened and ‘being in and out of the kitchen’ since then. He has relished having a day or two off camera during this visit.
When filming is on, Andy works hard. He and the crew arrived at the farmers market before 7am and, by the time I arrived, filming for the intro scene was done. The producer and camera guys enjoyed exploring the market and catching up with local friends while Andy cooked for customers alongside Rob Constanzo from The Nomadic Kitchen. ‘I’ve hardly got time to smile for a photo,’ Andy laughed. The crew returned to film Andy cooking one of the many omelettes he’s produced, then retired to the shade while Andy continued cooking.
Compared with filming overseas for an earlier series (Andy & Ben Eat the World, which was planned as a web series before being picked up by Channel 10), they are finding Australia a breeze. Their filming setup is deliberately low key and I suspect most market-goers don’t realise it’s happening. ‘It’s easy,’ says Andy. ‘We just pack the car and off we go. We plan some stops and fill in the gaps with what we find along the way.’
So will Andy’s love of the region translate into his transferring to the Byron Three Blue Ducks? ‘No chance at the moment,’ says Andy, before adding, with a certain wistfulness: ‘Maybe in 20 years’ time’.
Andy & Ben Eat Australia will be shown on SBS Food Network and Qantas inflight entertainment from February 2017.
Andy enjoys a lunch he didn’t have to cook at Three Blue Ducks at The Farm