It takes an awesome combination of guts, culinary skill, and creativity to be a contestant on the reality culinary show MasterChef Asia, which pits 15 home cooks from eight different countries in Asia against each other in showdown after showdown. Airing on Lifetime, it marks the first time that the world’s most popular culinary competition on TV brings together contestants from different countries, thus bringing the series to a whole new level.
Three accomplished culinary geniuses—Chef Susur Lee, Audra Morrice, and Chef Bruno Ménard—have been chosen to serve as judge-mentors of the budding chef-contestants from China, Taiwan, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. They serve a unique purpose in the show; they’re not screaming at contestants and reducing them to tears, but mentoring them and suggesting better ways to do things so that they reach their full potential in the world of culinary arts.
Like the contestants on the show, Lee, Morrice, and Ménard are of different racial and cultural backgrounds. Lee was born in Hong Kong, has lived in Singapore, and is a Canadian immigrant. Morrice is of Chinese-Indian descent, was born in Singapore, and lives and works in Australia. Ménard is French but has lived and built his culinary career in Asia for over 20 years.
All three judges were recently in Manila for a visit as part of the MasterChef Asia promotional tour for the show. Along with the three Filipino contestants—Jake Aycardo, a banking analyst; Lica Ibarra, a mother, financial sales officer, and national athlete in football and ultimate Frisbee; and Rico Amancio, a paralegal—they faced media over lunch at Urbn Kitchen, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
Chef Susur Lee is a celebrated chef based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Known as the Father of Fusion Cuisine, he owns four restaurants in Canada and two in Singapore. The youngest of six children, he was born in Hong Kong in 1958. He admits that his mother, now 91, was a terrible cook, and because of this, his father took him to different restaurants even when he was a child. He loves his mom dearly, though, and visits her regularly despite his hectic schedule.
A talented cook and mother and touted to be the “Martha Stewart of Asia,” Australia-based Audra Morrice is best known as one of the finalists in MasterChef Australia back in 2012. Although she did not bring home the title, she was a favorite from the beginning and produced some of the most impressive dishes in the competition. The show jump-started her on an incredible culinary journey far beyond her wildest dreams.
Chef Bruno Ménard is the only three-Michelin-star chef permanently based in Asia. He earned his three-Michelin stars for L’Osier restaurant in Tokyo, Japan. Since the Michelin Guide began to rate restaurants in Tokyo in 2007, L’Osier has received three stars, which is the top rating, every year. Ménard’s secret weapon was neoclassic French cuisine with a hint of Japanese.
Read more about the three MasterChef Asia judges inside Asian Dragon Magazine’s November-December 2015 issue. Grab your copy from all leading bookstores nationwide or purchase the issue from the Asian Dragon Magazine App, free to download on Google Play Store, iTunes, and Amazon.
[Photographs: Rafael Zulueta]