How MasterChef Inspired a (Not So) Complete Makeover

Our style columnist Christopher Riley reflects on the lessons dished out by the trio of judges.

Article by Christopher Riley

"To lean into the MasterChef analogy, I have got past the tantalising starter and am now a few satisfying mouthfuls deep into my meaty entree," writes Riley. Photography by Sebastian Coman Photography.

Following a few clumsy hits of the snooze button, I recently dragged myself out of bed and began to commence my day. First things first: coffee. Like most Aussies, I prefer a barista-made cup of caffeine more than I like the thought of saving for a mortgage, so I throw on an old fleece and make my morning pilgrimage to the cafe. As I walk the 200 metres or so up the road, the sun begins to announce itself across Sydney. So far so good. However, things take a dramatic turn when I arrive at said cafe. Brace yourselves, readers. The place is boarded up.

Now, I can make my peace with the mounting restrictions sweeping across Sydney, but to do so sans caffeine is a different prospect altogether. With my morning zen now firmly a thing of the past, I approach the window where I would normally place my order. A notice tells me the cafe is undergoing renovation and can I please use the side entrance. Phew.

Having ordered my oat cap and calmed myself down, I realise the canny decision by the cafe owners to use this lockdown period to undergo a renovation. What if I was to do the same, I think? Not renovate a cafe, of course, but use this in-between time to work on aspects of myself that could do with a lick of paint or two. Noticing the rip on the sweatpants, the same ones I slept in last night, I realise this is probably not the worst idea.

Decision made, I return home, caffeinated and inspired to commence Chris 2.0. Now what?  I need inspiration to kickstart the process. A muse, if you will. This is, as it turns out, not as easy as it sounds, because, while my recent decision to give up Instagram has paid dividends on my attention span and ability to focus, its absence has somewhat limited my cultural reference points. In its stead, I have become unapologetically obsessed with MasterChef. (Judge all you want, it’s good TV and you know it.) With Andy, Jock and Mel as my inspiration, I begin my transformation process.

Melissa Leong, wearing Leo & Lin Ruffle, with fellow Masterchef judges, Andy Allen and Jock Zonfrillo. Photography courtesy Channel 10.

The first thing that jumps out at me is one of the show’s recurring adverts: a service that purports to regrow your hair. Now, for a few years, my hairline and I have not been seeing eye to eye. (It’s OK, we’ve agreed to see other people.) So maybe this is it? Should I throw caution to the wind and dive head first into hair loss treatment, returning from lockdown with some luscious locks tied up neatly in a man bun? Now that would be a statement! Hmm. Too much effort and money to reverse a train that seems very intent on reaching its destination. Next.

While all three hosts represent a monumental improvement on the previous lot, I have always been amused by Jock’s fondness for shouting as loud as he possibly can every chance he gets, like he’s some fruit seller at a market. But as jarring as it can be, his booming voice and gaelic drawl are part of Jock’s brand. Maybe I should do the same? Being that I hail from south east London, perhaps a not-so-subtle Cockney twang could be part of my brand? None of my English mates are here, I think, so no one will know. It’s the perfect crime! Yeah, for a character out of a Peaky Blinders, I tell myself. Next.

I figure my complexion is not quite suited to a bold red lipstick, so I move past Mel and land on Andy. Now, we’re talking. Because, where Jock has his three-piece suits and Mel her knockout dresses and unsmudgeable lipsticks, Andy has been showcasing an increasingly impressive, and extensive, wardrobe. Clever pairings of streetwear elements with more elegant tailoring moments announce a sense of style that’s as sophisticated as it is cool. It’s the subtle simplicity that does it. The bold pops of colour in his sneakers when wearing muted tones elsewhere; the statement jacket on top of a crisply ironed white T-shirt. Reaching for ways to best describe Andy’s sense of style, I land on a term I thought I’d never embrace: age appropriate.

Because while I would normally seek more enthusiastic descriptors… perhaps I have been missing the mark. Like me, Andy is in his early thirties and so entering a period in life that’s more about being oneself than finding oneself. His clothes don’t scream for attention, they’re effortless in their appeal. This is when it hits me. Maybe the lesson I’m being taught here is that I don’t need to change much after all. Perhaps the place in which I currently find myself, is exactly where I need to be?

The debauchery and experimentation of my 20s is firmly behind me and that’s more than OK with me. To lean into the MasterChef analogy, I have got past the tantalising starter and am now a few satisfying mouthfuls deep into my meaty entree. Sure, I may have taken a few glances around the table to see some creations that briefly diverted my attention, but all in all, I’m happy with where I’m at.

With that thought, I down the rest of my cappuccino and ditch any transformation fantasy as quickly as I picked it up. Because, we are at our best when we are our true authentic versions of ourselves. Or as the MasterChef judges have taught me, the best dishes are the ones cooked from the heart.