MasterChef judge Andy Allen discusses beans, beer and befriending Melbourne’s coffee scene

Andy Allen

Former MasterChef Australian winner turned judge, Andy Allen, talks to BeanScene about beans, beer and why he has a new appreciation of Melbourne’s coffee culture.

Andy Allen will give anything a go: work as an electrician, head chef in a commercial kitchen, the hottest chillies on the planet, even growing his own coffee.

“I did actually have a coffee tree growing in my garden in Rosebery [in Sydney]. I was surprised it fruited to be honest,” Andy tells BeanScene. “I picked the cherries, dried them on an astro-tray outside and roasted it in the Kombi, so it’s little wonder it didn’t taste great, but I now have such an appreciation for coffee farmers and growers because what looked like a mammoth amount of beans that I harvested, turned out to be the equivalent of a cup’s worth.”

Growing up in Maitland, New South Wales, a place not renowned for its coffee at the time, Andy says it wasn’t until his early 20s that he first began to experiment.

“It started out as a big, weak mug of coffee. I didn’t know if I liked it. Then you get into the hospitality industry – especially having cafés and restaurants – and you basically live off coffee. I went from drinking lattes to piccolos and now I’m on the long blacks,” he says. “Apart from an espresso, which I do have every now and then, to me a long black is the purist that coffee can taste.”

Andy has an acidic palate and likes his coffee in a similar same way. He limits his daily intact from one to three cups maximum and has a strict ‘no coffee after midday’ rule.

After living in Sydney for the past 10 years, Andy and his wife Alex moved to Melbourne full-time about 18 months ago. He says the experience has taken his coffee appreciation to new level.

“I knew Melbourne’s coffee scene was good, but you don’t realise how good it is until you’re actually here. There’s hardly a place where you get a bad coffee,” Andy says. “Melbournians are particular about things in such a good way, so when it comes to standards of coffee, I think they just caught onto it early and it’s made everyone lift their game.”

Andy enjoys frequenting Tanaka Coffee and Fenton Food & Wine, both in Carlton. If he’s in the mood for a cheddar and jalapeño croissant he’ll stop by Falco Bakery in Collingwood, or coffee with anchovy toast at Napier Quarter in Fitzroy.

At home, Andy has become fond of the La Marzocco Linea Mini that he rehomed during the MasterChef Australia offseason, of which he judges alongside Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfillo.

“When we’re not filming, everything gets put into storage and I happened to ask, ‘what are we doing with our coffee machine?’ So, I took the Mini home and set it up. I’ve had a good run over the last six months. I’m devasted to say I had to take it back last week because we start filming tomorrow. I’m looking over at the kitchen bench now and it looks so bare,” Andy says.

“[La Marzocco’s] machines are visually stunning. They make an epic brew. They tick so many boxes, and it’s actually really easy to use… It looks like I’ll be buying myself a new machine now. I’m just in the process of deciding what colour I want.”

On the MasterChef set, Andy is weary to avoid Jock’s famous Devil Lick coffee concoction: 10 espresso shots, half a teaspoon of sugar, and a lick of milk – a lethal combination.

“Jock has a reputation for making the strongest caffeinated coffees on set. The first time I tried it I was super tired. I didn’t know what it was, and it put me in a psychotic, caffeinated state. My anxiety went up and I had an extreme level of shaking. Never again,” he says.

A better balance, however, is Single O’s Killerbee blend, used at the Three Blue Ducks, of which Andy is a co-owner of the restaurant group. “To me, it’s just a perfect blend,” he says. “Our relationship with Single O has blossomed. I’m the biggest fan of Dion [Cohen] and the guys from Single O. I love what they do. They’ve always looked after us at the Ducks. Dion is part of the family now.”

Family has always been the foundation for Andy’s love of food and cooking. At 16 years of age, he recalls camping and spending time at the family holiday house in Kingswood Bay where he would go fishing with his dad, catch some food, then became increasingly curious about “the next step” in the process.

“It was great bonding time and then I’d come home to my mum and two sisters and [cook for them]. Now, I come home after a long day filming or a long day in the kitchen, and I still cook dinner for Alex most nights. I just love how food brings people together. It’s still the reason I cook today,” Andy says.

It wasn’t until Andy went on season four of MasterChef as a contestant, however, that he discovered the endless possibilities of food and hospitality.

“I had my ‘wow moment’ during the first team challenge on MasterChef. I pulled the pink team captain apron out of the bag, and thought it was going to be a disaster. But coming from a background of sport and captaining sports teams, I took so many pieces out of that puzzle and applied it to the task at hand. I really love leading and collaborating and getting the right result, which is why I’ve gone in the restaurant industry,” he says.

Andy was 24 years old when he won his season of MasterChef in 2012. He went on to work part-time at Sydney’s Three Blue Ducks café and opened Three Blue Ducks’ Rosebury restaurant as Head Chef in 2016. The brand now operates across five locations, including Melbourne and Brisbane.

“If it wasn’t for MasterChef I wouldn’t have the Ducks, and if it wasn’t for the Ducks I wouldn’t have this role [on MasterChef], so I always respect that and try to put as much into my time at the restaurant as I can,” Andy says.

“I still love cooking. I love the pressure side of it, and the guys get so much out of it – the chefs, the front of house, it really does galvanise the team. I try to bring good energy every time I’m there.”

That energy also translates to the TV screen, where Andy has appeared as a MasterChef judge since the show’s 12th season in 2020.

“Doing MasterChef ‘Back to Win’ was the best thing to happen to me because all my friends in the MasterChef bubble came back. Having [chef] Gordon Ramsay introduce me as one of the judges was mind-blowing, but then I went through the process of judging my peers, giving them honest feedback, and having them respect that feedback, was what I needed,” Andy says. “I was particularly nervous because although I’d done a lot in the industry and worked really hard, I was still the most inexperienced person there. I knew that people on the other side of the table had as much if not more experience than me. I just had to stick to my guns and be really confident with what I knew about food.”

Four years later and Andy is right at home on the judging panel. He says season 15 will feature 18 amateur cooks, a shorter format and one “extremely epic guest” in the first episode alone.

“I’m really lucky that Jock, Melissa and myself put so much time and energy into these guys. We want to create another me, Poh [Ling Yeow], Callum [Hann], the list is endless. Coming in as an amateur, we just love the food and then seeing people go out into the industry – that’s always been the best thing about MasterChef,” he says.

When it comes to lagers however, Andy is no amateur. Together with actor Travis Fimmel and the support of the Three Blue Ducks, Andy has launched Travla, a new low carbohydrate, low calorie lager with the intention to “buck the localisation trend” and create a beer for Australia.

“Since Foster’s, no-one’s really taken on a beer for the whole country. It’s a massive ambition but we decided to have a crack at it. We love our country, and we love beer so we created Travla,” Andy says. “It’s about getting out and seeing the country and exploring it for yourself.”

And that’s exactly what Andy plans to do this summer.

“October was hectic. I got married. I went on a dream honeymoon. I launched a beer. The Ducks are going mental, and now we start filming MasterChef. There’s a lot going on, so summer will be about spending time with family, drinking lots of coffee, enjoying some Travlas, and having a really good time.”

Andy’s expanding flock

In 2018, the Three Blue Ducks’ Rosebery restaurant was awarded an Australian Good Food Guide “chef’s hat”, making its Head Chef, Andy Allen, the first MasterChef Australia contestant to be awarded the honour. Andy has also presented television shows including Andy And Ben Eat Australia, Andy And Ben Eat The World, Farm To Fork and Three Blue Ducks.

This article appears in the December 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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