Executive producer, MasterChef
Born in: Bashfield grew up in Tasmania
Home Town: Sydney
Margie Bashfield may mould the eating habits of millions of Australians in her role as the executive producer of MasterChef Australia, but she doesn’t like cooking.
She readily admits her food journey so far hasn’t resulted in a highly refined palate. "I've got really simple tastes," she tells The Power Index, as we chat in the plain conference room of the MasterChef offices in Sydney’s Alexandria. "You're not likely to see me eating truffle and foie gras."
But Bashfield knows how to make good telly. The show made its trio of judges -- chef and restaurateurs George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan, along with food critic Matt Preston -- famous, but it’s Bashfield who really calls the shots.
Adam Liaw, the season two winner (the first season with Bashfield in charge), sings her praises. "I think she's really talented, very intelligent, and driven to producing world-beating food television," Liaw tells The Power Index.
As EP, Bashfield is in charge of 150-170 staff, including food, art, editorial, production and editing teams. "My job is to try and facilitate the ability for them to do their jobs properly,” explains Bashfield. “Do I work out what colour knives we’re using? No. But sometimes I might."
Bashfield is the first to admit the MasterChef phenomena is bigger than any one person -- and even bigger than the show itself. "A lot of time you’ll be listening to the radio and they’ll be talking about nothing to do with the [show] but they’ll talk about ‘the MasterChef influence’," says Bashfield.
Nearly every chef, restaurant critic and member of the food industry The Power Index interviewed noted the impact of MasterChef on the way the Australians talk about and view food. When asked why our bookstores are over-saturated with cookbooks, iconic Penguin cookbook publisher Julie Gibbs replies: "We can happily blame MasterChef".
Parents and teachers talk of children playing MasterChef at lunchtime and practising 'plating up'. "The most positive thing that has come out of MasterChef is the influence the show has had on children," says chef Kylie Kwong. Or, as Bashfield likes to call her, a member of "the MasterChef family".
At least you know the catering would be good at that family reunion, with Bashfield reeling off Maggie Beer, Peter Gilmore, Neil Perry, Christine Manfield, Jacques Reymond, Shannon Bennett, Justin North, Guillaume Brahimi and Adriano Zumbo as other Australian chefs who have an ongoing relationship with the show.
But if Bashfield isn’t a foodie, who’s the one prompting increased sales of Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise and croquembouches?
It’s a collaborative effort. The food team and producers sit around the very same table The Power Index is perched at, brainstorming ideas on a white board: "Some that are dogs, some that are good", laughs Bashfield.
The judges then help refine them. "They'll go 'why don’t we get some heirloom carrots?'… or 'forget that bit, go with this bit'," explains Bashfield. The judges and food team examine practical issues like cooking time and how far participants can be pushed.
Sometimes planned challenges can get shelved at a moment’s notice. "You'll get a phone call saying 'guess who is in town?' and you'll go 'great' and you change everything to make it work so you can get to that person," says Bashfield.
An impressive list of international chef superstars -- think Jamie Oliver, Massimo Bottura, Heston Blumenthal and Rene Redzepi -- have laid down challenges for the MasterChef contestants. And it’s the personal connections of Preston, Calombaris and Mehigan that have brought the majority of big names on the show, rather than the production team.
But the encyclopaedic food knowledge of the team is also critical. "My co-EP David McDonald is a huge foodie and he does a hell of a lot of cooking," explains Bashfield. "So he … and the food team can talk about [the cooking] and I can think about 'well, how's that going to look on television. Is it going to work? Is it going to be engaging? Will our audience enjoy it?'"
The Power Index spoke to Bashfield the day before the filming of the season finale. Days earlier the filming of MasterChef Allstars wrapped up, meaning she’s produced 88 episodes of television this year. One week of television takes between a week and a half to two weeks to film. It then takes four weeks to edit one hour of TV. "You don’t go into this [job] unless you're expecting to work seven days a week," says Bashfield.
After a decade working as a current affairs producer at Channel Nine, Bashfield turned her skills to television entertainment. She began as a production associate -- "the lowest of low positions" -- on Carols by Candlelight before working her way up to be EP. After that she worked on the Logies, Big Brother, Micallef Tonight and launched The 7PM Project before being headhunted for the MasterChef top job after its first season.
With her glasses, shoulder length chestnut brown hair and warm laugh, the Sydneysider resembles a suburban mum. And she mothers the contestants, noting that contestant welfare is one of the key aspects of her job and calling elimination days "the worst day of the cycle".
One aspect of MasterChef that gets regularly mocked is the constant waterworks. Bashfield nods when we bring it up, replying: "We're viewers as well and you go 'oh god, not another one crying'." But she says it’s no surprise that contestants get a little teary. "They've resigned from their jobs, they’ve put their families, girlfriends, that sort of stuff on hold to take this opportunity and it means a hell of a lot of them."
Television is a fickle business and this year’s MasterChef ratings didn’t hit the heights of previous seasons, but thanks to a strong core audience it seems the oven timer hasn’t beeped on the show yet. "We have an expectation that the show is going to be around for a hell of a long time," says Bashfield.
She names Attica chef Ben Shewry -- ranked number ten in the food power list -- as a chef they’d "love to have" on the show and says she’s still trying to figure out how to incorporate a challenge involving a slow cooker in to next season’s show.
The MasterChef kitchen journey in Sydney ends here after it was announced this week that production will move to the Melbourne Showgrounds after the Alexandria site was sold. It means Bashfield and the judges can return to their homes in the food capital. So what's next for the show? We’ll tell you right after the ad break…