The MasterChef contestants take their table tennis very seriously.
The MasterChef contestants take their table tennis very seriously. Seanna Cronin

TV Insider: My visit to the MasterChef mansion

MAKING it on to a reality show like MasterChef is a dream come true for many contestants.

But it also means months away from family and friends while living in one big share house with a group of strangers who, over time, become mates.

On a leafy, well-to-do street in Melbourne's east, the MasterChef house looks like any other.

It's big, of course, to accommodate 24 contestants plus a live-in producer and more people who come and go, but otherwise there are no external clues for passers-by.

The mini-mansion is more than just a place to sleep. It must provide the cooks with entertainment during their downtime at the weekends.

The six-car garage houses a gym, ping-pong table, adjacent cinema room and six fridges to store the incredible amount of food delivered each week.

There's only one kitchen, although it has two ovens, so the contestants have a cooking roster scheduled in two-hour shifts so everyone gets time to practise.

Visiting on Australia Day, a day off for the contestants, they are happy to have someone new to talk to.

They've made us sausage rolls and lamingtons with mango and raspberry purees, and of course the food is delicious and way better than what I make at home.

This year there was a special request for a fish tank and we are proudly introduced to Yuzu, Parfait and Crumb - all named after words 'banned' from the MasterChef kitchen.

The contestants describe living here as a 'time warp'.

The normal pace of work and family life is replaced with long days of filming - most start at 4.30am - and lots of study and practice.

There are cookbooks everywhere, some supplied and some brought in by the residents. Tamara alone hauled 30kg of cookbooks with her from Western Australia.

The meals are communal, eaten either at the big 24-seater dining table or outside in the courtyard if the fickle Melbourne weather co-operates.

It's a restrictive environment in some ways - the contestants can't just leave whenever they want, although they do go out for dinner or lunch at weekends.

It's no Big Brother but it's easy to imagine going stir crazy after a few months.

They're spoiled, at least, with a wealth of fresh produce and a fully-stocked pantry. This is school camp for foodies.

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