As Andy Allen and his wife Alex celebrated their one year wedding anniversary in October 2023, Andy took to Instagram to post a picture of him and his best friend and MasterChef Australia co-host Jock Zonfrillo writing, “Knowing that you were there to see us tie the knot makes me happy and sad all in one.”
The Weekly had met with Andy and Alex earlier in the year when the loved-up duo were settling into married life and getting set for a new season of Masterchef, before Jock passed away suddenly on April 30, 2023. 46-year-old Jock left behind four children, his grieving wife, Lauren Fried, and a devastated community of fellow chefs, friends and fans who struggled to come to grips with the news.
These photos were taken and words penned long before tragedy hit. But Andy and Allen’s love story remains unchanged.
Andy Allen had never followed a recipe, let alone opened a cookbook, when he took his first steps onto the set of MasterChef.
The Newcastle tradie, who was just weeks away from finishing his electrical apprenticeship, only applied to join the show after a mate dared him $500 bucks to fill out the application, and much to his mum Maree’s chagrin, he wagged his final exam to attend the audition.
She accompanied him to the final round, still a little surprised and somewhat bemused that her sparky son was trying out for television, and of all things, a cooking show.
“It was so daunting,” Andy recalls. “Mum and I were on a bus getting ready to go to the filming and there was a couple behind us chatting about food. They were talking in big food language, phrases and terminology I’d never heard. I still to this day have no idea what they were talking about!” he laughs.
“Mum was eavesdropping and looked at me with raised eyebrows and was like, ‘Andy, what have you done? You’re going to embarrass yourself on national television!’ So that then became my driving goal, don’t embarrass yourself!”
To the contrary, not only did Andy land a coveted spot as a contestant on season four of the nation’s favourite cooking show, he became MasterChef‘s youngest ever winner, and in 2020, in a pinch-me, full circle moment, he returned to the show as a judge alongside luminaries Jock Zonfrillo and Melissa Leong.
Six restaurants, a TV series, a book and a beer label later, Andy is preparing for the 15th season of the MasterChef juggernaut to hit our screens. This series takes on special meaning for Andy who has the other woman in his life, his new wife, Alex, finally by his side.
The couple has juggled a long-distance relationship for three years with Andy, 35, filming in Melbourne and Alex, 32, based in Sydney, often separated for long periods due to the COVID lockdowns.
Now the newlyweds are together at last under one roof and have made the perfect first home in the heart of Melbourne’s gourmet coffee and food precinct, Carlton.
“I always knew Alex and I were going to be together forever and it’s so nice for us to be finally living in the same location, and to actually have a home we can come to that’s just ours,” says Andy.
“Neither of us thought anything would change after we married,” Alex adds, “but there’s definitely a deeper sense of being a family and building a life together.”
It’s probably not entirely surprising that finding the love of his life happened in much the same casual, almost accidental way that Andy began his career in television.
In 2012, Andy had just become a household name after winning MasterChef when he was introduced to Alex Davey at the New Year’s Eve party of a mutual friend.
Both had partners and Alex was oblivious to Andy’s new-found fame, but they hit it off and spent the night chatting before going their separate ways. In hindsight, they both agree there was a certain spark that evening, and they kept in touch casually through social media, but a disastrous attempt to catch up again almost extinguished the flame before it ignited.
“We both happened to be in Los Angeles at the same time so we thought we’d catch up for a drink, but I got food poisoning and had to cancel,” Alex explains.
“And I took her ‘food poisoning’ as an excuse for not wanting to see me,” Andy adds, “so I backed away.”
Incredibly, five years went by before fate would have them in the same place again and Andy took a chance on reconnecting. He was in Byron Bay working at his Three Blue Ducks restaurant when he got a last-minute call to do some filming on the Sunshine Coast the next morning.
He had to be on set by 7am, which meant it was too far to drive from Byron in the morning, so he started to think about which friends lived along the way whose couch he could crash on to break up the drive. Alex was living in Brisbane at the time.
“He wasn’t a complete stranger because we’d kept in contact, but it did catch me a little by surprise when he sent me a message asking if he could stay the night!” she laughs.
“I quickly organised a dinner with some mutual friends as a cushion really, just to break the ice and make sure it wasn’t awkward. My housemate said ‘do you need the house to yourself?’ and I was like, ‘No! I need you to stay!'”
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Andy swears his visit was totally random and not the least bit part of a cunning plan to woo Alex, but he ended up staying three nights and they’ve been together ever since.
“That first night we met all those years ago we really connected and we knew there was something there, but I had a girlfriend and she had a boyfriend, so that was that,” Andy says.
“It was weird that it happened again five years later, but it was meant to be. I asked Alex to come to the Byron Bay Blues festival with my whole family which was the real test,” he laughs.
“My family are pretty out there, I knew if she could cope with all of us we’d be okay.”
Family is at the heart of everything Andy and Alex do, and Alex says that Andy’s loyalty to those closest to him was one of the things that attracted her to him.
“What you see on TV is what you get, he’s the same person, very caring and he’d do anything for his family and friends,” she says.
Andy grew up in Maitland, near Newcastle, NSW, raised on a solid country diet of basketball, mates and the beach. His parents, Peter and Maree, were both teachers, and he affectionately jokes that Maree’s cooking inspired his interest in food.
“She can’t cook, she’s actually the worst cook I know and I can say that with great affection because she knows it too. Dad is the cook in our house and we had a very basic food life when I was growing up.
“He had about four dishes he’d make in bulk and we’d eat on rotation. His specialties were spaghetti bolognese and a green curry which he’d cook until the broccoli was grey,” he laughs.
“Mum did a lasagne which was actually pretty good, and Dad did a minestrone that I didn’t like at all when I was growing up, but in the depths of Melbourne winter I’ve actually missed.”
However, jokes about Maree’s cooking aside, deep among the close-knit family’s traditions was holidays spent at nearby Fingal Bay either out on the boat catching fresh fish, or spearfishing with his parents and sisters, Carly and Philippa.
Those cherished childhood memories became the inspiration for his first ever MasterChef dish, and although it didn’t quite work out the way Andy had hoped, it was the catalyst for something much bigger.
One of the first hurdles Andy faced as a contestant was a mystery box challenge, with the newcomers normally expected to plate up a mouth-watering dish from a bunch of unknown and random ingredients; but this time the box was empty.
“There was nothing except a mirror inside, so we opened the box and were staring back at ourselves,” says Andy, explaining that the idea was to cook ‘you on a plate’, a dish that gave a glimpse into the contestant’s background and personality.
“I thought seafood was the logical thing for me, so I chose scallops, but they were disgraceful! I cooked the bejesus out of them, they were truly terrible!
“I remember [the judge] Gary Mehigan tore strips off me, saying ‘Mate, if you’re going to cook like this, you’re not going to last the competition.’ I took it on board. I was very competitive with myself, and it spurred me on and I knew I had to work harder to win. I went home and read books, studied up and learned everything I could, I really took it seriously after that.”
Andy didn’t waste a moment after winning the series, he launched his own YouTube channel focused on Australian cooking. Soon after he was invited to join gourmet restaurant Three Blue Ducks as a chef. He then became a partner, helping to expand the business to five restaurants, including a 350-seat eatery at Melbourne’s Urbnsurf surf park.
And the latest addition to the culinary empire is Travla, a low-carb beer created with actor mate Travis Fimmel, who recently starred in the HBO series Raised by Wolves.
“I feel so lucky because there’s always something exciting and new happening, which is really rewarding. I never take MasterChef for granted because TV can be fickle and you never know what’s around the corner, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Today, Andy is the one who cooks when he’s home in Maitland, and he relishes the rare moments in his busy schedule – Andy is also a Saba Organics ambassador – when he can fire up a seafood barbecue for his family.
“Mum would still like me to finish my electrical apprenticeship, though, just in case it all falls over,” he laughs.
Six months after Andy crashed on Alex’s sofa, she moved to Sydney to be with him. It was an incredible leap of faith for the marketing manager who knew no-one in Sydney, while Andy was working long hours and late nights as he opened a new restaurant.
It proved a concrete test for the relationship, because he was soon on the move to Melbourne for MasterChef and the couple faced long periods apart.
On the eve of his departure, Andy surprised Alex with a romantic proposal and a stunning diamond solitaire ring. For months they juggled a long-distance relationship, but ironically COVID brought them together in a way Cupid and their work schedules couldn’t.
On a weekend visit to Melbourne, Alex got caught in a snap lockdown and never returned to Sydney. “We literally had dishes in the dishwasher in our Sydney apartment and clothes on the line,” Alex says. “We were lucky to have friends who got our passports and jewellery and helped keep an eye on things, but as time went on, it was clear we weren’t going back.
“It was a hectic time and friends would ask if I wanted to catch up and I’d be like, ‘I’m sorry, I live in Melbourne now!'”
Over wine at their favourite restaurant, with Melbourne’s autumn sunset at its golden best, Andy and Alex are still pinching themselves that their accidental events and chance encounters delivered such happiness, cemented at an intimate wedding at Terrara House near Shoalhaven in October 2022.
“When we were planning our wedding, Andy wanted the shortest ceremony possible so we could spend as much time as we could celebrating with family and friends. He actually said to the celebrant, ‘How short can we make the ceremony?’ and I had to say, ‘You know you can’t skip the I-do bit, that’s the whole reason we are there’,” she laughs.
“In hindsight, that was the best part for me,” Andy says. “The reception was great, but during the ceremony it felt like it was just the two of us, it was our moment. We’d waited a long time and I hardly noticed anyone else there, it was a really beautiful experience.”
Now settled under the one roof in Melbourne, Andy’s focus returns to welcoming a new bunch of contestants to the pressure-cooker environment of the MasterChef kitchen.
“I still feel like that same guy from 12 years ago. I can feel their fear and energy and nervousness on their first day and I say to them, ‘What you are and who you are today is nothing like how you will come out the other side.’
“It’s crazy how people find out what they really love on a TV show, and walk out a different person. It’s life-changing. You learn so much about yourself and when I look back I really appreciate what an incredible opportunity it was.”