• Andy and Ben Eat Australia premieres Wednesday 15 February, 9:30pm, on Food Network. (Andy and Ben Eat Australia, Food Network)
Larissa Dubecki spends a day on set with Andy and Ben and discovers that this might be the most real food TV series yet.
Larissa Dubecki

14 Feb 2017 - 5:51 PM  UPDATED 15 Feb 2017 - 12:01 PM

It’s noon at the Queen Victoria Market, mid-way through Andy Allen and Ben Milbourne’s month-long eating epic across Australia, and the crowd lining up at the American Doughnut Kitchen is about to get a taste of food TV, 2017 style.

The first-names-only pair is ambling through the late-November throngs like any couple of young guys with a mutual love of food and denim - except for the two cameramen weaving backwards in front of them, trying not to bump into shoppers as they capture the duo taking their place in the queue and insisting the young woman behind the counter takes their money as she waves it politely away.

A taste of the debut season of Andy and Ben Eat Australia - the successor to 2015’s Andy and Ben Eat the World - it’s cinema verite gone foodie: a likeable warts-and-all, blooper-friendly antidote to the high-gloss productions that scramble for screen time.

The food genre is too polished and we're trying to show the looseness.

Key word? Likeability. It’s the new X-factor, and it means Andy and Ben have won the game in straight sets thanks to a couple of telegenic faces, wide grins, an easy-going manner and relatable ethos (Milbourne’s motto: “Cook like you don’t have to clean”).

Conveniently perched on the demographic cusp of Gen X and Y - they’re aged 28 and 34 respectively - Allen and Milbourne’s lives were changed in classic clichéd MasterChef style when Allen won the fourth series, in which Milbourne also appeared. Their friendship cemented during filming, they’re among the vanguard of homegrown TV food stars who came of age professionally in an era in which food has become a cross-cultural medium of mass entertainment.

Not that the MasterChef connection is a particularly crucial one four years after the event. Allen is now a part of NSW’s Three Blue Ducks tribe and a co-owner of their Roseberry restaurant; Milbourne runs a cooking school in his native Tasmania and has produced two cookbooks.

As Milbourne concedes, “MasterChef - that's the parent that gave birth to us but this approach we’re taking now, where it’s not all polished reshoots, is worlds apart.”

The Food Network’s first foray into first-run local content, Andy & Ben Eat Australia loosely follows the format of Andy and Ben Eat the World, in which they travelled through Spain, Mexico and Portugal chasing the elusive notion of the perfect dish, visiting markets and chefs along the way and doing the odd cook-up. It sounds similar in form, but they insist it’s worlds apart in execution.

“As much as we loved doing that, we thought it was time to come home and do something in our backyard,” says Allen. “It's so much easier to get shit done if you can speak the language. You can have as many fixers as you want but overseas it's a tough game. It's much easier to travel and much easier to film here. We can come to a place like (the Queen Victoria market), pick up some ingredients, stop on the side of the road and do an amazing cook whereas you just can't do it there.”

So how do you stay ahead of the crowded food TV pack? That’s where the freewheeling nature of the show comes into it. There are strictly no reshoots, which not only keeps the budget and shooting time down, but adds to the invaluable sense of authenticity. “The more we work the more we find this is the way we want to do it,” says Allen, “because this is a real experience. Not saying other shows aren't real experiences but this is as real as it gets.”

Andy Allen on foraging, bromance and the great Australian food road trip
With a new restaurant underway, Andy Allen is back with his mate Ben Milbourne to explore their own backyard in an all new series. We catch up with the chef to chat friendship, foraging and food. Andy and Ben Eat Australia starts Wednesday 15 February, 9.30pm, on Food Network

It’s one that’s not without its share of headaches. There’s a tense moment waiting to see if the South American pan-pipe band will finish their busking set before the boys arrive for their doughnut stop, but all bloopers are dealt with in their typically insouciant fashion.

“The advance team go ahead and make sure the space is okay, the lighting is okay. They will feed that back to the camera guys and we just get told to go, so we go and capture the real experience. If there's not enough to edit then we just have to deal with it,” says Milbourne.

“This show … mistakes are shown. The walls are broken now in entertainment and that's what we're trying to show. The food genre is too polished and we're trying to show the looseness.”

“Because this is a real experience. Not saying other shows aren't real experiences but this is as real as it gets.”

An Australia-wide journey, Andy and Ben Eat Australia features a number of episodes in each state, involving a visit to a leading restaurant in each capital city (in Hobart it was Franklin; in Melbourne, Coda, and in Adelaide, Africola) and producers, markets and chef identities thrown in for good measure. On that count, Andy and Ben are happy they’ve been accepted by the cheffing fraternity despite their made-for-TV origins.

“We have our own careers going on in the industry now,” says Allen. “The chefs and producers we talk to know that we’re in it for the love of food and for the industry. They know we’re not just doing it for the fame or to be TV presenters. Really, we’re anything but TV presenters.”

Andy and Ben Eat Australia premieres Wednesday 15 February, 9:30pm, on Food Network.

Episode Guide: Andy and Ben Eat Australia
Real, raw and outlandish, Andy and Ben are back to discover their version of Australia’s menu from the ground up. Airs Mondays, 7:30pm, on Food Network.
Chilli mud crab with green mango, coconut and herb salad

Prepare to get your hands dirty when making this finger-licking mud crab dish. Building on classic Asian ingredients including fresh herbs, citrus, sugar and fish sauce, it's a feast for the eyes and mouth.

WIN a VIP foodie trip for two to Sydney with Andy and Ben
To celebrate the launch of Andy and Ben Eat Australia (starts Wed 15 Feb 9.30pm), Food Network is giving you the opportunity to win a VIP weekend for 2, valued at up to $3,000, to Taste of Sydney in partnership with Electrolux. Supported by Food Network, Taste of Sydney returns to Centennial Park March 9 – 12, 2017 and presents a fresh new lineup of restaurants, chefs, artisan producers and entertainment.