IT has been a tumultuous year due to the coronavirus pandemic and good news stories have been hard to come by.
But they are there, you just have to dig a little deeper. A feeling of guilt or unease means many people with good stories to tell simply haven't been sharing them.
To coin a phrase he used often during his first year as a judge on MasterChef Australia, Andy Allen has had a "cracker" of a year to date.
The one-time Maitland electrician who won the MasterChef crown in 2012 teamed up with fellow first-time judges Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo for the wildly popular 2020 all-star season. Allen is relishing being back in the kitchen at Three Blue Ducks and excited about the new season of Junior MasterChef Australia.
"There's been a lot going on this year, but to be honest, I can't complain. Apart from there being a global pandemic, it's been one of the best years of my life.," he tells Weekender from his home in Bondi.
"It's a weird position for me. Great things are happening but really shit things are happening too."
He uses as an example Bennett St Dairy, a Bondi cafe he calls "his local".
"The cafe sold cookies which got a bit of a following prior to the pandemic and when they were forced to close their doors, they decided to sell the cookie dough. Slabs of it," Allen says.
"Anyway, the dough has taken off and it's been picked up by Harris Farm Markets and it's making them more money than the cafe itself.
"There's a happy story right there."
MasterChef Australia: Back to Win is Allen's happy story.
When long-time judges Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris walked away from the show last year, nay-sayers predicted it would collapse in a heap.
It didn't. Quite the opposite.
It was a savvy move by producers to introduce the program's new judges during an all-star season full of the familiar faces of past contestants and fan favourites like Poh Ling Yeow, Hayden Quinn, Reynold Poernomo and Reece Hignell.
Allen says his first season as a MasterChef judge was "everything he expected and more".
"To get the feedback that we got in terms of how successful the show was and how many people watched it, that I didn't expect," he says.
"It blew everyone away.
When you walk around and do your first bench visit, the first thing you ask is 'what are you cooking?' and they blurt out this dish that shouldn't even be coming out of their mouths, without even flinching. It just rolls off the tongue perfectly and you just say 'What the?'Andy Allen
"Yes, it was right place and right time, for sure, but it was pretty much the perfect concept for three new judges to walk into. We were able to work our way into the show while the former contestants did their thing.
"It was so well done and I really enjoyed it, and I'm stoked at how it turned out."
Junior MasterChef is his next prime-time gig.
Close to 2000 aspiring young cooks aged nine to 14 applied to follow their food dreams and become part of Junior MasterChef Australia 2020.
The top 14 talented chefs-in-the-making were handed an apron and will compete in the Mystery Box, Immunity and Elimination challenges. A new concept being introduced is the Immunity Gong, where two cooks will win the chance to bang the gong and save themselves from elimination during the competition.
One exceptional cook will be crowned Australia's Junior MasterChef 2020 and take home $25,000 in prize money.
Allen describes the talent on display as "nuts, just nuts".
"When you walk around and do your first bench visit, the first thing you ask is what are you cooking and they blurt out this dish that shouldn't even be coming out of their mouths, without even flinching. It just rolls off the tongue perfectly and you just say 'What the?'," he says, laughing.
"And then they bring that grand idea up to the tasting table and it looks exactly like it's supposed to.
"The thing that got me was the Mystery Boxes, because that's where you really find out how creative someone can be. They're tough, I mean, I struggled with them when I was 23."
He's not afraid to admit that he learned a thing or two from the contestants.
"Reinventing the classics is quite in vogue right now and one of the kids, in their first cook, did a lobster mornay that was actually amazing," Allen says.
"I was getting inspiration from their ideas.
"But fundamentally, the series is based on having fun. Jock, Melissa and I actually had no relationship before filming the last season and we immediately hit it off. COVID galvanised our relationship even further and we could really let loose in the kitchen and have fun with these kids."
Aside from MasterChef, Allen is back in the kitchen at Three Blue Ducks and loving it.
"I was filming in Melbourne for eight weeks and then couldn't come home because of the COVID restrictions so it's been amazing to see the guys again.
"As much as it is the toughest time we've ever been through, as a business, we've worked really hard and we're chuffed that people are happy that we're back open."
The kitchen team didn't put him on dishwashing duties upon his return?
"No, I went straight back in," he says, laughing. "I love it in there and I think that for the majority of the time my chefs love me being there too.
"There's times I am a bit annoying. I had a photoshoot for a magazine the other day and I had to prepare six dishes, mid-service, and I was getting in the way."
Allen's staff make sure he remains grounded, whether he likes it or not.
"I cop some shit, I'm not gonna lie," he says, laughing.
"I even had a delivery driver give it to me yesterday, and I was like 'Come on mate! Not you as well'."
Zonfrillo pranked Allen on his 40th birthday while he was in mandatory two-week hotel quarantine, arranging for his room to be filled with helium balloons.
"It was a good one, well played, I'll give it to him," Allen says of the memory. "But revenge is going to be very very sweet.
"Jock is a family man and it was very easy for him to work with the kids on Junior MasterChef. I've never seen him have so much energy, in fact I was a little worried about the amount of running he was doing in the studio because he's getting on a bit."