Sundae Roast

Hugh Sundae adds some seasoning to Masterchef New Zealand

Sundae Roast: Nice one Stu

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Stu whips up a bread roll while chatting to the judges.
Stu whips up a bread roll while chatting to the judges.

I often wonder how long a week is in Masterchef time. Surely they can't have one day shooting the weekly challenge, one day shooting Masterclass, and then five days off?

TLee or Jax aren't going to be away from their children for three months, and I reckon that Zuckerberg guy or whatever his name is charges a fair whack of rent for that house. So I'm guessing if they're not cooking every day then maybe they get a day or so off between challenges.

Why am I thinking about this now? Stu was wearing sunglasses at breakfast. Jax was wearing sunglasses at breakfast. I'm no mathematician, but I'm putting two and two together.

Neither of those two seem like the type who need their arm twisted when it comes to a celebration.

Add in post-challenge stress-release, being in a Melbourne hotel, making the final three, and I'm guessing there was some fun to be had.

In my scenario they've had a big night, got the plane home, and are straight back into it with a hangover.

As long as I'm making things up, Nadia didn't partake in said celebrations. Not to the same extent anyway. She's a dietician after all, and maybe the wakeup calls of the previous weeks have finally made her keep her eyes on the prize.

I don't know if any of this is true of course. As much as I like to de-construct television, no one is talking. They all signed $50 grand contracts. I'm actually amazed I haven't had to sign anything in return for getting advance DVDs (but I will have to sign something before I get next week's grand final I've been told).

What I do know, is that none of you seem to have much faith in Nadia. A few weeks back I offered a prize for the first person to leave a comment with the correct final two - and not one of you suggested Jax and Nadia. Most of you thought Jax and Stu.

Mind you, Jax and Stu were the same. When asked who they thought their biggest threat was, they both named the other. Nadia said Jax was hers.

"Jax has more than 20 years experience of cooking on top of me," she said. Ouch!

Unlike Nadia, I wasn't excited about tonight's challenge. I've never liked the cookbook episode. Since when was having a cookbook a prerequisite for being a chef? Chef's don't have to publish cookbooks, any more than celebrities have to sell their weddings to women's magazines.

I'm also not a fan of Donna Hay. You see - I'm quite good at holding grudges, particularly when they're pathetic unfounded grudges, and I've never forgiven her for Chris Badenoch's exit from Masterchef Australia's first season.

Badenoch, the trilby hat-wearing, meat-loving genius, was tossed out in that season's semi-final after Hay (queen of the cookbook) didn't think his dishes had the visual flair for a cookbook cover. Julie Goodwin made a right mess of her dish, but went on to take the Masterchef Australia title. She later released a Christmas album. Nuff said.

Stu, however, was quite taken by Hay.

"I closed my eyes and rubbed them a bit, and opened them back up and she was still there."

While I question the weight given to a contestant's cookbook concept in a competition that until this point has been about cooking, it's nice to know a bit more about the sort of food that makes these three tick. We've gotten to know them for the past three months after all.

Two and a half hours, three dishes, 30 ingredients. Luckily Nadia was sent to the pantry first. Perhaps this was so she didn't have enough time to forget how many she was allowed.

Hay does a walkabout to find out what the three are making, and what their cookbook concept is. Nadia is already the standout. It helps that her real life career is based around food, but even still, Stu and Jax both seem to be grasping at straws when explaining themselves.

"Do you think he's convinced himself?" Gault asks his guest after a bit of a rambling response from Stu.

But that was nothing compared to Jax's rant when it came to judging.

"The food I've eaten in my time, the food that my mum prepared for me when I was a child that was my favourite, um the food that I ate when I left home, and ah started cooking European food..."

At one point I actually thought she was going to list every meal she'd ever had.

"And also cooked foods, I've cooked here in New Zealand."

"What's it going to taste like?" Gault asks of her saltfish fritters with cucumber salad, resisting the urge to just taste it and find out.

"Salty, fishy, lots of chilli." Yum!

Donna Hay laps it up though. "I feel like I'm about to buy into a time-share apartment."

Gault too is impressed. "She told me a story, she took me on a journey, and I get that."

By this stage I'm so confused I can't tell if it's the backstory, the food's taste, how it sounds or its appearance that matters. Then Hay states she doesn't think the mash that was served with the lamb shanks needed to be made into quenelles. I thought you wanted it to look flash?

Next up was Stu, and I always thought selling this one was going to be tough, it's comfort food after all.

"I guess if they don't like this food I'll probably take it a little bit to heart," he says, as I realise he won't be making the grand final.

Gault wasn't going to make it any easier for him though.

"Stu you've got a 30 second ad on a radio station to sell your cookbook, and your 30 seconds starts now." Why would you say that? A bit unfair to single out one person and put that kind of pressure on him isn't it?

It does just that. Stu proceeds to say anything that comes into his head, as though he was playing that drinking game where you have to drink every time you say "um" or pause. The poor guy is flailing and it's uncomfortable to watch.

"30 seconds is up," snaps Gault, before barking more instructions with a 'why am I here?' kind of tone. For someone who likes to come across as the likeable one, he's doing a good job of not doing so.

Stu's pea soup with bacon and scallops goes down well though, aside from the awkward looking slice from the home-made bread roll.

"The bread isn't bread, the bread is a yeast scone," McVinnie notes.

Luckily Donna Hay decides to change the rules. "I think we just forget about the bread."

They all then taste the fillet steak with kumara mash and bok choi. At this point I notice that Hay doesn't appear to open her mouth when she eats, it's the strangest thing.

Gault doesn't like the presentation, but Josh defends Stu.

"This is his cookbook and representing, you know, 'food from the crib to the bach', he's hitting the spot isn't he."

Josh seems to have a soft spot for Stu tonight, once again coming to his defence after McVinnie dismisses the chicken pot pie.

Nadia is worried about how she's drizzled the sauce when she brings her dishes for judging, but she needn't have been. If Donna Hay doesn't like something she can "just forget about it" like it was a slice of bread.

Her pitch - healthy sexy food with flavour - is the best of the bunch, because it's true. The other two - and you can't really blame them - seem like they've had to come up with something because that's what the task required.

Josh has a problem with the amount of ingredients and tentatively asks the guest judge if she agrees - she does.

"There's a lot of work in there, and you know the average person's skill level and also their confidence, which is the other thing, might be a problem," according to Hay.

So what? Is this show called AverageHomeChef? Why waste time showing us difficult dishes like Simon Wright's signature duck dish at prime time on a Friday night if we are actually a bunch of thickos?

I don't know about you, but I watch Masterchef to learn about cooking. It's aspirational. A friend of mine attempted croquembouche after seeing it on Masterchef for god sake. If I want to do something easy, I'll do it myself, or google it. The very reason I buy cookbooks is because I want to attempt something special.

Stu - the dark horse who came out of nowhere mid-season went home. Like the rest of the final few - who after all have more of a profile now - I'm sure he'll be snapped up for something.

While I guess I sound extremely anti the cookbook challenge, it's probably more accurate to say that I don't think it's fair to have it as the semi final. Why not have it early on, as a first challenge? We'd learn more about the contestants straight away, and then no real contenders are going to be going home because their concept doesn't photograph well.

Now Stu is gone - who are you backing? For me, it's Nadia. I don't particularly care that she cries when she's upset. My three-year-old does the same thing regularly.

But this time next year, we're all going to be wandering past recipe cards at the supermarket with the winners face on them (assuming you shop at you-know-where).

Nadia's food is exciting, different and - like its creator - a bit nuts. Healthy to boot. That's what I want to be cooking, and that's what it's all about, right?

Episode 12

Best line: "I closed my eyes and rubbed them a bit, and opened them back up and she was still there." At least Stu got to meet her before he went home.
Worst line: "Stu you've got a 30 second ad on a radio station to sell your cookbook, and your 30 seconds starts now." Simon Gault adds 5% extra pressure.
Current favourite: Nadia for the win

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