A MasterChef contestant who risked elimination by cheating - sparking a controversial "narking" scandal in the process - has been crowned the winner of MasterChef New Zealand.

After a 17-week competition featuring 16 contestants, a tearful Chelsea Winter was named the winner of the third season of MasterChef following the closest finale the TV One reality show has seen.

Only a handful of points separated Winter and her fellow finalist Ana Schwarz after the two-hour show's four gruelling challenges.

The Auckland marketing executive burst into tears after the announcement, following a tense - and at times controversial - season.

Winter was involved in a "narking" scandal several weeks ago when she was dobbed in by fellow contestant Tony Price for swapping ingredients with Schwarz during a Singapore-based challenge.

The pair were disqualified from winning the challenge's prizes but were allowed to continue in the competition.


Price told nzherald.co.nz he believed one of the two should have been sent home for the lapse, and accused the show's judges of mishandling the incident.

Few could separate Winter and Schwarz - an Auckland mother who gave up seeing her daughter's first birthday to appear on the show - and a poll on nzherald.co.nz was split between the two. With 4500 votes, the results were 50-50 for the question, Who'll take the MasterChef crown tonight?

Winter's crowning came after four bruising final challenges, including the toughest this season: A multi-layered "torturous" trifle - or "triflezilla" as Winter described it - dessert that took three hours to make.

Despite getting a layer in the wrong order and undercooking her meringue, Winter took out the trifle challenge thanks to her immaculate presentation - leaving her ahead of Schwarz in points and giving her the crown.

"Chelsea, from the venison to the trifle - in this final you have made MasterChef dishes all the way," said judge Simon Gault, who said he wanted to put her peppered carpaccio venison entrée with pickled vegetables on his menu at Euro.

"You are the deserving winner."

Winter said she wanted to use her win to realise her dream - opening her own restaurant.

"This competition has ignited a spark in me. It's just gone 'whoomph' and it's in full flame now," she said.

Winter takes home more than $100,000 worth of prizes, and will release her own MasterChef-inspired cookbook in the coming months.

* Visit nzherald.co.nz tomorrow for a full interview with Chelsea Winter.