Nicky Park

Editor of Life & Style.

Duck-dish chef Vanessa gets the chop

Vanessa Baxter failed to make the final three in MasterChef NZ.Photo / Supplied
Vanessa Baxter failed to make the final three in MasterChef NZ.Photo / Supplied

She was a like a cat with nine lives, but emotional mum Vanessa Baxter has finally been given the boot from MasterChef New Zealand.

For the first time on the reality TV cooking show, the rule book was thrown out and the contestants were given the freedom to cook whatever they want, picking from a pantry heaving with ingredients.

They had 90 minutes to deliver a dish worthy of a podium finish in season four.

Guest judge Ben Bayly aimed to inspire the final four, telling them he'd cook something different, with good flavours but remaining true to culinary fundamentals. He lifted the lid on a beautiful hay-baked quail.

Kelly Kaihea burst into tears. The magnitude of the task overwhelmed her. Paula Saengthian-Ngam was prepping a seemingly simple Thai green curry. One-man standing, Aaron Brunet, calmly created a confusing combination while Vanessa seemed to take on too much with duck three ways.

Harsh judge Josh Emett expressed concern about the Australian-born Vanessa.

"If the bench is any indication, it's a bloody mess."

The contestants presented their dishes to the judges.

Paula was so disappointed in her fish balls she began to weep. But on sampling, foodie Ray McVinnie said the dish had depth and finesse.

To her surprise, she was crowned the winner.

Aaron had the judges in a spin, serving lamb with a chicken liver filling, carrots with a cheese and pear puree and sweet corn and radicchio.

McVinnie described it as a "thought-provoking dish", Simon Gault was "dumbfounded" and Emett said it was a strange dish. "The fact that the flavours work is incredible."

They sent the Raglan yoga dad to sit by Paula in the safe zone. Kelly also made the cut with her pretty plate of chili seared venison with tartare and a quail egg, kumara and orange puree and chicken liver mousse.

Vanessa seemed confident with her Asian style duck three ways - a dumpling, sesame-crusted duck leg and a smoked duck breast.

Two out of three ain't bad - but it was enough to send Vanessa packing. The duck leg was so undercooked Ben Bayly refused to even try it because there was blood on the bone.

Vanessa seemed to a be a highly strung contestant, bursting into tears under pressure on a few occasions.

"I have learnt a lot about myself about being under stress," she said.

She has been reliving the journey, sitting down every Sunday to watch the programme unfold. The thing that has astonished her the most has been her potty mouth.

"I watch myself swearing and I'm in shock," she laughed.

"I absolutely, categorically, do not swear!"

* MasterChef New Zealand screens on TV One on Sunday nights. www.nzherald.co.nz will interview every contestant as they are eliminated.

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