The flattery started early and continued throughout. They had read all the columns of this series and referenced them constantly.
"You're really good at writing. You're so funny," Karena said. "Your tone is great," Kasey added.
Karena went on: "It's not just because I've been researching because we were going to be in it, but..."
"Because they're really entertaining," Kasey cut in.
"And if I read them out loud," Karena said, "while we're on book tour, to my family, they're like, 'Hahahaha.'"
The previous night, they had been at Amisfield in Queenstown for a 16-course dinner with wine matches and while there they had been reading aloud articles from this series for the chef.
"He was like, 'This is hilarious,'" Karena said. He told them that if he was invited to take part - which, for the price of an airfare and one night's superior accommodation in Queenstown, he will be - he would make pavlova.
They thought this was a crazy idea but, executed well, it will actually earn him extraordinarily high scores.
The sisters continued with their praise and adulation, and I could have listened to it all day, but because I'm a professional, and quite hungry, I suggested they start cooking.
It took them 11 minutes to cook their dish of whole flounder and accompanying dessert of booze with fruit and cream. Karena, in particular, seemed crestfallen that they didn't finish within the time limit, even though I had told them that I didn't really place much emphasis on that anymore because it limited the type and quality of food I was able to get.
The flounder was delicious but I had to keep picking bones out of my mouth because I have never learned to eat fish off the bone. I was embarrassed because neither of them were eating, so I was just sitting there, regularly sticking my hand in my mouth and hauling out gobs of fish bone and saliva, while they looked on, horrified. I wanted to stop eating, but I couldn't.
Perhaps to compensate for the discomfort, they told me some more about how much they liked my writing, giving very specific examples. It was like an extraordinarily high-quality critical essay. I commented on how good their memories must be.
"I have a very selective memory," Karena said. "I only remember great things."
It was like a dream where you know reality is not what it seems, but that doesn't stop you enjoying it.
As I finished the meal, I thanked them and said, "It's really nice of you guys to go to all this trouble."
"Oh, we had to," Karena said. "Our PR agency said."
Karena and Kasey's scores (out of five):
Quality of flattery: 5
Quality of dish: 5
Quality of conversation: 5
Recipe: Whole flounder with salsa verde
50g speck, cut into lardons
5 smoked mussels, chopped
¼ cup white wine
1 whole flounder
¼ cup flour (on a flat plate)
1 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp capers
1 gherkin or 3 cornichons
2 anchovy fillets
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
½ cup fresh basil leaves
½ cup parsley
½ cup fresh coriander leaves
Salt and pepper
In a large frying pan (one big enough to fit your whole flounder in) add 1 tsp of olive oil to the pan, heat on a medium temperature and add the speck and fry until golden (this should take 2-3mins). Add the chopped mussels and heat through before adding the white wine. Reduce the liquid to half and remove this mixture from the pan and set aside.
For the fish, season the flour well and coat the fish with a thin layer of the flour mix, using the same pan, on medium heat, add the butter and 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Place the fish in the pan and fry for 3-4 mins on each side or until cooked through.
For the Salsa Verde place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse into a paste, if the mix is too thick add some water to loosen. Taste and season to your liking.
To serve, place the whole flounder on the plate and top with the mussels and speck then spoon over the salsa verde and garnish with the fennel flowers.
Macerated berries with coconut yoghurt
1 cup of assorted berries
1 Tbsp Armagnac
1 Tbsp Heilala vanilla syrup
1 tsp lemon zest
¼ cup whipped cream
¼ cup coconut yoghurt
2 tsp icing sugar
1 Tbsp toasted coconut shavings
Flowers to garnish
Freeze-dried raspberry to garnish
Mix together the berries with the Armagnac, lemon zest and vanilla syrup and set aside.
Fold together the whipped cream and coconut yoghurt with the icing sugar.
Place the berries in a bowl and top with the coconut yoghurt mixture and garnish with the toasted coconut, freeze-dried raspberries and flowers to serve.