Masterchef: Plop, plop and a dream collapses in soggy ruins

By Catherine Smith

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Jax Hamilton, left, and Nadia Lim in the kitchen. Photo / David Alexander
Jax Hamilton, left, and Nadia Lim in the kitchen. Photo / David Alexander

There was crying, there was shaking, there was that dreadful sinking feeling that after all these weeks of work the goddesses were going to conspire for a downfall.

And that was just me, hanging off the edge of my living room chair watching last night's MasterChef finale, not believing what I was seeing.

"Death by macaroon," Jax Hamilton had spookily predicted, and sadly for her, she was right. Coming into the final four challenges, taste test, an invention cookoff, and two tests of skill making a Beef Wellington and, the horror final, that wicked, wicked dessert tower, Jax and Nadia Lim were close. Either could have nailed it.

It had all started reasonably simply, with judges Ray McVinnie and Simon Gault carrying in a steaming pot of bouillabaisse for the tasting test. Neither woman was to be caught out missing the basics of any dish so quickly ticked off - salt, pepper, onion and so on. Then Jax started guessing, double counted the prawns, missed the lobster and was down to 12 points.

Nadia's certainty with an impressive 18 out of 20 ingredients right visibly boosted her confidence.

But Jax was not for bending, and dug right in to the invention test. Seeing an entire dead pig in the studio could have been a clue that with the cry these days of eating everything but the squeal, there would be a twist in this tail. Jax and Nadia had to cook not just a pork dish, but also something delicious with pig offal.

I yawned when Nadia chose pork belly, so much is it the standard, safe option on every menu, licked my lips at the thought of Jax's jerked version of pork loin and trembled for them when both chose to tackle pig's kidney.

You could see both cooks go into their happy place. Both dug into family food memories - Nadia creating a gingery, spring-onion-trimmed kidney recipe derived from her dad's memories of childhood food that was magic. She confounded Simon and guest chef Simon Wright with her gutsy method of cooking a confit of pork belly and her crispy, honey-glazed crackling, with all the judges raving that it was the best dish of the season.

Simon also reckoned Jax's deep, rich version of kidneys with mushroom and bacon was the best ever tasted, but longed for more saucy-looking glamour in her spicy pork loin with apples.

It was inevitable, then, that winning would come down to presentation and Nadia squeaked an extra four points to win the challenge 37 to 33. A 10-point lead was not insurmountable to steely Jax.

She had her chance to claw back points in the mystery box challenge of a Beef Wellington, with perfect beef, perfect seasoning, magazine-quality presentation. Nadia's lead is now six.

Then came the macaroons. French patissier Guillaume Nicoli nonchalantly set the bar at "beautiful and perfect, the pleasure of life", and Jax and Nadia knew that the macaroon flower frenzy was aptly named - 340 of the tricky little almond treats, ganache, butter cream, Guillaume and the judges cruising around with handy tips, it was a nightmare come true.

When both competitors finished with a reasonable semblance of Guillaume's beautiful concoction, there were hugs and tears and it could have been anyone's game.

Then "plop". First macaroon hits the bench. The horror began and Jax's MasterChef journey was over. Nadia's macaroons were beautiful, her tower was still standing, the win was hers. But it was Jax's gorgeous son Jack who had the words that brought the house down: "She's still our MasterChef."

Catherine Smith is editor of Weekend Life and a member of the Food Writers' Guild.

- NZ Herald

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