Sundae Roast
Hugh Sundae adds some seasoning to Masterchef New Zealand

Sundae Roast: TLee or not TLee?

Call that a fish dish? Judge Josh Emett (left) with TLee.
Call that a fish dish? Judge Josh Emett (left) with TLee.

If you'd asked me two months ago who would be in the top four, I wouldn't have expected Stu, Jax or TLee.

I was pretty confident Nadia would be there - more so than I was Cameron really - but the other three came out of nowhere.

Stu and Jax started hitting their stride a month or so back, but TLee was usually more memorable for her quotes and eye gesticulations than her cooking.

Like Julie Goodwin - Masterchef Australia winner - here was a mumsy family meal type who did okay most of the time and who now and again came up with enough to seem like a potential threat.

Sports writer Spiro Zavos was on Saturday Morning with Kim Hill yesterday, talking about how the rugby world cup was just a tournament, and while of course one team wins, 19 don't. Six of them are pretty good too.

When asked who is going to win a sports game, he replies "that's why we're having the game - to find out."

The point, aside from trying to sound more intelligent by casually dropping in I was listening to Radio New Zealand, is that any of the top four could take the title.

People don't win challenges based on previous form (conspiracy theorists will disagree) and the producers of Masterchef New Zealand are not trying to make "the most marketable looking" contestant win. Reality TV can be a sitting duck when it comes to criticism, but that last theory is poppycock.

But you can't write a blog without a little speculation, and tonight Jax was doing a little speculation of her own.

"There are two contestants I really am going to need to bring 110% to beat them, and that's Stu, and Nadia." So not TLee, then.

Well if it was a cooking competition that would be true, but tonight's competition was also part marathon, part orienteering.

What is it with these fly-away episodes and the need to make contestants traipse around the city to find ingredients? Does tourism 'insert city here' help pay for the episode if you show their famous fruit and vege market?

A few weeks back I mentioned how at this end of the competition, fewer contestants meant we got more time actually watching them cook. So the news that a portion of the episode was going to be cab rides and market stall cowboys making life difficult was a bit of a yawn.

"I don't know where Nadia got her legs from," said TLee - perhaps this walkabout was going to be entertaining after all.

No I was right the first time. But I was as surprised as Jax to learn Kangaroo was only $19 a kg.

Back on the roof, the heat was making life difficult. Stu's grissini sticks were baking without actually being in an oven, and Jax was feeing dizzy - complete with fuzzy out-of-focus recreations.

Aside from a few niggles - who knew the speed of boiling water could affect the taste? - they did pretty good.

But this was all just a warm up to the main event. The one where Gordon Ramsay turns up. You saw the promo right?

90 minutes to make three dishes using three different cooking methods, with a fish they've never used. Yikes.

What's more, Josh lets them stew on the fact that Gordon Ramsay may turn up. It's too much for TLee.

"Like it literally terrifies me to the core of my being."

Turns out everyone is terrified. The red emperor fish may look a bit like snapper, but it's far denser and takes longer to cook than anyone expects.

Given Josh would be pretty sure none of them have ever cooked with it, it's a sneaky trick to throw them in it. Josh is actually quite scary tonight. Perhaps Gordon Ramsay puts something in the water at his restaurants.

The last few minutes of this challenge make the Tower of Terror challenge seem more like the Apartment of Anxiousness. Nadia throws her fish on the plate and starts crying. Who knew she was emotional?

Stu puts the wrong fish on the wrong plate, leaving his sticky Asian sauce off completely. I'm starting to think a favourite is again going home.

By comparison TLee looks like the Duchess of Cambridge when she brings her plates out to the judges. She's beaming like only TLee can.

"I'm thinking Gordon Ramsay is going to pop out and go ta-da!"

TLee's food looked great. So it was a surprise (Stu fans would say a relief) when Simon Gault stated it was boring.

"I actually want you to try mine," Josh tells Simon. You mean this whole time you haven't been trying all the dishes?

"Oughhh," Simon says of the dish Josh made him taste. "Thanks for that," he says to Josh, seemingly put out at having to do his job.

Jax on the other hand has a blinder. Beautifully poached fish and curried vegetables that Ray and Simon are impressed by. So sprinkling curry powder - that Masterclass taught us was akin to sprinkling Frenchy powder - is ok after all?

My feeling that Stu was for the chop grew as Josh the Reaper laid into him for only using two cooking techniques. Note to self: flaking is not a technique. Then it's Simon's turn.

"Is this going to be seasoned well?" Asks the gatekeeper of salt and pepper. Stu's had a rocky road all season with, um, seasoning. With all the time pressure at the end he's not sure he's improved his ways.

"So there's a chance this might not be seasoned well?" Gault continues, finger repeatedly pointing at the fish. To be fair, Simon, you could probably just eat it and you'd have a definitive answer in about half the time.

After more stalling - "why do you keep doing this to me?"..."Mate!?".... - it's under seasoned after all. Ray isn't impressed either. "Fried fish with very plainly cooked vegetables." His place in the competition comes down to his deep fried, crumbed fishy thing.

Nadia once again skirts with danger by using four techniques. "Fish balls, poaching, crispy fried and marinating," lists Ray. If I was Stu I'd be asking why flaking isn't a technique when fish balling is.

Despite the tears, both in the judging, and in the interview when talking about the judging, she gets pretty positive feedback. Okay so it's Stu or TLee going home.

"A lot of tears," says Simon. "And I don't think the tears are finished yet."

At the elimination, Jax is awarded dish of the day. "I would have eaten the lot, all by myself," says Ray. This has become a regular line for McVinnie. The poor man has been sharing plates with the other two for so long now he's forgotten it's quite normal to eat a dish all by yourself.

TLee is in tears as she gets all philosophical. "If this is the end of my journey then this is the end of my journey, you know?" The tears were the nail in the coffin for me, but my wife was convinced of TLee's exit from another comment.

"That's going to be one lonely plane ride home," TLee said, and she's too nice to have said that about someone else.

"We're going to miss you terribly," Josh says staring at Stu, before shifting his eyes to TLee. "But Tracey Lee, your Masterchef journey ends today."

I'm going to miss TLee too. Someone wrote that they had a TLee drinking game, every time she mixed a metaphor, misused "literally" or did "the eyes" you took a drink. That game would be the beginning of quite a party.

She's given us hilarious light relief, and moments of cooking brilliance.

And then there were three. I hope Jax kept that 110% handy.

Episode 11

Best line: "Like it literally terrifies me to the core of my being." Oh TLee. I'm literally going to miss you.
Worst line: "I feel like a proud dad." What sort of father eliminates his worst child, Simon?
Current favourites: Nadia Lim, Jax Hamilton

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