Sundae Roast

Hugh Sundae adds some seasoning to Masterchef New Zealand

Sundae Roast: Stick a fork in it

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It's over: MasterChef New Zealand season two comes to an end.
It's over: MasterChef New Zealand season two comes to an end.

That was intense.

When the recap started, "Season two began with over a thousand hopefuls," I sighed.

Why make these water-cooler television events twice as long, then pad them out with fluff? But I was wrong. It was actually quite enjoyable to be reminded of the mixture of idiots and geniuses that graced those open auditions.

Who could forget the cocky dreaded British guy, whose food didn't live up to his cocky hype? Or that cocky Brazilian dude who did the cocky cartwheels? Or that cocky girl with the funny accent "I'm going to WIN Masterchef!" who was the first to be eliminated? I'm starting to sound racist. I'm not. Some of my best friends are cocky.

During a nerdy Facebook-friend Masterchef discussion this week, a friend commented that the producers would never let a Brit win Masterchef NZ, and could we imagine a Kiwi winning MasterChef UK?

Well, a Kiwi did just that. In 2009 Mat Follas, the then 42-year-old New Zealander who moved to the UK in his 20s (snap) won the title in front of millions of viewers, and he now has a restaurant in Dorset - The Wild Garlic.

I can imagine Jax running a restaurant, but I hope she'd alternate between the kitchen and front of house. She'd be a great host, the type who might sit down at your table and help herself to a glass of wine. Just don't let her make you do that silly dance Simon Gault did back in that first audition.

Even watching those bloody titles was bearable tonight, probably because I knew it would be for the last time. I still get a laugh from the way Sam looks at the fish then smiles, and I particularly like how Robert awkwardly holds the blow torch as though it were a piece of meat.

While we're talking about that song - what on God's green earth is she singing about? "I'm going to set my face to a new horizon" What the hell?

Then of course there were the lines of the series.

"One word I'd like to say to you about presentation," McVinnie memorably mumbled. "Calm down." If you get stuck for a Christmas pressie idea for me, I'll take that on a t-shirt. Better yet, a chef's jacket.

But if it was a chance to be reminded of hilarity, it was also a reminder of some things that will hopefully be changed for next season. The week when nobody went home. Fiona's shock exit from the mouths of babes. Anything to do with Donna Hay.

It may be the trickery of television, but it certainly looked awkward at the Masterchef house when it was just the two of them. Nadia talked about going into battle. Jax's letter from home (how many of you rewound the MySky to try and read the letters too?) had quotes from Nelson Mandela. It was beginning to feel like that scene from Bad Boys when Martin Lawrence looks at Will Smith and says "Shit just got real."

I wonder what went through Fiona's mind when Nadia and Jax - in chefs whites - entered the kitchen to a standing ovation from the unsuccessful candidates. It was Nadia who joined Fiona in the bottom two after the kids' birthday challenge - it could have easily been her. Oh well.

Gault reveals there will be four challenges. Four! Jax is feeling extremely excited, incredibly nervous, really emotional. Nadia is excited and ready to have fun. Oh - and nervous! The expression on Jax's face as she turns back toward the judges is killer. Shit just got even more real.

Taste tests have their entertainment and drama value I guess, it's a bit like watching Mastermind and trying to beat the TV. In fact there are more similarities. Most of the time the contestants - who have actually tasted the dish - appear to be going off what they can see and what they expect to be in a certain cuisine.

Masterchef Australia recently announced changes to its format, including that no contestant will ever be eliminated based on a taste test, and there's a good reason for it.

Gault seems to relish the is there/isn't there power he exudes every time he grabs a cloche and does/doesn't lift it up. "Fresh tomatoes?" Ta-da! It also seems odd that after revealing a whole bunch of well-presented ingredients, he lifts a cloche to reveal fish stock plonked on the plate still in its branded tetra-pack. In the spirit of Ray McVinnie, I have two words for you. Courgettes.

Nadia rolls off ingredients with the sort of satisfaction you'd expect from a student who just realised forgoing the bar from time to time was paying off. It's clear some of you think she's overconfident. Jax may or may not agree, but either way she wasn't happy. The difference is Jax seems like she wants to get the answer right to win the competition. Nadia wants to get them right because she wants to be a better cook.

"18 out of 20 - what do you think about that, contestants?" Gault asks the audience. The polite applause shows who they're backing.

Round two and it's an invention test. The core ingredient is one they haven't used much this season. "There's this big black cloth lying over some huge lump," observes Nadia. My money was on Ross Burden, but it turned out to be a pig. When Josh says an expert called Cameron was going to do the butchering, I though they meant Petley. How cool would that have been?

Watching Jax dissect the kidney was horrendous. "It's what filters the urine so it doesn't smell beautiful." Back in the bleachers, Cameron Petley clearly disagreed, and was looking on salivating.

I wasn't salivating when I saw Jax's finished dishes. The pork fillet looked like an old rope. I was starting to think Nadia was looking good for the title, but I couldn't get the feeling out of my mind that she'd end up with a macaron disaster later on. Damn you promo-directors.

Nadia had a bad feeling about the mystery box. That's what she said, anyway, after gasps from the contestants when the lids were lifted. What was so gasp-inspiring about a fillet of beef? Beef Wellington! This is pretty exciting; like Josh, I'm a huge fan.

At this point I change from TV viewer mode to student mode. Poaching the beef to seal it rather than doing it in a pan? Brilliant, will try that next time. But what on earth is the chicken breast for? We never learned.

Jax kept talking in her interview in a way that made me think a disaster was imminent, but it was Nadia who made me throw my hands in the air.

"And then Nadia starts hacking at it and I'm like what are you doing!" TLee observes. It's nice to have the ol' T-meister back for some light relief. I was as shocked as TLee. We know Nadia is clever, so you'd think despite not having made this recipe, she'd know not to cut the meat once it was sealed.

The contestants whispered in each other's ears. Concerned looks all round. "Such. A Big. No no." said Kathleen. Robert strokes his chin as he nods in a worried fashion. What, you eat meat now?

"I guess the risk with this is that if it's not sealed all those juices can leak out," Nadia tells us. Um, yes.

Out of the oven, Nadia's wasn't pretty. It looked a bit like a barge. The tide was turning. Jax was going to win Masterchef after all. Earlier, she commented that her mushrooms were rustic, and I thought this was a signpost to a later problem. Nope.

Nadia's beef, surprisingly, looked as well-cooked as Jax's. She still only gets about a third the applause of her opponent.

Simon Gault looks disappointed and cuts the end off to check the pastry - if he did that to Jax too it wasn't shown. In the interview, Nadia is crying. Which, when you consider that at this point she knows she has won Masterchef, is incredible.

Still pretty close. What's next then? Tower of Terrorism? Well, I was half right. One day we'll look back and laugh at how we thought food had to be turned into stupid shapes to appear difficult. But right now it's all we've got, so I joined in. Yes - I'm making macarons. AS I TYPE.

"You have three-and-a-half hours to create the best macaron flower frenzy of your life, and your time starts now," Josh says. Best of your life? I can't see them giving it a second try.

Not for one second have I thought that I could do better than any of the contestants in Masterchef (apart from maybe Robert - lol). But attempting this fracas of a dessert was an eye opener.

See how Nadia uses that plate over the sieve to get the almond meal (why don't they call it ground almonds) through? Takes ages. That "lava" batter consistency? Second time lucky. Even drawing those bloody circles on the baking paper is a nightmare.

To get to that non-sticky-to-touch point took much longer than the 40 minutes the recipe says. That they had to do this in 3.5 hours is pretty amazing. Plus I don't think they were doing it over a bottle of wine.

Given a bad workman blames his tools, I'm going to mention that my oven isn't as wide as the ones they have, and I've only got one. So it's 20 a time for me.

Back in the real kitchen, Nadia was using her ovens to full effect, but Jax risked uneven cooking by splitting over two levels. It seemed like a pointer to later problems, but then I thought the same thing about her "rustic" chopped mushrooms, and they turned out great.

It's quite something that these Masterchef finals always seem to come down to the last moment, with each hopeful remaining a true contender to the last minute. In that form, the next disaster happened to both of them. Sticky paper.

"It's baking paper, nothing sticks to baking paper, that's why you use baking paper," Jax said with a dry delivery, giving her line of the episode.

The culprit was the cooking time. Not long enough. But how do you know? You can't open the oven - so you're going by "look" on something you haven't made before. Did I mention this was very difficult?

You know it's a battle royale when TLee comes in with a quote.

"Two women, who are pretty incredible at what they do, just keep drawing out of an empty barrel." Amazing how she always seems to put into words what we're all thinking.

Once they start icing the polystyrene it's looking like the home straight. Nadia's looks prettier, but I keep thinking I saw something in the promo that ruins it for her.

By the time the last few minutes come around, I'm convinced I've just imagined the disaster. With Jax's colour pattern not matching Guillaume's - I'm positive it's going to be Nadia who takes it out.

Then it happens. Time's up. Hugs all round. Case closed. "Just give me the Countdown vouchers, I wanna go home," says Jax. We have a new best line!

Then comes the thud. What follows must be a TV producer's golden goose. Dramatic shots of macarons falling from the tower in slow motion, edited in such a way as to disguise whose tower it was. Ad break.

On the second viewing I noticed it was quite clearly Jax's tower, but the first time around the emotions were too raw to notice such details. Kathleen agreed, and was inconsolable. "You did your best, Jax," she squeaked.

We all know what came next. I was glad Simon Gault gave Jax a hug, rather than a feckin high-five. Going through the judging seemed slightly pointless. Although my earlier concerns about the use of a taste test in a grand final were satisfied. The margin of winning was well over the six point advantage Nadia won in the taste test.

I know Jax is wildly popular, and I can see why. But I think the right person won Masterchef. Right from the start Nadia showed creativity and knowledge that always looked threatening. Even if Jax's tower hadn't collapsed, with the six point advantage I think she would have done it.

So season two comes to an end. It must be a great relief for Nadia and her family to come clean with the secret they've kept since late last year, and now that it's out I look forward to getting that cookbook. Or maybe borrowing someone's - cookbooks are expensive eh?

It will be nice to have some time back. If I spent as much time cooking as I did writing this blog I'd be a contender for next year's Masterchef. But after my experience trying these macarons (without the tower mind you), I think I'll pass. I'm buggered.

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