Kiwis deserve to be rated among the top amateur chefs in the world, according to MasterChef judge Josh Emett.

The saturation of cooking shows on TV and a move towards healthier eating have inspired New Zealanders to reach for the apron and spatula, he says.

Emett, a protege of Gordon Ramsay, has worked in top restaurants in Britain and Australia, as well as plying his trade in Europe and the United States.

"There are a few European countries where life revolves around food, like Italy and France, but we would be right up there," he said.

Emett said he had "hunter-gatherer" friends who embraced a do-it-yourself approach to food.

"They are deerstalkers and hunters who make their own sausages, preserve the meats, make their own hams and salami. Many people bake their own bread these days.

"It's just about setting yourself up. You need to have an organised lifestyle."

Emett said the rise of cooking shows such as MasterChef had influenced cooking trends, too.

"You can't get away from cooking shows here in New Zealand."

This week's TV listings feature almost 15 hours of cooking shows on free-to-air channels in the week to Wednesday, with Sky broadcasting Food TV round-the-clock.

Food TV owner Julie Christie said she had noticed a shift towards men getting involved in the kitchen, with 45 per cent male viewership of the cable channel. "[Men] like to know about food and see where the ingredients come from."

Speaking from Las Vegas, she said viewers wanted to know what they could do with "little effort and very little money".

"Five years ago it was how to fix your home, now it's how to cook. It makes people feel good about themselves." The trend could also be because of families facing higher food prices.

"Home cooking is very cheap - and you have control over what goes into the dishes," said Emett.

Supermarkets have reported a massive increase in the sales of basic ingredients.

Foodstuffs, which owns Pak'n Save and New World, said flour sales had increased by a third in the last financial year.

"Combined with an increase in sales in the fresh and meat categories, this would suggest there is also a trend towards home cooking," said Auckland general manager of retail Rob Chemaly.

FORGET GAFFE - PROOF OF SMARTS IS IN THE PUDDING

He might not know where Spain is but young MasterChef finalist Michael Lee is definitely going places, according to his former principal.

The 18-year-old had a "rabbit in the headlights" moment when he said the land of bullfights was in South America on last Sunday's episode. But despite the slip, Lee was an "outstanding" student, said Rangitoto College principal David Hodge.

"He is a clued-up and intelligent young man."

Lee became student representative on the board of trustees while in year 12 at the school of about 3000 pupils.

"He sat around the table with lawyers, accountants, HR experts and he held his own," said Hodge.

"If he didn't know where it was and it wasn't designed for TV, then it was the glare of the cameras, the pressure of the moment that befuddled his mind."

A TVNZ spokeswoman said: "What you see on camera is exactly what happened."

After his gaffe, Lee quipped: "I bet the people of New Zealand are looking at me now, thinking, how can you not know where Spain is? But then I say to them, I bet you don't know what baba ganoush is."

PLASTER UPSETS PIZZA PLANS

A missing sticking plaster puts Anthony McEntee under added pressure in tonight's episode of MasterChef.

While making dough for pizzas he realises the plaster that was on his thumb has gone, forcing him to decide whether to remake it or risk it.

This week's challenge involves the final eight contestants having to impress their toughest judges to date - 80 hungry guests at 11-year-old twins Ted and Jimi Stafford-Bush's birthday party. They're split into two teams and each has five minutes with one of the boys to discuss their preferences. They must then plan four dishes plus cake.

Last week's winner, Tracey Lee Hooton, captains one team and picks all female finalists. McEntee said it would be a "landmark" battle of the sexes.

"Unless one of the girls has a secret dark past we've got a distinct advantage in that we've all been 11-year-old boys," he said.