It was the kind of music cults use in recruitment videos. Uplifting, emotional, cliché.

Lord knows those music-voting-shows pedal that kind of aural-tripe to the fullest. So its no surprise Masterchef New Zealand IV upped the fromage-factor as we were treated to a degustation of your usual cooking-competition staples: past winners talking about how wonderful their lives have become since canonization, the voiceover guy pointing out that this year will be the toughest yet, and of course slow motion shots of coriander seeds in the shape of a Masterchef logo.

If the opening montage is anything to go by, and it is, because that's why they have opening montages, then we're in for three months of a show that's trying to turn up the heat on last season. Seaplanes, tropical islands, cruise ships, and old-favourites like the Langham's executive chef, Volker.

"Hurry up now put your finger out of your bum and moof!"


Once you accept that the next two weeks are unapologetically not about cooking, and sit through the weekly prize-roll (a year's supply of wine by whose standards, exactly?) it's time for some good old fashioned contestant bashing.

First though we're re-wowed by the calibre of the judges. Josh Emett reminds us of how long he's been running restaurants (20 years). Simon Gault autographs cookbooks while reminding us how long he's been running restaurants (over 30 years). Best of all, Ray McVinnie shows us he has a staff member who operates his lint roller.

First up, Kelly's poached chicken breast looks the business. Although, knowing McVinnie's issue with superfluous garnish I hope that flower is edible. Despite enthusiastic comments from two judges Kelly reveals the pressure of the situation after McVinnie compliments her on the chicken juice. "Is that a good thing?"

Kris the builder's beer bread looks so good I've decided it will be my challenge for the week (send me your recipe, Kris?). Add to that another contestant's cedar-plank salmon, and things are simmering along nicely.

But nicely simmering is not why we watch the elimination stages and sure enough along comes a nice lady with an antipasto that McVinnie says smells like an old roast. Emett admits he's petrified even looking at it, and after king-hitting her with "I feel like I'm about to waste two minutes of my life," he finishes the water-boarding with "this is everything I'm not looking for." She's clearly mortified so he adds "darling this ain't it." He called her darling! He's such a dreamboat.

After a few of the ol' McVinnie I-have-to-says, (I have to say it looks like takeaways, I have to say - sensational, I have to say - we're looking a bit raw), it's time for this year's star performer. This year's Cameron Petley, Johnny the farmer.

He's got a beard like an ergonomic toilet brush but anyone who can drink a beer while driving a tractor gets my vote.*

"To me, chicken is like a ladies meat so it's more of a vegetable," he says, wearing a scrubbing glove. When a gun-toting farmer rocks up with a red meat dish you can be sure it's bound to get them through. At least that's probably what he thought the night before, when he decided to get on the ran-tan.


"The casino until 7am?" Gault gulps.

"Yeah, fourteen grand up though."

This is now officially the best episode of any show ever. Johnny knows his presentation is a shambles but he doesn't give a shit. A TV show is putting him up at a five-star Auckland hotel and he just won fourteen grand. That's enough for him to take a mate to Euro, like, three times!

"Your shout," Gault says, thinking the same thing. Johnny emerges from the judging room victorious, to the cheers of those who minutes earlier were laughing at him and taking photos while he slept.

After the break, and the fastest dash to a Langham room for brown sugar since the Rolling Stones 2006 visit, we meet Ella and her pork and prawn dumplings.

"I can't think of anything negative to say," Emett complains. Gault starts a round of applause, McVinnie says brilliant. Ella is beaming, clearly surprised, and she's not the only one - Josh can't believe Ray used the word 'brilliant'.

"I know, I don't know what came over me. I think it was the food."

We can safely assume Paula is going to get through, you don't send a crew to Nelson for nothing. Luckily they sent the crew on the same day Paula was showing some former Burmese refugees wearing traditional attire and neck rings through the local supermarket. Her son sounds like good fun too, "he thinks I've got no chance of winning it." Either way, I'm bookmarking her braised ginger pork belly for an upcoming celebration. Such as Monday.

It's then time for a fast run through of a few understated but successful contestants. They don't dwell on this lot so I'm guessing the eventual winner is one of them (it's well known how far in advance the series is shot). I'll go back at the end of the series and check. If I'm right I'll shout myself an amuse-bouche somewhere flash.

Anyone who names a dish "Quality with a Hint of Europe" obviously has never said it out loud. The thing is, I can't imagine there is ever a day that Trent doesn't talk out loud. Continuously. He seems to have an unwavering confidence, communicated through an unstoppable monotone train of words like some kind of Shopping Channel rain-man.

Gault can't believe Trent's gall at serving up salad. Oblivious, Trent clearly thinks things are going so well he decides to correct Simon about an ingredient.

"It's mint not basil."

"Are you on the right show?"

"I can cook."

"You haven't cooked a bloody thing!"

"It IS a quality dish though."

Good god it was like watching someone argue with a young Nat. But it was an inevitable opportunity for drama as Gault sent him off for a second chance, not before Trent checks "you don't want this?" Blimey.

We have our savoury-specialist in David. The quiet achiever put up a pretty great looking lamb backstrap, so it seemed random for Gault and Emett to start hammering him about what dessert he'd make. I guess that's why they have questionnaires for contestants to fill out - leave no weakness untapped.

Another contestant's weakness is exposed after McVinnie demonstrates his international culinary knowledge by spotting something missing from a traditional recipe, "am I to understand you can't boil an egg?"

Soon after, his patience is again tested by someone who clearly hasn't researched McVinnie and added a rogue cinnamon stick.

"I thought, um, by placing it in the side whoever was eating it or trying it would.. do with that what they like." McVinnie clearly had a few suggestions but kept schtum.

Things were, um, heating up. "You boys know how to make a girl sweat," one contestant noted (Sushil's fist-pump revealed they also knew how to make a boy sweat).

So to the grand finale - the omelette challenge. With Darren's eyes-of-terror it would have been good to see a few weeks of him in the competition (plus he was going up against someone who called herself quirky, and you should never trust someone who calls herself quirky), but what can you do.

This is no doubt just the first of many disappointments I'm bound to experience in the coming weeks, as favourites fall, and rules get bent for the sake of drama.

Ahh Masterchef. Welcome home, you smelly old roast.

Episode 1
Best line: "To me, chicken is like a ladies meat so it's more of a vegetable." Johnny the farmer becomes father of the nation.
Worst line: "Mmmm. You've made an extremely light and tasty gnocchi." Ray McVinnie holds it together, just.
Current favourites: Johnny, David, Corinna

*Legally speaking, anyone who can drink a beer while driving a tractor does not get my vote.