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Cooks, start your ovens!

The wait is over. MasterChef New Zealand is back on Sunday TV and the NZ public gets another chance to see a bunch of regular cooks fight for the title of NZ’s best amateur chef.

Season 4 started last night with a warming montage of past seasons. The past winners all confirming that winning this show can lead you to your dream job and change your life forever. Dapper Josh, cuddly Simon and scholarly Ray also got a chance to reinforce their credentials as luminaries of the NZ cuisine scene.

With the show using the same format as past seasons the hopeful contestants were required to cook their audition dish for the three judges with one hour’s cooking time. Prepare for icy stares, long pauses and uplifting music a plenty.

With explosions of emotion, an over ambitious Japanese man, an all-night gambling country farmer, a man who thought he could get through without cooking, and a woman who hadn’t run since she was a child – the auditions didn’t disappoint.

Auditions are interesting because of surprising successes, such as Serena – the South Auckland lecturer who quit her job to follow her food passion – abysmal failures, such as the antipasto that looked like it had more ingredients than a well stocked Four Square, and most of all those with delusions of grandeur.

Those told by their friends that their food eludes a golden hue of heavenly wonder and they should give up everything to chase their dreams. Dreams are free, I guess, but so is public humiliation. The therapy may cost a bit though. This is why it is important never to give misguided praise to your impressionable friends, people. Just nod politely when they ask how the meal is. Thank often but don’t praise. Actually, on second thoughts, keep praising. It’s worth it for good telly.

For many contestants it will be the first time cooking in a professional kitchen. Strange equipment, strange ovens, and lots of heat from the hob. All these things can shake a person up, and it’s fair to say that some contestants cracked under the pressure.

Taka tried to encourage his inner samurai and produce three meals in an hour. Taka taka taka. Quality not quantity, sir. Then there’s the man who couldn’t boil an egg right, after three attempts.

Not Johnny though, the sleepy high country farmer. He might have had a few too many city cocktails but he’s obviously not a quitter. If I had won $14k at the casino the night before the audition I might not have shown up!

While his fallow deer looked divine the rest of the plate was simple. In saying that, the NZ public does love meat and three veg as well as a laid back character. I’ve also heard the producers are really hoping to up the ratings in the high country this year, so an apron was his. He might struggle if there is a vegetarian challenge, however, being that he considers chicken a vegetable.

It seems the responsibility of bringing all your own ingredients was too much for Dana who had to rush out for some brown sugar to sweeten her salad. She only had to catch the lift up to her room, however. And there was me thinking we were being primed for another segway towards a Countdown promotion.

Many dishes followed the idea of doing few things well, rather than many things poorly and there were a lot of Asian influences, suggesting that culinary variety is ever increasing in Kiwi kitchens.

Aaron from Raglan impressed with his jazzed up granny apple tart, inciting a chorus of appleliciousness amongst Ray’s well tested tastebuds. Sunhil also hit the mark with his idea of a fusion surf and turf. When fusion is done well it can be so invigorating and exciting. Here’s hoping he has more to offer.

My favourite dish, however, had to be Paula’s braised ginger pork belly, which glistened with a sticky tang. That’s the definition of food porn. Food that you can taste just by looking at it. And since I’m off the diet tonight I’ll follow it with Serena’s pineapple passion delight cake please.

With some really good cooking, some interesting characters and some impressive flair on show it looks like it’s going to be another great season of MasterChef NZ.

As always, the judges have demanded higher standards and prepared tougher challenges than ever before. So my advice to the contestants?  Buckle up. Focus. Take everything in, but remember: this is your chance to make your dreams happen. It doesn’t happen often. But it could happen to you.

What were your choice moments from the show and which dish did you almost jump into your telly to taste?

Anthony McEntee was on season two of MasterChef NZ. He will be blogging about the new season every week at Menus.co.nz. See the life and times of a MasterChef contestant.

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