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MasterChef NZ episode two – the final 16

Former MasterChef NZ contestant Anthony McEntee reviews the latest episode…

I’ve come up with a new business idea! Pun delivery school. And like all good schools I shall offer scholarships to the needy areas of society. Reality TV judges, cricket commentators, minority politicians with magazine columns…

Mind you, sometimes I think it’s the bad puns in a show like MasterChef that make it great. There are always groans a plenty as you wonder what flurry of figurativeness could follow next.

Last night we saw 24 contestants, proudly decked out in aprons with their names on them, step into the MasterChef kitchen for the very first time. 24 must become 16 and by the end of the day 1/3 of them will be thrown into the mire of ex-reality TV nether land where vanquished dreams are quickly turned into repressed memories. I wonder if there is now a division of psychiatry devoted to handling former contestants’ mental stability.

Walking into the ‘kitchen’ for the first time is quite an experience. What you may not realise, of course, is the “kitchen” is really a studio. This is the first time the contestants will have to put up with the heat of studio lights, all the down time between scenes, slow sweeping camera shots and individual close ups that make for a long day ahead. As they line up in front of the judges their smiles of excitement can’t quite hide the nerves that lie behind their eyes.
The judges advise that the heat has been dialled up and the fan bake has been turned on. This is the part of the show where you get to separate those who can really cook from those who were just faking it till they make it.

No sooner have the contestants got a view of MasterChef HQ then they’re off again. Their first challenge sees them split into groups of six and head to four of the country’s top professional kitchens.

One group gets the pleasure of the irrepressible Volker, which gets meet with nervous laughs. Famed for his spiked jibes, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has quite a collection of teddy bears at home.

They arrive to find that the chefs have prepared some challenging skills tests that will show off their knife skills, or lack thereof.

Simon Wright from The French Café has tasked the contestants with preparing a prawn salad with flavours of chilli, lime and shallots. Aaron impresses immediately. Calm, methodical, accurate and quick. He has marked himself as a contender already.

Alex has never prepared a prawn before (?!) but at least he’s aware that prawns have a poo tube. Unfortunately the poo tube hits the fan for Chanel as her over-confidence turns into harsh reality as she realises her time is over.

Ben Bayly from The Grove explains to us that the key to being a good chef is being able to jazz up a dish and sell it for more than it’s worth. The prices at The Grove would suggest he’s a master of that philosophy – but at least the dishes are more Coltrane than Buble. His challenge sees the contestants testing their fish filleting and oyster shucking abilities.

Trent – aka Salad Man from episode one – maggots his second fillet. Not to worry though, he thinks that it would be good enough for the dining table, bones and all. He’s a very positive man, Trent – positively delusional and no longer a contestant on the show.

The next half dozen eggs head to see Sean Connolly at The Grill. With a steak tartare challenge it’s time for brunoise and chiffonade a plenty.  Speed and accuracy are the keys and Rochelle misses on both fronts, another falling on the knife of the skills test.

The final six head to see Volker Marecek at Eight, where Jennis excitedly admits that she thought Mis-en-plus was some type of dish. Volker can’t stand idly by as Ganesh massacres his ingredients so steps in for a demonstration. It’s not enough to save Ganesh as he is also sent packing.

Back in the MasterChef kitchen, the four best performers are given a free pass to the top 16. If I was them I’d be catching a cab to the house to try and get the nicest rooms while the rest of the contestants are still slaving!

The remaining contestants move onto the second challenge, getting their first look at The Mystery Box. The challenge that really tests the contestants’ culinary knowledge, creativity and ability to plan. After a tantalising wait the contestants find out they will be cooking Homer Simpson’s favourite meat, pork chops.

Things start sedately as the contestants find their way around their new environment. Sushil has never cooked with pork before but his enthusiasm helps him do enough to get through.

South Auckland super-cook Serena is ecstatic as it’s something she knows well and she winds up impressing with her rubbed pork chop with pumpkin puree, apple sauce and salad.

Kelly also puts up a worthy chop with pumpkin, apple and watercress and it’s good to see people using the pork chop fat to make crackling. No need to leave the fat all globby on your pork chops, people!

Corrina lets the cooking calm her down and puts together a lovely-looking plate with an array of nice tasting pieces. However, she overcooks her pork so is left on tenterhooks as to whether she will make it to the next round.

Tracy gets mental block and decides to repair it by pressure-cooking a pork chop. This is the type of thing people do when they watch too much food TV. Do what you know, not what you’ve seen others try. Badly used technique can instantly cast a shadow over your dish and you don’t want the judges looking for fault any more than they are already. The pressure becomes too much and the pork is drier than an African desert. She’s lost her mojo as well as her place in the competition.

Unfortunately everyone’s favourite contestant from the first episode of MasterChef NZ also gets it wrong. Johnny seemed to be a bit worried that the kitchen didn’t contain a BBQ and with some simple mistakes and two plates of mediocrity he presents what Simon calls one of the worst dishes on MasterChef. Hero to zero. They were hoping he was a rough diamond but he turned out to be an elegant piece of coal. He still goes away with one of the best lines to ever come out of MasterChef though.

Dana, however, has the right idea. Do something you know, and do it well. She comes out on top with her pork and apple pie. Simon swears with enthusiasm and after getting through she explains that there are 50 million screaming Danas inside of her.

So along with 50 million Danas we have 16 contestants who must bid farewell to work and family as they move into the MasterChef house for the next part of the competition.

Congratulations, guys and girls – let the real challenges begin!

Check out Anthony's review of episode one of MasterChef NZ and his recipe for a tasty halloumi, orange, mint and avocado salad.

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