Sam Brooks takes a visit to the My Kitchen Rules finale set and finds an unlikely love.
When I hop into the taxi that takes me from Takapuna to somewhere around the Bombay Hills, I think this must be the furthest I’ve ever travelled just to go to a restaurant. Until now, my only experience of the Bombay Hills dining scene has been the McDonald’s at the rest stop on the way to or from somewhere else. This time I’m going somewhere a bit fancier, but I’m not going there to eat – I’m going to watch the finale of My Kitchen Rules.
While the first part of the finale, which featured more octopi than the recent live action remake of The LIttle Mermaid, took place at the French Cafe, the second part sees the finalists cooking for the show’s $100,000 prize at Bracu Estate. It’s “a world away from the everyday”, as the website says – or two hours, each way, away from my day.
Unlike judges Colin Fassnidge and Manu Feildel, who had the pleasure/terror (I can’t speak for them) of helicoptering to the Estate, I spend the bulk of my two-hour trip trying to explain to the driver what a “set visit” is while staying within the limits of the NDA I had to sign. When I arrive, it’s midway through filming – so, after service (or, as I call it, “cooking”) but before they film the winners announcement.
The place is set up for a wedding, which feels like something that is probably a permanent arrangement for Bracu Estate. Everywhere I look, it resembles the background of a wedding photo where I wish I could demand to see an itemised list of costs.
When I get onto set properly, I keep a safe distance, thinking of all the times friends who work as crew in the film industry have said that the last person anybody wants on set is a journalist.
The thing that strikes me the most is the size of the table at which the food is served. For the amount of people there – six, including the hosts – it’s very small! It’s explained to me later that this is likely to do with the maths of filming in a relatively small space like a restaurant – you need to maximise the amount of angles you can shoot, while also making the food look great.
The other thing that strikes me is how strange it is to watch somebody eat if you’re not eating too. It is almost certainly less weird for the people being watched, in this instance, given they have signed up to judge a reality TV cooking competition. I worry I look like a cartoon dog, sniffing at an apple pie left on a window sill (although in this case the pie is a panna cotta with poached rhubarb and a shortbread crumb, so a bit fancier).
Don’t worry for me, though – I’m certainly not going hungry on this visit. I’m being fed from maybe the largest charcuterie plate I have ever seen in my life. It’s fitting that Bracu Estate is set up for a wedding, because I’d marry this charcuterie plate if I could.
One of the last things I watch is the final deliberations. All four guest judges – Sid Sahrawat (French Cafe, Cassia), Nick Honeyman (Paris Butter), Matt Lambert (The Lodge) and Tom Hishon (Daily Bread, Kingi) – stand in a line, looking for all the world like the top four of a more age-diverse cast of The Bachelorette NZ, and sum up what they thought of each dish. There’s a lot of talk of pushing boundaries and staying in the box, and I find myself nodding despite having not eaten any of the food or anything more complex than a sausage roll dipped into tomato sauce. I will never, ever, hear the word “mascarpone” uttered so many times and so seriously for as long as I live.
It’s become common practice for competitive reality TV series like this to film multiple alternate endings, to prevent leaks before the finale goes to air. As I stand outside, watching the judges deliberate (and listening to cicadas do whatever it is they do to make that noise), I feel for both pairs: Vikki and Pascal, Kurt and Matt.
It seems like a special kind of torture to be filmed winning $100,000 – and have to be authentic in those emotions – then be filmed not winning $100,000, and then having to wait a full nine months to find out which one was real (this set visit wasn’t last week – it happened all the way back in February). A specific, well-catered form of torture, but torture nonetheless.
And so I watch one pair, cheered on by their loved ones and enthusiastic people on set, get showered by confetti, anticipating success in the months to come. Then I watch the other pair do the exact same. I send my silent well wishes to both for the long wait ahead.
The finale of My Kitchen Rules airs on TVNZ 2+ tonight and is available to stream on TVNZ+.