It’s out of the instant restaurant frying pan and into the sudden death cook-off fire – and half the Shortland Street cast has come for tea.
“You’ll need to get over being starstruck very quickly,” celebrity chef judge Pete Evans warns the two pairs of chefs before they disappear into the kitchen to cook for their survival on season three of My Kitchen Rules NZ.
The arrival of the sudden death cook-off stage of the competition has brought with it a different set of celebrity guest diners each week. Heather speaks on behalf of everyone when she sarcastically gasps: “who are the celebrities?!”
“Mr Campbell?” guesses Ben – oddly formal. “Oh!” interjects Heather, “Hilary Barry?!” Sophie suggests “the guy with the glasses… the controversial one.” (Sean Plunket?!)
They have all set their expectations far too high. The special guests are seven actors from Shortland Street, and not even TK or Chris Warner. Two of Chris’ long-lost children who showed up out of the blue last year are there, though, along with Harper, Nicole, Esther, Mo and Lucy (RIP – died giving birth during the Ferndale volcanic eruption of 2017).
“They’re full of energy, a really lively bunch,” remarks Teal, who has never seen any of them before in his life. Neither has Australian Pete Evans, who welcomes everyone to “the famous Hunting Lodge,” a location that is by no means famous and for all we know isn’t even a real hunting lodge. It might as well be in Ferndale, in which case they should have booked the Penlington.
What’s for tea?
The first sudden-death cook-off is an intriguing battle of styles, with the tricky, technical Chris and Bex up against the raw talent of Tash and Hera.
Chris and Bex’s tendency to try and do too much at once has come to the fore with their entree, which poor old Pete runs out of breath trying to read off the menu: Rabbit roulade with spicy sausage, pancetta, cauliflower puree, carrot chips and pumpkin sauce with sweet spices. Making the roulade is “a painfully slow process,” says Chris, which makes it seems like a bad idea to attempt under a strict time limit.
Tash and Hera, meanwhile, are drawing on their strength in this competition – the family recipe book – with their equally wordy first course, which they’ve titled Sandy’s parengarenga: crayfish tails, coriander, garlic butter with sisters’ secret sauce and tempura karengo tio (oysters). The secret sauce, Hera tells a curious Pete Evans, is “the brown stuff that’s in the body and head” of the crayfish. “Delicious,” he drools, before she can add that it’s mixed with cream.
For their main, Chris and Bex are making a play straight for sauce-loving Manu’s heart with their Aged beef with garlic roasted chips, bone marrow sauce, fondant potatoes and pea puree, a dish that features some of the rarest meat ever served on a New Zealand cooking show. On the other side of the kitchen Tash and Hera busily prepare Mum’s kuriz kai: snapper with crispy skin on risotto. “The death dish,” foretells mystic Heather, silently willing them to produce a gluggy, flavourless slop.
Dessert a la Chris and Bex is Chocolate and peanut butter mousse with salted peanut honeycomb, served in a stemless wine glass and as sweet as their beef was rare. Swings and roundabouts for Paleo Pete. Tash and Hera finish the evening with the more refined palate of a dish they’ve called Bangin mangan: manuka honey herbed poached pears with crumb and vanilla mascarpone.
The addition of a full seven Shortland Street cast members to the dinner table in place of the exiled Charlotte and Maddie (and the extra team in the kitchen) has changed the dynamic considerably, and it must be said, for the better. While everyone else has long grown desensitised to Heather and Mitch’s cruel barbs, the pair are repeatedly met with confused, almost pitying looks from the actors every time they open their mouths. The MVP is Lucy, who seems to have come back from the dead with the single-minded purpose of aggressively hitting on Pete Evans.
Though they outnumber the remaining contestants at the table, the Shorty stars only get 10 points to give between them. They chuck both teams an 8 and leave long before the winner is announced.
Throughout the three courses all the momentum has appeared to be with Tash and Hera – Chris and Bex’s entree had about 27 different elements, their beef was on the raw side of rear, their dessert was too sweet to finish. This is reflected in the scores from their fellow contestants: Tash and Hera earn a solid 23 out of 30, while Chris and Bex get just 19.
It looks for all money like the Rotorua soulmates are going through, leaving the newlyweds to return to Wanaka empty-handed. But the judges still hold 60 of the 100 available points, and they notice things the amateur foodies don’t.
Both give Tash and Hera’s entree a 7, with Manu marvelling over the crayfish and Pete decrying the sisters’ secret sauce “a little lacklustre”. Chris and Bex’s novella-length entree was “a bit of a mouthful,” says Pete, but “a delicious mouthful.” He gives it an 8, and Manu, who praises the complexity and technique of the rabbit roulade, gives it a 9. Just like that, Chris and Bex are back in it.
There is a method to their culinary madness, and their main played to the hosts’ tastes superbly. “I love a rare beef,” admits Pete, “and that was rare.” The bone marrow sauce was “one of the best sauces we’ve had,” he raves, and Manu agrees – 8 points each. The judges praise Tash and Hera’s bravery in attempting the “death dish” risotto for so many people, and while neither can fault it, Pete only gives it a 7 to Manu’s 8. Scores tied, it’s all down to the desserts.
Pete damns Tash and Hera’s pears with faint praise, calling it “a good dish,” while Manu says it lacked a wow factor. They each score it a 7. Chris and Bex’s dessert was too rich and they crammed too much into the glass, but the judges still find enough to admire about it to give it an 8 each.
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Chris and Bex have won, 76 to 74.
Tash and Hera can consider themselves a little unlucky – in soccer terms, they held their own against a more experienced opponent for 90 minutes, only to be sunk by an injury-time goal with a slight hint of offside. At the same time, Chris and Bex displayed serious grit and tactical nous in tailoring their menu to the judges’ tastes. They must now be considered a serious threat by the remaining teams.
Next week: A bric-a-brac of New Zealand sporting heroes comes for tea as long-shots Jaryd and Ben take on the formidable Heather and Mitch in the second sudden death cook-off. On paper it’s a mismatch, but if any team in this competition is liable to implode under pressure it’s Christchurch’s volatile foodie friends.
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