Masterchef down to final two
He turned cucumber into cannelloni, made snapper skin into chips and got fried by viewers after telling tales on his fellow competitors, but Masterchef contestant Tony Price took the ultimate gamble last night by serving up undercooked chicken.
Price - who said he doubted the chicken really was underdone - was eliminated from the cooking contest after a battle for a semi-final spot with Ana Schwarz and Chelsea Winter.
Award-winning cookbook writer Annabel Langbein joined the judging panel as the three contestants sweated it out to produce three dishes worthy of a cookbook in two-and-a-half hours.
Langbein told them their cookbook concept had to be "really compelling" with "great flavour and great styling".
Price looked composed and confident, though admitted his nerves were "going crazy" while he produced salmon teriyaki, Spanish-style chicken and vanilla icecream infused with kaffir lime and lemongrass for a potential book celebrating New Zealanders' love of global dishes.
Schwarz made whole snapper with red curry sauce, seared tuna nicoise and a ginger tuile tower filled with mascarpone and lemon curd for a family-friendly book, while Winter told judges her smoked fish and scallop pie, prawn entree and summer lamb salad reflected her desire to "cook from the heart".
Judge Simon Gault said 35-year-old Price looked like "a force to be reckoned with", but in the final reckoning the chicken dish failed to make the cut.
Price kept a low profile in the early stages of the competition - "my food was never that bad to attract attention at the start" - but he began to shine as the challenges moved more towards fine dining.
"That's not the sort of food I like to eat all the time, but it's a huge creative outlet for me. I got interested in that kind of thing when I went to Japan when I was seven and we had this epic feast. The finesse involved in that got the ball rolling for me."
Price, who has a small business supplying foliage to florists in Auckland, said he bore no grudge to the judges for his elimination, though he felt the ingredient-sharing incident in Singapore had been poorly handled.
"I made the final three, so there's no point in sour grapes, though I felt really, really bad that Brenton went home. We are all really good mates though and Ana and Chelsea and I just laugh about it all now.
"I'm not worried at all that I didn't win. I've got what I wanted out of it, all thanks to an 18-week all-expenses paid holiday from TVNZ! I'm now working fulltime as a chef and I feel really, really lucky. I can't tell you where I'm working at the moment but it's a big deal for me. I've been working 60-65 hour weeks and it's absolutely addictive."
Schwarz, who had looked panicked throughout the episode and was close to tears when the judges questioned her 'soul food' cookbook concept, was the first to be put through to the final. Winter looked resigned to going home when the judges announced she would be joining her.
Schwarz and Winter will fight it out for the Masterchef 2012 title in a two-hour special next week.
Who do you think will win Masterchef and who will go home with the wooden spoon?