Baking: Latest front in cook-off wars

Last updated 05:00 29/11/2009
Photo: Peter Meecham
From catwalk to cakewalk: New Zealand's Hottest Home Baker host Colin Mathura-Jeffree.

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The eight-episode reality TV series is currently being filmed in Auckland and is set to run on TV3 in the New Year. The competition features amateur bakers in matching frilly pinnies, baking food dear to New Zealanders' hearts – pavlovas, cupcakes, scones, lamingtons and perhaps a few surprises.

The show reflects the recent renaissance in home baking and retro food, and the accompanying success of new Kiwi cookbook titles such as Alexa Johnston's Ladies, a Plate and Allyson Gofton's Bake.

Each episode will have two bake-offs and an elimination, with the theme for the first being the contestants' signature dish.

The show is set to give TV One's Masterchef New Zealand, also running early next year on TV One, a run for its money.

Presiding over the glossy retro-themed pink kitchen is host and former New Zealand's Next Top Model judge Colin Mathura-Jeffree, who's swapping the catwalk for a dessertspoon as he looks forward to adding some "spice and style" to the show.

The contestants, who passed auditions by baking their signature dish, are not your average retired grannies or bored housewives either, but range from a 31-year-old bank manager and new mum to, wait for it, 21-year-old makeup artist Grayson Coutts, the son of two-time America's Cup-winning Kiwi skipper Russell Coutts.

Grayson Coutts, who used to take his baking to school to share with his friends, says he's not fazed at being the only male in the competition.

"I am nervous because there's definitely some talent here and just listening to people talk about their baking is nerve-racking. But being the only guy here doesn't worry me. I figure that's a positive thing, because it gives me a creative edge. And I'm also the youngest by eight years."

Coutts wowed the judges during the auditions with his specialty dish, a decadent double-chocolate hazelnut cheesecake. So what's his trick? "Having all your ingredients at room temperature, including the cream cheese and eggs," he says.

Home-baking guru and television cook Jo Seagar believes the reason TV cooking shows are proving so popular is because people are enjoying getting back to basics and regaining control of what goes into their food.

"People are loving getting back into the kitchen. For a few years there we were all dashing out for coffees, dashing out to cafes ... now we've realised the folly of our ways. We've begun to appreciate that making something for someone means something – it means I care for you."

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Mathura-Jeffree reckons the judges, New Zealand-raised, Shanghai-based award-winning baker, patissier and baking book author Dean Brettschneider and world-class pastry chef and chocolatier Pauline Nunns, will be looking for versatility and inventiveness in the contestants' confections.

Asked if he can bake, Mathura-Jeffree laughs: "No ... I'll be judging as I bring a tin out, to bring the leftovers home."

- Sunday Star Times

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