M-chef recap: Duelling duos

22:32, Feb 02 2014
IS EVERYTHING BETTER IN PAIRS?: We're just not sure.

Not content with punching above our weight in rugby, women's voting rights and sheep per capita, New Zealand is also, officially, the first country to have a Masterchef duo competition.

Yep, no longer will the best individual chef win the title, the new edition of the programme launched last night requires partners to work together in harmony.

What could possibly go wrong?

The hopefuls walk in and are immediately faced by the three judges - Ray "Razor Sharp" McVinnie, Simon "I shouldn't have eaten that last biscuit" Gault and Josh "Silver Fox" Emett - and have an hour to put together their signature dishes.

Who's going to do enough to win the cars, kitchenware, groceries and book deal this year?

Kasey and Karena, sisters from Maketu, are first up but instead of relying on the good old Maketu pie to make it through they make a creamed paua ravioli and salted caramel fondant instead.


The fondant oozes, the judges smile and the paua excites Simon so much that I suspect he finished off the whole plate. Three "yes" votes and they're through to the competition-proper.

Next up Christchurch siblings Matt and Courtney show their paper, scissors, rock method of making decisions and instantly draw the ire of Josh with a kitchen so messy that it looks like the afters of a chimps' tea party.

Their steamed mussels and apricot and lemon dumplings, however, do just enough to convince the judges to award them aprons - despite the obvious concern over kitchen cleanliness.

Friends Letitia and Melanie then deliver our triumvirate; a fragrant seafood bowl and stuffed baked apple, but the thin Creme Anglaise is a "disaster", and we quickly move on to the next pair.

Bec and Jamie from Arrowtown step up to the mark, and Jamie immediately makes it clear she's in charge. Poor Bec compares it to childbirth - and I'm pretty sure that's just dealing with Jamie shouting at her.

Their miso-marinated salmon and coconut panna cotta draws admiring gasps from Josh but the chillis and wasabi foam stick in Simon's throat. It's not enough to deny them a place and more aprons are handed over.

Mother and daughter Nikki and Jordan deliver a crispy-skinned salmon with a white chocolate and lemon sauce to a pensive Simon but he likes it, and the poached pears are "executed faultlessly". "Bang on," says Ray and it's three more "yes's" from the judges.

Dunedin mother and son Donna-Marie and Jon immediately run into problems with their cloud nine dessert - it looks like a cloud, and is meant to have nine ingredients and will leave them on cloud nine - but their berries are nowhere to be found.

The pan-fried sole fillet is perfectly cooked and Simon is smiling again - and Ray joins in despite his berry disappointment. We have another pair through despite the lack of ingredient.

Have you ever wondered what a West Auckland interpretation of salsa verde would look like? Father and daughter Bruce and Gina gave the answer.

Their deep-fried salmon (sorry, salmon poached in infused oil) with salsa verde isn't quite cooked right and Bruce's bread and butter pudding takes Ray back to the days of rationing.

The lack of sweetness, creaminess and fruitiness is enough to send them back home to think again.

Shelley and Trudie are immediately under pressure when Josh describes their herb-crusted rack of lamb and sticky date pudding menu as "middle of the road" and wonders whether they're just trying to coast into the finals.

But the sisters stick up for themselves despite delivering a slightly over-cooked lamb and dry pudding. Josh sees enough in them to vote yes but Simon isn't convinced.

Ray has the deciding vote and cops out and says "maybe" depending on what the other teams deliver.

Beauty queen Collette (Miss New Zealand 2012) and her fiance Sam want to integrate their love for cooking - but without telling us what they want to integrate it with. Life, presumably.

They also deliverer a rack of lamb - although it's simpler and better cooked than the previous efforts. The stuffed roast pear looks amazing but Ray seems confused with the taste - but not enough to deny them yet another set of aprons.

Jenn and Elizabeth (who failed to make it through last year but is back for another shot) are a former couple who reckon their previous relationship might stand them in good stead for the journey ahead.

Their cream of spinach spaetzle looks like it was just chucked on to a plate while their bourbon chocolate cake doesn't look as good as it sounds. Can taste make up for lack of presentation?

"It tastes like the real deal," says Simon but Josh disagrees and he's not going to put them through. However, Ray comes up with the deciding vote in their favour and we have another set of aprons dished out.

Then it's off around the world with the next few groups.

Whakatane flatmates Catherine and Jack are delivering some Malaysian flavours while sisters Verena and Tanisha hope to transport the judges to South America. Janaina and Thiago keep up the international flavour with the Brazilians delivering a taste from home.

But first up it's sisters Melanie and Cerry. They share their yong tau fu (which sounds much nicer than stuffed bean curd) and chendol dessert and quickly get three votes.

Catherine and Jack's sago and curried chicken is "amazing" according to Josh and yes, another team are through. Yawn.

Unfortunately Brazil on a plate doesn't stand out and we have another bunch of "maybes" for the South American couple.

Verena and Tanisha then share their story - the latter lives in Mt Maunganui and the former in Melbourne. They're here because Tanisha wants to do something with her passion for cooking while Verena, who survived being shot in the spine and paralysed, wants to help her sister who was there for her when she was rehabilitating.

Their dishes of Peruvian causa and churros look amazing and the tastes match according to the smiling judges, and we have another duo through.

But surely Wellington friends Glynn and James can't carry on the success. The pair don't sound like they agree on anything. How can their cooking be any good?

Josh is on the prowl and he's about to lose the plot because of how untidy they are - but their seafood vermicelli and white chocolate mousse actually looks pretty tasty.

He's a "maybe" but both Simon and Ray say "yes" and with a warning about how tidily they work from Josh they're off to join the other successful couples.

Nutritionist Bridget and Food technologist Paul are using flammable liquids and syringes to concoct their cajun hot-smoked salmon and bourbon vanilla cheesecake, and they're through too.

This is getting boring. Where are the disasters? Where is the spitting out of inedible food. Where is Gordon Ramsay swearing when you need him?

Are we just too nice in New Zealand to show the really bad ones? Or can the last 15 minutes finally make me feel better about my own cooking?

Sisters Bronwyn and Fiona's rack of venison and rhubarb and apple crumble are almost ignored because they can't keep their mouths shut for two seconds. It's another easy set of "yes's" for the judges but at least we're guaranteed some laughs from these two in the coming weeks.

Oh, here we go.

Partners Jo and Mike are concerned their curry is too bitter and they're trying to make it better. Ray only tastes the first dish and he's a "no" already. Josh saves Simon the pain and offers another no and they're gone.

Taipari and Lilly are going to deliver some traditional Maori kai but their pork and puha boil-up doesn't look particularly appetising - but I'd happily sit and eat their burnt sugar pudding which looks like it could power me through a few hours of hard labour.

And we have another maybe vote so we have a three-way playoff for the final two spots.

It's a taste test and Thai seafood curry with 20 ingredients. The teams get a point for every ingredient they can identify in two minutes, so who's going through?

With 15 ingredients out of 20, Shelley and Trudie quickly score a place in the final 15 when Taipari and Lilly can only get eight ingredients. So who's going to get the final spot? The Brazilians or the Kiwis?

Despite offering up chicken, pre-made curry and water as potential ingredients, much to the incredulity of the judges, the Brazilians get their ninth point with cumin on their last call and the Kiwi kai is gone for another day.

Now we have our top 15 duos and tomorrow and next week we can get on to the important stuff, like the Masterchef house and people cooking stuff that sends Josh into a tizz and causes Ray to give one of his stares.

And while the cooking may have passed muster, I'm saving my judgement on the new formula for now.

I guess that makes me a maybe.