Masterchef mountain man rips in
Is chicken a meat or a vegetable?
Food & Wine
''Chicken, because it's like a lady's meat, it's more like a vegetable.''
OPINION: And with those immortal words the latest Masterchef series has has its first star - Johnny Trevathan, the high country farmer.
Besides his entertaining turn, sitting down to watch the cooking reality TV show - now in its fourth season - was like ordering from the menu at a favourite restaurant.
We started with a trip down memory lane to visit previous winners - can you name them? - and got more pronouncements from the judges, Simon Gault, Ray McVinnie and Josh Emett about their appetite for another series. Gault seems more excitable than ever, McVinnie as caustic and Emett as sharp in his Zambesi suits.
More than 1000 eager hopefuls auditioned for the show, which requires wannabes to agree to quit their jobs if they score one of the coveted contestant aprons. Just like in seasons past, there were stay-at-home mums, tradies, IT guys, students and hospo veterans, all promising the judges that food was their "passion".
The exception was Johnny, who pulled an all-nighter before his audition to celebrate a mate's success at a farming contest.
Johnny, a huntin', shootin', fishin' kind of guy with an unironic beard and a laconic way about him, was refreshingly laidback about his chances. His trip to the big smoke had already been a success, he reasoned, since he'd won $14,000 at the casino the night before. Johnny, who said he liked to cook all meat - "except chicken, because it's like a lady's meat, it's more like a vegetable" - then wowed the judges with perfectly cooked venison backstrap (from a deer he'd shot himself, naturally).
His mountain man charm was in direct contrast to over-confident Trent Godfrey, who served up an "exotic gourmet salad" ("this is Masterchef, not Mastershopper," McVinnie hissed), though Trent proved he knew his onions when the judges made him cook a medium-rare steak. Other cocksure contestants weren't so lucky - one failed to successfully boil an egg despite three attempts, two more struggled to whip up a decent omelette and another tried weeping into her dish, presumably having decided it wasn't salty enough already.
But it was impossible even for a hardened old cynic like me not to be moved by the tears of Serena Edwards, who made her mother's pineapple passion delight cake, complete with handmade frangipani flower, tears streaking her face as the judges praised it. Serena, a former lecturer who said she had entered Masterchef to represent the people of south Auckland, silenced McVinnie when he tried to suggest she might be a one-trick pony. "I'm here to win," she said defiantly.
With 23 other contestants who think the same thing, there will be more tears before bedtime.