Everyone has had them. You know, those really strange dreams, where a bell is ringing within your REM induced state of mind and then as you emerge into reality you discover that it is the bleating of your iphone alerting you to the start of your day. When it is Josh Emett and a gong, any previous blissful contextual dream is long forgotten, as you scramble for suitable attire to meet your formidably dapper judge – who is way too chipper for 5am! Wrapped up and assembled on the grass outside our mansion, and with a cruise ship’s fairy lights blinking behind us we are informed that our team challenge will be battled out on board The Dawn Princess, itself about to dock at Auckland Harbour. So it’s time to choose an apron, and for me it’s a blue. Not ideal to have Aaron and Ella on your team if there is a chance of a cook-off between team members!
The Dawn Princess is intimidatingly large. There are balconys and staircases and elevators all alluding to the levels and corridors hidden from sight. There is a sense of old fashioned opulence and grandeur about the foyer. Our judges meet us and forewarn us that we face the biggest challenge yet for Masterchef NZ. I am really quite excited to have the opportunity to get into a real kitchen and get to work. I am thrilled to learn the blue team has Simon Gault as our mentor – I imagine we will work hard but there will be some humour and light hearted interjection from our Chef judge that will be well appreciated. We have three hours to prep and cook and whilst it sounds like a fair chunk of time we have a lot of people to cater for. The kitchen is spotless, gleaming and ready – food prep is about to begin.
I am super excited to see pot stickers on the menu. I love making dumplings os I am hoping that I will be able to prepare that dish. Kelly is our leader and is happy to accommodate so now I just need to create perfect dumplings as deemed by Chef Alfredo!
Sadly, I am to discover that the dumplings have all been prepared and so all I really need to produce is the sauce and the garnish. Pretty gutted about this but you can’t run with disappointment, you still need to move ahead and get on with your task. Kelly is a great leader. She is constanly calling by and checking we are under control, checking whether we could be of use elsewhere and that we are confortable with our dishes before service. I am working opposite Sushil which is a joy. He is so happy and committed. He can’t stop smiling and bantering with the staff. His eyes are lit and he is on fire – how could any of us not be infected with the same enthusiasm…….
Lining up to show Alfredo our food is a moment to take stock, that this is for real. I am happy with my presentation. I think it looks fresh and attractive. I am reminded that the sauce should be served warm – noted! Then it is time for Simon to give us our pep talk and there is something about his voice – he is so energised and focussed – it keeps me pumped!
Once service starts it’s fun. This is the real deal – people in a restaurant are on the receiving end of our food. David is alongside me on the pass and is soup is looking awesome. He has it nailed and looks totally at home and in control of his station. I have others at my station, cooking dumplings and delivering them to me to serve. All I care about is getting those dumplings looking good on the plate and when I hand them over to the waiting staff I feel I have achieved that. I can only hope the judges agree.
As we finish up in the galley, Simon gathers us for a post synopsis and commends us on our team work. It feels good to receive some praise from him and we have all worked really hard. Kelly has been a great leader so we all feel quietly positive,
Elimination is always felt deep in the gut. Having shared stories with each other before entering the Masterchef kitchen we have created uncertainty. The convincingly positive vibe has suddenly been undermined and our sharing has brought forth anxieties.
Simon speaks of our team with hugely positive acclaim and calls us ‘an orchestra in motion’. Kelly must feel super chuffed and I rest easier. He intimates that there isn’t a weak link in the blue team. However, he has been asked to select the worst performer and for a brief moment I feel violently ill. I have so not showcased the food as I would have like to, and I know Paula and Kelly feel the same – who will he choose? When he refuses to select one of us I want to race up and hug him and when he spots Sushil as the top preformer I am thrilled to acknowledge Simon’s fair, honest and supportive assessment of the team.
But the relief is short lived as Ray calls my name and I am picked as being in the bottom two. I am tired, a little angry and miserable. Thank goodness I have another chance – this is my opportunity to prove myself and hopefully hold a place in the competition. Whilst I am close to tears I realise that crying isn’t going to assist and that I need to focus all my energy on the food.
As I walk to take the front bench, I spot the whitebait. “Oh please be a whitebait fritter”, I muse. I know Ray’s recipe by heart and if I have to cook a fritter then there is no excuse but to cook one Ray’s way!
I have ten minutes, loads of white bait, egg and baking soda – sorted. But cooking against one of your peers is an awful feeling. I know the fritter is simple but it needs to be perfect. I have no idea what is happening behind me and I can’t afford to worry about it. I just need to showcase the whitebait.
Once my fritters are cooked I determinedly clean the edges of the plate and wipe down my bench – I don’t want to hear anything about having a messy workstation or shoddy presentation.
Placing the fritters infront of the judges and noting the differences in our dishes I say a simple prayer to myself that following Rays recipe has not lead me astray! The sense of relief when Simon states my fritters are good is overwhelming. I am shaking so much I can’t wait to crash onto that ‘safe’ couch next to Sushil, and breath. Am around for another day!