When we stepped into the sea planes I thought I may never see land again. Instead, we landed atop an ice-blue sea and alongside the idyllic Dolphin Island. The greeting was warm and genuine. I loved the friendly professionalism. Neither stiff nor formal – just amiable and unaffected.
Yet we knew there was to be a challenge. There was no doubt a holiday was a life-time’s dream away. So your splendour was acknowledged amidst a personal angst – can I stay in the competition and secure an extra night in paradise!
Dinner and drinks were abruptly interrupted to remind us all of the reality of our adventure. Time for the first contest. A crab race to determine the winner for the next day! I love the number 6 so I chose my crab with ease. Off it went – determined not to let me down and won the race of the evening. Other’s were not so lucky and Aaron’s crab decided it had been in paradise for too long and needed a well earned rest.
So the tone was set and rest came easily for me knowing I may be at an advantage the following day. And it was an early morning start for all of us, with Josh and Ray laying down the terms of our win and loss following the crustaceans’ olympic run across the white sands.
I couldn’t wait to cook first so was thrown to realise I actually was to cook last. There was to be no lying around basking in the sunshine for me. It was pure and simple – an 8 hour wait and the extended pressure of determining the best dish to cook when it was my turn to enter the kitchen.
The sun rose. The sun shone and the sun set. Eventually I found my place in the unelaborated kitchen that is the hub of Dolphin Island’s cuisine. Michelin star Chef Michel Louws – Thank you for your calm presence, for your encouragement and your questioning. I felt it important to keep it simple and flavour filled and unwaveringly I prepared carefully to achieve a Dolphin Island dish.
I was pushing with time. I needed to massage the clock but there was no chance for that. With a few extra minutes my Coral Trout would have presented with honour, but as I took it forward I had to pray that the cooking process had carried on, enough, outside of the oven. And so with hope, yet fear in my heart, I presented my dish to the judges.
The flavours were tropical. They were fresh and vibrant. The salsa had punch. I felt good about it all – but was the fish cooked all the way through?
Elimination. The dread of the black tee shirt and pants. The somber faces – the pre goodbyes just in case the only other chance is on camera. It is exhausting. It is sad. Then I am in the bottom two. I worked well in the kitchen. I know that. But if my fish was raw – then it was raw and my time had come.
Somehow the words became a jumble. Michele scored me a 9 in the kitchen and my food proclaimed – “Fiji” from the plate. I was safe. I was relieved. I had secured an extra evening at Dolphin Island – a place of magical tranquility – and an extra challenge in the Master Chef NZ competition.
Yet, in the wake of my success, came Jennis’s home bound trip and my heart strayed to her. Her sadness was etched on her face and I realised that as our peers start to depart at this stage, the despondency is shared. It is not only about ‘self’ at this moment but about a collective group. A group that have shared a house and now an island. Where will it lead us and how will we cope…………