Last night’s MasterChef grand final had all the ingredients you could ask for – a guest appearance from British celebrity chef Rick Stein, a trifle that was not to be trifled with, incredible dishes thrown onto plates in the final seconds and plenty of tears.
But in the end Auckland marketing executive Chelsea Winter was declared the 2012 winner, finishing the competition just five points ahead of Waiheke mum Ana Schwarz.
“I can’t believe I’m standing here. And that I’m New Zealand’s next MasterChef,” an emotional Chelsea said when the decision was announced.
“You cooked brilliantly in this final. You are a deserving winner,” said judge Simon Gault.
As a final test of their knowledge, skill and all-round cooking ability, Winter and Schwarz faced not one, but four epic challenges: a taste test, an invention test, a mystery box challenge and a pressure test, involving a fiendishly hard dessert.
First up, was the taste test which Ana won by two points.
The second challenge was an invention test, using venison supplied by guest judge and former MasterChef contestant Cameron Peatley.
Ana started on the back foot after forgetting to grab sugar and a key ingredient she needed for her jus.
“I’d never really cooked with venison before,” Chelsea said at the end of the challenge.
But she impressed the judges to score 18 out of 20 and go six points ahead.
The third challenge involved a mystery box, and was introduced by British culinary star Rick Stein.
Inside the box were ingredients and a recipe for Stein’s Malaysian prawn laksa.
The finalists had 60 minutes to cook their own version.
The judges told Schwarz that her laksa was sensational. Stein said he loved the flavours, and that the presentation was beautiful. They awarded the dish 17 points. She now had a total score of 42.
The judges thought Winter’s dish looked more like a traditional laksa, but the flavours didn’t work quite so well. They gave it 14 points, bringing her total to 43.
So it was all down to the fourth challenge, recreating Euro Euro executive chef Eugene Hamilton’s aptly named “torturous trifle”, a 10-layer dessert that took three hours to create.
At tasting, the judges told Schwarz that she had done a good first-time job. The flavours worked well together and the dessert looked “spectacular”. They awarded it 30 points.
They told Winter that she had made a great-looking trifle despite getting one of the layers wrong and the Italian meringue being undercooked. Her trifle scored 34 points, giving her the 2012 MasterChef title.
We asked MasterChef winner Chelsea Winter about her time on the show.
What was your biggest success on MasterChef?
Winning, of course! Mind-blowing experience!
What your worst or most embarrassing moment on the show?
My burger cake. It was horrendously tapered and offensive to look at. And after all those long hours loving care I put into making it, too.
What did you learn from being on MasterChef?
That good food isn’t always about adhering to strict rules and recipes – it’s about knowing what makes sense and having the courage to try new things. You’ll fail sometimes (as we all learned) – however the times you do succeed make it worthwhile.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Check that the blast chiller was working before I based a whole dish around using it!
Who has inspired your passion for cooking?
Mum, Heather, the MasterChef judges, various chefs, fellow food lovers – everyone that’s ever served me up a plate of good food has helped inspire my love of food. The other MasterChef contestants are amazing – I’ve learned so much from them.
If you were having any three people, alive or dead, over for dinner, who would they be and what would you cook for them?
Elvis – my spicy chicken wings with blue cheese dipping sauce; Jamie Oliver – something free range, rustic and chickeny, and a big pint of lager; and Abe Lincoln – I’d make him osso bucco and apple pie with lavender cream.
What’s your favourite dish to cook?
There are too many! I do love the comfort of cooking up a nice curry in winter – there’s something special about the way the flavours and colours develop as you cook it. And the aromas! Also, roast chicken is pretty satisfying to make – normally I get so excited I start eating the gravy with a spoon while the chicken is resting.
If you could visit any restaurant in the world, which one would it be?
The Fat Duck. And Noma in Denmark, because apparently it’s the best restaurant in the world.
Who was your favourite MasterChef contestant?
I had a blast with everyone in the house; everyone has such wonderful unique personalities. I really can’t single out one person. Sorry, I know that’s a very lame and boring answer!
What’s your top tip for aspiring chefs?
I’m still an aspiring chef myself! But the way I see it, work hard, believe in yourself, listen and learn carefully from the people you aspire to be like. Professional chefs put in years and years of hard work and extraordinarily long hours to succeed and become great – it’s definitely not an easy road but if food is your passion, it’s worth it.
What's next for you?
I’m going to work on my cookbook for now. I want to have several by the time I’m 35! I would also love to own my own cafe a few years down the track, but in the immediate future I hope to travel New Zealand to really discover all the produce and products the country has to offer.
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