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Chef On A Mission


Episode 2 - Bendigo

Chef On A Mission on TV ONE

The country's favourite chef, Simon Gault, travels to stunning Central Otago sheep station, Bendigo - home to legendary long-haired merino, Shrek.

Simon's mission is to join the local shearing gang, experience their way of life, find out what they eat, then think of ways to improve their menu, cooking them a three-course feast using only local ingredients and his trusty 'toolkit' - a box of secret herbs, spices and sauces he never goes far without.

The mission starts in epic style:  helicopter-mustering high in the Bendigo hills to round up a mob of sheep for crutching.

Down in the woolshed, Simon joins the shearing gang and finds out just how hard their job is, as he attempts to crutch first a reasonably placid ewe, then a considerably feistier ram.  He dines with the gang and learns what they like to eat and why. 

That evening he goes rabbit-shooting and comes up with the first idea for his menu. 

Next morning, he meets Shrek, the long-haired merino who made headlines around the world in 2004 when he was discovered high up in the hills with at least four years' worth of wool on him.  The meeting with the 16-year-old sheep proves to be all the more poignant as just two months later, Shrek passes away, and Simon and his crew turn out to be the last to film the noble animal.

Simon chats with the man who first tackled Shrek's flowing locks, champion blade-shearer Peter Casserly.  And just to prove that Shrek isn't a one-off, Bendigo station owner John Perriam turns up with 'Shrek's sister', a long-haired merino ewe, also found high in the hills with several years' growth.  On the spot Peter and Simon give her an old-fashioned haircut, using blade shears.

So far so good, but Simon's got a meal to cook.  With no time to lose, he heads out into magnificent Central Otago to source all the produce he needs for his feast. 

He returns to the tiny Bendigo shearers' kitchen and, with the help of local cooks Bridget and Sarah and a surprise guest, MasterChef New Zealand contestant Sue Drummond, embarks on preparing an ambitious three-course dinner for 40 shearers and assorted guests - wild rabbit ragout, barbecued venison with chocolate crumb, fig jus and parsnip puree, and a quince and feijoa crumble with a berry fizz.

If it comes off, it will be a triumph.  But just how will Simon's fancy restaurant-style dishes go down with a bunch of hard-bitten shearers, more used to scoffing pies, burgers and chips?

Whatever the result, there's no doubt the mission has had a big impact on the Auckland-based chef.  "On this trip I fell in love with Central Otago all over again," says Simon.  "The autumn colours were truly spectacular.  I met the most amazing people, enjoyed their legendary southern hospitality and found some awesome local produce.  It was an absolute pleasure to cook for the Bendigo gang, and to spend time with Shrek shortly before he died was the icing on the cake.  It's an experience I'll never forget."