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MasterChef New Zealand


Steve's blog - episode two

Can you feel the pressure building?!

I sure can! Two challenges to get through to the Top 12, and the first one is the humble egg.

These guys have been thrown straight in the deep end. Last season we were doing challenges like filleting a salmon, and a taste test, and chopping cucumbers, whereas these guys in series 2 are straight into the cooking challenges, and with eggs it's all about timing.

This really is a tough competition, and that was summed up all too well with Rochelle going home, after cooking one of the star dishes last week - just goes to show, you're only as good as your last dish! That was really drilled into us last year, and as Matt Preston from Aussie MasterChef told us when he visited us in the MasterChef house in Series One, the number one piece of advice he had for us was - STAY in the competition, that's the only way to win. DON'T get eliminated.

Simple right?

So that means pushing the boundaries, but still putting up excellent dishes for the judges to taste. DON'T forget any ingredients in the pantry, LISTEN to instructions very carefully - miss one thing on the plate and you're gone, as we saw. It's harsh, but that's the reality of this cooking comp. I recall last year when we were out at Whenuapai, competing to get into the Top 12. You start spending a lot of time with these other contestants, and you start to build up relationships, so then when someone gets eliminated, real emotion comes out - you feel like someone from the family is gone - and this feeling only gets worse as the competition goes on - believe me!

And for the second challenge it was the steak BBQ - that would've been right up my alley! Steak cooked to medium rare - yum, just the way I like it! And that's the way it is required to be presented in most cooking competitions. But that is harder than it looks, especially when the time pressure comes on. And don't forget the number one rule - rest your steak after cooking. All the juices re-distribute through the meat when it rests, making it a far superior, juicier steak than if you serve and cut into it immediately. Equipment failure reared its ugly head and caused the demise of one contestant - the pilot light going out on the gas stove. This unfortunately is really no excuse, because part of being a chef is being able to, not compromise, but adapt and modify if something doesn't work.
And checking oven temps and making sure things are boiling or simmering is one of the first things you do - I mean, if you're cooking eggs and the water isn't simmering, there's something seriously wrong - get it sorted straight away, not with one minute to go! I can't stress this enough - I remember a few contestants last season that blamed equipment failure, but that's like a bad workman blaming his tools - there is always another way to cook or prepare something, and if you're good, you'll find a way - if you're not, you're going home. This competition is about finding the best amateur cook in the country, so that means a cook that can adapt, be accurate and calm under extreme pressure, can think and react quickly, and can be inventive and creative. A tough ask, but I know these guys are up to it.

And now we have our Top 12!

I remember the absolute elation and trepidation after I was named in the Top 12 in Series One - wondering what I had gotten myself into - thinking that maybe I shouldn't do this, maybe one of the other guys deserved it more? I had some serious self doubt there for a while, even though it may not have looked like it on TV. And I also have my own graphic design business, Detonate Design Studios, so I was wondering how I was going to keep that running while I was away filming MasterChef. But as I sat there and thought about it - I thought, obviously the judges see something in me, and I also thought about an old anecdote I had once heard - the Rocking Chair test. The test requires you to simply ask yourself "When I'm 85 and sitting in my rocking chair, will I regret it if I didn't do it?".

I applied this to my MasterChef Top 12 spot, and I was like "Hell yeah, I'll regret it if I don't give this thing everything I've got!", so then it was full steam ahead! For me, this Top 12 spot was a real turning point, I was into the REAL competition now, moving into the MasterChef mansion as these guys will next week - this is where it really gets serious. I can imagine how these guys are feeling, and I don't envy them - they've got some grueling challenges ahead!

Sam the builder seems competent but still a bit clumsy, but he'll get there! Kathleen does some INTERESTING things, but she's great to watch - I'm now wondering what she'll do next! Jax likes living on the edge - but she managed to scrape in there. Robert really impresses me, he has some great skills, as does Fiona - she's really stepped it up from last year. Nadia has some amazing ideas, and the judges seem to like making her cry! She seems to want to show us her whole range of cooking skills on one plate - remember, less is more Nadia!

Matt Preston gave us a little tip last series - he said when you've plated up, take one thing OFF the plate - keep it simple. Which brings me to Cameron - my man! Simple things executed well - nice clean cooking, he's the guy to watch!

For me the real stand-outs at this early (and I stress EARLY!) stage are Nadia, Cameron, Robert and of course Michael, the Golden Apron winner. I can see any of these four in the final.

But ANYTHING can happen in this comp, so look out - it's game on, and may the best chef win!
Steve Juergens

Steve Juergens