Here’s how to tell if a hotel is posh: No matter where in the world they are or where they’re from, the staff greets you with a “hello.” French, as everyone knows, is the most chic language in the world.
So when the first word out of the mouth of the unmistakably Australian General Manager of Sofitel Queenstown is “hello”, we know that the six best MasterChef NZ – Sam, Elliot, Alice, Hana, Jason and Naomi – are in the kitchen of a fancy hotel, and they’ll cook fancy stuff for fancy people.
Tonight, one of them will win immunity by cooking the best room service dish three times in less than 25 minutes.
They’re going to cook for a VIP, but I’m not going to get carried away with that, because it’s Three who considers the lady presenting Lotto a star.
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Room service, we are told, is synonymous with speed and quality. It’s trickier than restaurant service because the food will continue to cook during the four-minute journey from the kitchen to the hotel room.
The first six have one hour to prepare. Sam’s golden ricotta and kumara tortellini, and he’s nervous, remembering his past pasta troubles.
Elliot drew prime rib, which he pronounces “beef rib.” I guess he’s not that fancy. (In all honesty, it’s tricky. The only way I can describe how to pronounce it is to say it’s like you start the word, forget the middle part, then finish. “B-uhh-f.” I’m not fancy either, but I’ve befriended a lot of French people in the hope that it will rub off on me.)
“At the end of the day, no matter what, I’ll put the best version of myself on the plate,” Elliot says, which sounds downright eerie when there’s a massive cleaver hanging behind him.
Michael is the only judge in the prep room, with the others presumably being greeted by staff at the spa. He says Hana, who draws bouillabaisse, has the hardest job.
“I just need to cook with confidence,” says Hana. “And also get the fish out at the right time.” Wise words, Hana.
Naomi freaks out over her salsa verde recipe, which calls for “a bunch of parsley” or “a small handful of pickles.”
“How much does a small handful cost?” She despairs. “Is it like my little handful, which is just like a handful, but small?” In her post-game interviews, her hair is wild, standing all over the place, as if she’s frantically pulling it.
But when the prep time comes to an end, she feels confident. The first order arrives and the VIP on the line is… restaurateur Ben Bayly. Better than a Lotto announcer, I guess.
He orders three prime ribs, two rare and one medium-rare, and Elliot delivers. He’ll give his prepared meat a “grill tickle.”
“It looks good !” Jason calls from the sidelines. “The food isn’t bad either.”
“Jason! Elliot turns around. “You are such a flirt! This does not surprise me.
Elliot finishes the plating in the last second of his 25 minutes and takes the steaks upstairs. Turns out Ben Bayly can’t pronounce beef either. Eh. I would have chosen it for chic.
The beef, in any case, is not perfectly cooked and the gratin – so French! – is undercooked. Textually, says Vaughan, it’s “a bit boring.”
The next VIP on the fan is Kelli Brett, editor of Cuisine mag and probably one of Vaughan’s favorite people. She orders three portions of bouillabaisse (as expected, she pronounces it right).
The first thing Hana has to do here is mix her rouille into her broth, but – oh no! – it divides.
“I made a mistake,” she said, “which is not good.” Hana, it’s not.
She recovers though and gets back into it, cool as a blast freezer.
“Put them together!” says Michael, in a clear gaslight example; she is very together.
The mistake slows her down, however, and with a minute to go, the plates are empty. She arrives on time, but she hasn’t had time to taste anything, and when she goes upstairs, it’s clear. It’s under-seasoned, say the judges. Hana looks discouraged.
Next VIP on the phone is… Tony Stewart, last seen barking orders last Sunday in his role as Amisfield’s food and beverage manager. He orders duck breast – Alice’s dish. She knows what she has to do, but “I don’t know how I’m supposed to do this in 21 minutes…I don’t have time to follow this recipe,” she says.
He is an unusually downcast cook for Alice. She missed an opportunity to enjoy the experience, she says: “I’m not 100% proud of this dish.
The judges walk in and a close-up of Nadia’s chewing face clearly shows that the duck is very tough. It’s undercooked, Tony says, the sinew isn’t broken and the fat isn’t melted. Always kind Nadia says the broccolini side is “perfect”, but it is a rare miss for Alice.
Back in the kitchen, Ben is still hungry! This time he wants Naomi’s racks of lamb.
Like Alice, Naomi feels the pressure. When she slices her lamb, it’s undercooked and goes back into the pan. At the end, she literally throws chickpeas on the plate.
“You can definitely see he’s had a bumpy ride,” says Ben, who can tell he needed another cook. According to Vaughan, it is now overcooked, even though it tastes good.
For her next dish, Kelli wants venison with mashed apples – mashed potatoes – kale, mushrooms and blackberries. It’s Jason, and he felt pretty good about it, after wowing the judges with his audition venison.
But this time it doesn’t fit. Like Naomi, he has to send meat that’s too rare back to the stove, and with 30 seconds to go, he’s not even plating. In the end, the blackberries that should be there do not arrive on the plate.
“I cocked it,” he told the judges. Vaughan says it’s pretty rare, which isn’t bad, but the “cooking” isn’t good.
The missing blackberries “kinda ruined the dish,” he says. All the flirting is gone from poor old Jason.
Eventually, Tony orders Sam’s tortellini. “Obviously I’ve had a few tortellini in my day,” he says over the phone.
Sam thinks he’s terrified, but it doesn’t show at all. He prepares at 10 minutes, prompting a “Looking beautiful Sam, bravo” from the chef of the Sofitel Roy, and is the only one to get up early.
His dish is perfectly cooked and delicious. He succeeded.
It seems certain that Sam will get immunity – his dish was the only one without significant issues – and he does.
A place in the final looks like a padlock. But the other two feel wide open. The question is: who can come back from a fiasco like this?