When you area MasterChef New Zealand contestant, charcoal sausages and black chicken with pink centres just don’t cut it.
But that didn’t stop a third of last week’s contestants from setting their state of the art barbecues on fire, causing Paula Saengthian-Ngam to muse thoughtfully, “As soon as I throw oil on the barbecue, it goes up in flames.” How about that for a surprise?
“In their defence, those barbecues run really hot,” defends Simon. “I cooked on one at a masterclass recently and it nearly caught me out.
“Learning how to recognise and cope with your cooking equipment on an out-catering job is part of the challenge.”
But fires – and the now inevitable tears – aside, most of the food being produced is of a standard that wouldn’t look out of place in a good restaurant.
“After a while, something changes in you,” explains Brenton. “You’re still trying to prove what you can do to the judges, but somewhere along the line it becomes about proving it to yourself.
“By now you’ve been closeted away from everything you know and everyone you love for so long, in a house with a group of strangers, that the cooking becomes all-encompassing.
“The end of the line is just there, so close – you reach the point that if you don’t do your absolute best, prove to yourself that you can get to the end, you feel like you’ve just wasted the last three months of your life.”
And, indeed, for some of the remaining contestants, the intensity has become plain for the judges to see.
While some of the contestants have worn their hearts on their sleeves since the beginning, the normally inscrutable Kelly Kaihea has finally revealed her softer side.
“Stress shows with different people in very different ways, and I’ve said before that I don’t fully understand Kelly, but she has finally broken. Things are getting on top of her I think,” says Simon.
“She was all a little bit too superhuman for a while, but seeing her crack changed my opinion of her a bit.
“She’s not easy to connect with, but finally I saw that she actually, really does want to win MasterChef. Will she? She could do.”
MasterChef New Zealand screens TV One, Sundays, 7.30pm