Untapped, unspoilt and incredibly beautiful: Samoa holds a special place in the heart of MasterChef New Zealand judge Simon Gault.
A massive proponent of Samoan food, the chef says he loves heading up to the island nation, which is where he took the remaining MasterChef teams this season. But this trip was different for the new dad – it was one of his first away from home since the birth of daughter Hazel last September.
“It wasn’t much fun leaving her behind,” he begins. “It was amazing being there, but everything’s different once you have a baby. You always miss them when you’re away – they grow up so much! It all happens really fast, doesn’t it?”
Fatherhood has changed Simon, but it hasn’t altered his love of great tucker. Although being away from Hazel and wife Katrina was tough, it didn’t stop him from enjoying his time in Samoa – a place he says is bursting with culinary potential.
“It’s the new Fiji,” the chef insists. “The seafood is simply incredible, and people are starting to grow fruit and vegetables that have never been there before – though the problem is keeping the pigs out of the garden. It’s exciting.”
Though MasterChef's beach-front challenges – where the teams cooked a Samoan-style raw fish dish and an island-inspired main in the intense sunlight – looked tough on the contestants, Simon reckons it’s a situation that’s not too dissimilar to a commercial kitchen.
“There are always big jugs of water for chefs in kitchens, because they get so hot,” he says. “So it was kind of like the real environment for them!”
Simon was sad to see James Culleton and Glynn Rudolph eliminated after their dishes failed to measure up to the others, leaving five all-female teams in the competition.
“They came along to give MasterChef a go and have fun, but on the journey, they learnt how to cook and they got really good. It’d be worth going to their place for dinner now!"