Of all the places in the world she could visit, you would think Japan would be strictly off the list for eliminated MasterChef New Zealand contestant Dana Leaming. The 22-year-old Wellingtonian was evicted from the top-rating television show after failing spectacularly with her attempt at preparing a Japanese dish.
While she was gutted to leave the competition, Dana was also devastated that she narrowly missed out on travelling overseas for the first time – she had to leave the MasterChef kitchen as the remaining top seven were whisked off to Fiji.
“It was like the worst horror movie ever,” remembers Dana. “Or you wake up on Christmas morning and your present is a rock – one that you want to throw at someone! It just sucked.”
But all of Dana’s Christmases came at once when an airline offered her and a companion the chance to fly anywhere in the world she wanted. “I had to sit down when Jetstar told me,” she says with a laugh.
“Then I stood up and screamed for a while. I couldn’t believe they would do that for me!”
After a quick deliberation over who she would take, Dana chose her mum Elicia, and the pair sat down to figure out where in the world to go.
“I owe a lot to my mum, so I had to take her. She said, ‘Let’s go to Japan!’ I just looked at her and said, ‘Mum, really, Japan? Have you forgotten about the last challenge!’ But she made a good point that we could learn about kombu (the Japanese seaweed Dana tried to prepare). Or I could find some and throw it off a bridge... either way!”
The effervescent mother and daughter already have a packed itinerary for their “trip of a lifetime”, including a visit to Hiroshima, as well as a samurai sword theme park.
“Can you imagine me running around with a samurai sword? It’ll be great,” laughs Dana. There’s also a stop in Kyoto and a plan to “eat everything in Osaka”.
“Mum’s a real foodie, she’s game to try anything. But the whole experience is sure to be hilarious. We’ll argue about where to go, and the next thing you know we’ll get completely lost, give up,
and just find the closest restaurant and start eating. That’s pretty much how we deal with any arguments!“Mum knows how to say the numbers one through to 10, and I can say hello and thank you. We can count and be very polite. It’s a good start.”