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Buck Shelford’s inspiring family challenge

The All Black great and his wife are joining forces in a fight against their son, Eru.

In a world where most people try to make their lives as easy as possible, Wayne “Buck” Shelford is the complete opposite.

In Buck’s book, the more challenging things are, the better. But even his own family had to raise an eyebrow when the All Black legend and his wife Jo decided to appear on Maori Television’s Whanau Bake Off and compete against their son, Eru – who happens to be a professional chef.

“I don’t like to lose,” says Buck (58) gruffly. “But you’ve got to have challenges.”

“And I was thinking, ‘I’ve taught Eru everything he knows anyway!’” Jo adds with a laugh.

Buck Shelford and baking aren’t normally two things you’d put together, but it turns out the rugby hardman has been filling the tins since he was a young boy – thanks to both his and his brothers’ ravenous appetites, and his mum Mavis’ prowess in the kitchen.

The tight-knit trio is ready to step up to the plate – though Eru says his mum and dad caught him by surprise.

“We actually cooked a lot when we were kids,” he tells. “We’d try and make biscuits on a Friday night when Mum was at work, so we’d stick them all on the tray. Fifteen minutes later we’d pull them out and ‘Oh, crap! It’s one whole biscuit’. It still tasted good, though. That was a bit of fun.”

It’s those memories that spurred Buck on to leave his comfort zone and agree to take part in Whanau Bake Off, where members from the same family compete against each other, baking the same item to see who comes up trumps.

“They fully dropped me in it, though,” laughs Eru, who works alongside chef Michael Meredith at Kiwi charity Eat My Lunch.

“They’d already kind of organised it, and then Dad’s like, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re doing it too.’ They thought they had the upper hand, you know. Two against one.”

“Well, initially I think they wanted Jo and I to cook against each other,” says Buck, with Eru swiftly adding, “Yeah, that would have been terrible TV!”

Buck continues, “And we’d already picked out what we were going to cook, until this one had an epiphany,” he grumbles, giving Jo a look.

Thanks to Jo’s late night inspiration, the original plan of doing a carrot cake was swiftly chucked out the window, much to Eru’s chagrin.

“I had such a good recipe too – I was going to make a sponge with a black olive sorbet and a couple of other things and really make it fancy. But no. They change it two days out, so I went from having this amazing dish… to ginger slice.”

But Jo had some good reasons for changing her mind at the 11th hour, she says. She wanted to recreate the recipes Buck had grown up with, so ginger crunch and sultana cake it was. The ginger crunch is so special that when Eru got married to wife Katrina last year, Mavis made her grandson a special batch which he had to hide from the rest of the whanau.

“Look, I knew we were probably going to be on the losing leg here, so I thought simple was best!” Jo says with a grin. “We did jazz them up a little though, we tried some icing. I told Mavis we were making her cake and slice out of the Edmond’s cookbook, and she said, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ But she was chuffed.”

Jo and Buck, who are about to become grandparents for the second time, aren’t usually found in the kitchen together, they admit, explaining they have very different styles when it comes to cooking.

“I don’t go in there when she’s in there,” Buck says. “You’d have to do the dishes all day. She uses every bloody dish. I cook, then clean, then cook, then clean.”

“Oh please,” Jo retorts, rolling her eyes.

“It’s more like boil, roast, boil,” adds a laughing Eru.

“Yes!”Jo exclaims. “Microwave, boil, roast – with no salt and pepper and no spices!”

But one thing they can all agree on is how food always brings their family together.

“It’s not just us three, but our daughter and extended family too, there’s always pot lucks and things going on,” says Buck. “There’ll be 20 of us around the kitchen – everyone gets the mickey taken out of them, and everyone has their two cents worth!”

“There’s a lot of strong, loud women in our family,” Eru says with a smile. “Yeah, but your Aunty says a lot but doesn’t do much,” Buck adds, grinning.

And as for the fleeting baking career, Buck reckons a lid’s on it for now – save for Eru teaching him to make sourdough.

“Oh, and kumara bread,” he says. “Can you show me how to make that too?”

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