The new MasterChef NZ judges tell all!

Get to know the talented trio who’ll soon be cooking up drama on our screens

After a seven-year hiatus, MasterChef NZ is back – and as well as a stunning new setting in Queenstown, there's a fresh panel of judges!
You'll know Nadia Lim, 36, as the beloved reality show's 2011 champion, who has since gone on to become one of Aotearoa's most successful celebrity cooks.
She's joined by award-winning Kiwi chef Vaughan Mabee, 41, who worked at the world-famous Norwegian restaurant Noma, before becoming executive chef at Otago winery Amisfield.
And also acclaimed restaurateur Michael Dearth, 52, who moved from San Francisco to open acclaimed Auckland eateries Baduzzi and The Grove.
As we prepare for MasterChef's return to Three, we pepper the judges with some tricky questions to see what we can expect from the new kitchen crew…
What's going to be different about this seventh season?
Nadia: New judges, baby!
Vaughan: And it's held in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, where amazing local ingredients are used to tell a story of Central Otago.
What talents do you bringto the judges' table?
Nadia: First-hand experience – I reeeally know what it's like to be in the contestants' shoes!
Michael: I've worked with many chefs over the past 20 years who have gone on to succeed. I love collaborating with young, talented and passionate minds.
Vaughan: Honesty. Food is black or white for me. It's great or it's bad – there is no in-between. I'm strict about technique, flavour and beauty.
Nadia, how has MasterChef changed you?
My dream was always the same, but MasterChef provided a springboard to get me where I wanted to be faster. As a judge, because I know what the contestants will be going through, I'll be empathetic, but I want to push them to get creative and challenge themselves – you've only got one shot to impress, so don't play it safe!
What's your favourite MasterChef memory from that second series?
The complete and utter relief at the end of the competition. The best part was not actually winning itself, but rather knowing I could finally rest! I'd pushed myself to the max and hadn't slept for three nights.
And your lowest moment?
There was a team challenge where I ended up in the bottom two. Luckily, I scraped through, but I felt sick to my stomach and the cook who went home didn't deserve to go either. However, such is the game!
OK, back to the blokes – why did you sign up as judges?
Michael: I've always loved the show and was so happy to hear it was coming back. It was an absolute honour to be asked. I love being able to give back and help the next generation grow to be amazing cooks.
Vaughan: Nadia made me!
Who's your favourite celebrity you've ever cooked for?
Vaughan: In California, I cooked for everyone from presidents and princes, to the most famous movie stars and athletes, but it's the ones who I've been out on the town with after who are my favourites. I just can't say who those ones are!
Michael: Eva Longoria. She dined at The Grove and loved it so much, she came to Baduzzi the next night with her husband and insisted I join them. She's so much fun – and she can eat! But the biggest compliment I've ever had was when Marco Pierre White dined at Baduzzi two nights in a row. He ate the same meal, vongole [pasta with clams].
What's your signature dish at home?
Nadia: Whatever is growing in our garden, but my boys' favourite is gnocchi using our potatoes, tomatoes and basil.
Michael: Chicken soup.
Vaughan: I hunt with my dogs and love cooking wild game. My favourites are partridge, pheasant, hare and fallow deer, usually turned into a pie with abnormal amounts of cognac in the sauce!
What do you cook when you can't be bothered?
Nadia: A chutney, cheese and sauerkraut open toastie.
Michael: A simple bowl of fresh pasta. When time is short, pasta, good olive oil and freshly grated parmesan cheese are perfect.
Vaughan: I'm always bothered, so I'm always cooking something special!
What's your guilty pleasure when it comes to snacking?
Nadia: Salt and vinegar potato chips all the way, however, I don't feel guilty about them!
Michael: Popcorn and ice cream – but not on the same plate!
Vaughan: Leftover little pieces of lamb or venison from work, covered in fermented chilli sauce.
Imagine you're on death row. What's your last meal?
Nadia: It would be a tie between kokoda [Fijian ceviche], nachos or a home-made fresh pasta dish.
Michael: My grandmother's stuffed globe artichokes.
Vaughan: A pheasant and white truffle pie with a bottle of Krug.

read more from