MasterChef NZ’s Lance Maynell reveals how he came back from rock bottom

The Lower Hutt foodie opens up about his darkest days and the love that's got him through

By his own admission, MasterChef NZ contestant Lance Maynell can be a bit obsessive about his passions.

So when he found himself at the lowest point in his life, he knew alcohol could not be his next go-to.

High-energy and full of banter during his Woman’s Day interview, it’s hard to believe this 39-year-old hit rock bottom six years ago. When his marriage ended and he could no longer see his daughter Audrey, now 10, every day, “it was not the funnest point in life”, he admits.

“I went through a divorce, life changed dramatically and I realised it would be a good idea if I didn’t drink. When life tipped upside down, that’s when my biggest growth happened. Not drinking has been an important phase of my healing journey.”

Lance could do with kitchenhands Anikki and Audrey on the show!

It’s been just over five years since Lance quit alcohol and he’s very proud of that. “I’m definitely healthier. Now I meditate and focus on self-development.”

Food is another focus. The Lower Hutt lad loves spending hours creating recipes, trialling flavour combinations and cooking for his Estonian partner Anikki Källo.

“That’s 100% why I have a pretty girlfriend!” Lance jokes. “She’ll have a glass of wine and watch me cook. The first night I made her dinner, it took me till about 9pm and she’d had three quarters of a bottle before it was ready. I’ve learnt she needs snacks before dinner!”

Lance’s rule: If Anikki likes it, it’s good grub!

He still cooks with alcohol and loves to recommend drinks that match the meals he makes for mates at his Petone home.

“My friends love coming around to my test kitchen. It brings me so much joy and Anikki is super-honest with my cooking – to get a ‘very good’ comment from her is like getting a Michelin star, which keeps me grounded and growing. My daughter is a great support too. She tells me that I need to practise desserts!”

Audrey spends her weeks living with her mother in the Wairarapa, although Lance speaks to her every day. When they have weekends together, she asks Dad to make lamb chops with his signature smoky ku-mara purée.

He’s proud that she tries all sorts of foods – their meals are a far cry from the traditional “meat and three veg” he grew up on. Indeed, when he was young, Lance had such an unadventurous palate, he’d decline dinner invitations to avoid “exotic” foods like pasta!

The heat is on as Lance rushes to complete a dish.

It wasn’t until he was in his 20s that he ordered wontons when cajoled into going to a noodle house. The steamed morsels were presented in a broth so mouth-watering, he was close to tears – it was a culinary epiphany.

From that moment on, Lance began exploring international cuisine and bold flavours. He says, “When I left home, my passion for cooking and experimenting was unleashed.”

The successful carpet sales executive has his own YouTube channel “Dinner by Lance”, where he shares cooking videos, so he’s used to having cameras around him – an advantage on MasterChef – but he struggles with the fact he doesn’t have a few days to devise each dish on the show.

Regardless of how he fares on the Three series, Lance hopes this is just the beginning of his culinary career. He’d love his own cooking show, which is a more attractive idea than toiling for 100 hours a week in a stressful commercial kitchen.

“My ultimate food dream is having a TV series showing my true passion for cooking and the excitement of food. For me, it’s all about helping others get inspired.”

Rachael’s silver lining

Hawke’s Bay cook Rachael Mako was “disappointed and a bit embarrassed” to be eliminated on a challenge devised by her culinary idol Monique Fiso last week.

However, her tears turned to excitement after the acclaimed chef offered the 40-year-old an internship at her top Wellington restaurant Hiakai. “She’s not just an incredible chef – she’s a beautiful human too,” Rachael tells Woman’s Day. “She hugged me and gave me some advice, which will stay with me forever: ‘I’ve learnt more from my failures than my success.’ For her to offer me an internship was an honour.”

MasterChef NZ screens 7.30pm Mon & Tue and 7pm Sundays on Three

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