MKR besties Jax and Manz are cooking up a great surprise

Double threat! The pair are bringing their individual special talents to the table

Wairarapa friends Manz Goodman and Jax Steventon have learned to have an agenda for their phone calls – and a strict time limit of only two hours a day – even though they often exceed that.

The MKR New Zealand contestants are only 10 minutes from the centre of Martinborough, but in opposite directions. With poor cellphone coverage, they use their landlines. But it’s a toll call that costs money if they talk any more than 120 minutes.

You only need to spend 30 minutes with them, though, to truly understand the struggle. They will never run out of words.

“We both have a passion for food and gardening. We’re forever coming up with ideas and doing projects,” says Jax, 56. “We bounce ideas off each other – that’s been the centre of our friendship – and our sense of humour.”

Jax digs living off the land.

They met through work at the Martinborough Visitor Centre 23 years ago and Manz, 48, remembers sharing recipes and talking about what they’d be making. They’re now so in-tune, they will often unintentionally cook the same meals for their families on the same nights.

The pair hail from farming backgrounds – Manz lives on a goat farm with her husband of 20 years, Lindsey, and their three children, Emily, 18, Sam, 15, and Phoebe, 14, while Jax recently sold the family sheep and beef farm.

Jax has remained married to rural tutor Joe for 27 years, and together they have three children: Ben, 25, Ella, 23, and Mark, 20. Jax is now a property manager looking after holiday homes, “and I do all my 50,000 projects while living off the land, picking out seeds, growing veges and talking to Manz on the phone!”

Their instant restaurant Home Block is an illustration of that.

“Our menu was very much based on fresh and rural dishes – produce that’s in season is true to our hearts,” explains Jax. “We both grew up using the vege garden, using the eggs that came from the chickens, using the meat that was off the farm.

“I don’t think I bought tomatoes this year because they got so expensive, but now I’ve got buckets and buckets of tomatoes. And it’s quite stressful because there is only so much chutney you can make!”

Manz’s husband Lindsey works part-time on their farm, which has approximately 100 goats, and oversees distribution for winemakers in Martinborough.

Manz likes kidding around!

She has stopped cheese-making commercially, reinventing her love of cheese in her new venture, Drunken Nanny at Home, developing at-home kits that she plans to sell, which will be accompanied by cooking demonstrations to enable people to make their own cheese – just one of the many ideas she and Jax are working on, all in a bid to help inspire people to grow and make their own food.

“We need to encourage people to use local produce and to go back to the basics. To not have food transported from all around the world with huge air miles, or food that’s grown with hydroponic lights,” she tells. “Cheese is actually fun to make, so I’m working on the idea of cheese-making kits and having cheese classes. I still get an adrenaline high when I’m cutting the curds.”

Appearing on MKR is a dream come true. Particularly for Jax, who used to pretend she was the host of a cooking show as a child.

“Growing up, I was always running a cooking show,” she laughs. “And Alison Holst was probably the only person on TV at that time.”

These days, the duo is so close, Jax is godmother to Manz’s girl Emily. The families spend weekends camping together.

When asked what their restaurant style would be if they were to make a career of it, Manz is quick to respond first.

“I’d have a bistro with a rotating menu. So you wouldn’t necessarily know what would be on the menu and it would have local meat, seasonal vegetables and fruit, and local cheese.

The ones to impress! Manu Feildel (left) and Colin Fassnidge return as judges.

“Everybody goes to a restaurant and they know what they’re going to order before they even go. They’ve likely had it the week before. I love the idea of going somewhere you have no clue what you’re going to be offered.

“People get scared and won’t try things. I like to experiment. And each plate would need to have a flower on it.”

It would be like going to someone’s house for dinner, suggests Jax.

“I would have a shop/restaurant/café that is open in the daytime,” she explains. “You can shop while you’re there. With a potager garden where people can walk around. That’s my Gemini personality. I’d have 500 things on the go, but it will all happen in one place.

“Food is my love language. It makes me happy.”

MKR New Zealand screens 7.30pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays on TVNZ 2 and TVNZ+.

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