MKR teammates Lee and Luke on their recipe for love

The Cantabrian contestants reveal the secrets of their incredibly strong mother-son bond

Ask what makes the bond between Lee Barrington and her son, MKR New Zealand teammate Luke Wielsma, so strong and you get a simple answer – food.

“For me, food is a basic thing of life that brings people together,” smiles the business owner, 51, from Kaiapoi, just north of Christchurch. “To me, food is an expression of love.”

Sales consultant Luke, 29, adds, “Growing up, we didn’t have chicken nuggets and chips every night – it was a lot of veges with a variety of foods and flavours from different cultures. That was the base for my love for food.”

It also led to a long-time passion for MKR, with both Lee and Luke making it a tradition to huddle up around the screen, ever since the hit TVNZ 2 reality series made its debut a decade ago, in 2014.

“We’d always watch all the cooking shows together,” says Luke. “They were entertaining and fun.”

“And because they weren’t allowed to watch any other shows they wanted to!” quips Lee, who’s also a mum to Jody, 33, Kiriana, 25, and Paige, 22.

With a grin, Luke adds, “Yeah, we weren’t permitted to watch The Simpsons, so I didn’t have much of a choice. But I used to sneak off to my room and watch Outrageous Fortune without Mom finding out!”

Luke’s pleased he was his mum’s first choice as a teammate.

While MKR was on, the pair would often chat about what they’d do differently to the contestants on screen, and the meals they’d whip up to impress judges Manu Feildel and Colin Fassnidge.

“The madness appealed,” says Lee. “I’d always been thinking, ‘I’d love to do that.’ This year, I suppose, was just the right timing. I thought it would be bloody good fun.

She saw the call for applicants and decided to go for it – and she had the perfect teammate in mind.

Luke tells, “Mum sent the form to me and said we should apply. I was like, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ Then a week passed and she was like, ‘We need to apply!’”

Shaking her head, Lee continues, “And then another couple of days passed. I said, ‘Luke, we’re not going to get in if you don’t do it!’”

She then told Luke, “If you’re not going to do it, then I’ll do it with someone else!”

Laughing, her son admits, “I would have been gutted if that happened. It was the wee push I needed, so I did the application. I knew it would be a cool experience that I’d have with Mum. That’s the main reason I wanted to do it.”

As a single mother with four children, the kitchen became the natural hub of Lee’s home. It was where the family spent most of their time together, with Lee assigning each of the kids a job every mealtime.

“We’re a no-holds-barred family,” says Lee, with all her children and grandkids.

“The hugest thing is teaching your kids the basics of what you need – food, shelter and love,” says Lee. “Our kitchen family lifestyle basically combined all three of those things.”

They both credit this as the source of their incredibly strong bond.

“It’s like that with the other three kids too,” Lee smiles. “There’s no holds barred. We’re very open. They know they can talk about everything at the dinner table.”

Confirms Luke, “All of us kids have a very raw, honest and upfront relationship with Mum. For a single mother raising four kids, there was a lot of love and a lot of time spent together. It could have gone the other way quite easily.”

Instead, the steady diet of love, happiness and dishwashing has given Lee and Luke the edge in the charged MKR kitchen.

Luke says, “It’s good that we have that relationship where we can just say and do whatever, but it’s all down to Mum. I’ve always said she’s the base or the core – I just add the flair.”

Smiling, Lee concludes, “Until MKR, I’d never had this solid time with Luke. There were always three other bodies in the house. We had a good connection, but now it’s like another layer has appeared.

“I’m sharing things with him and he’s more receptive – it’s something I didn’t think I needed any more. But now there’s an extra layer of depth there that I didn’t know we lacked. I feel like Luke understands me now.”

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

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