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New Zealanders will get a rare insight into the culinary secrets of traditional Māori fare this weekend when TV ONE’s popular MasterChef New Zealand series visits Rotorua – the home of indigenous cuisine and culture.

The episode will see the top 16 contestants grapple with the challenge of laying a traditional hangi using natural resources such as flax baskets instead of modern-day equipment such as wet sacks, muslin cloths or even matches.

Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort chief executive Bryan Hughes oversaw filming on Mokoia Island last September, and promises the episode is “amazing viewing” which will give Kiwis a greater appreciation of how food was cooked 800 years ago.

“A traditional hangi is a bit of a mission. It took us 150 man-hours to prepare everything required for this MasterChef challenge,” Hughes says. “The guest judge this week is Rex Morgan who is of Rotorua decent but even he had never seen anything quite like this before.”

During his 20 year career, Morgan has worked in top restaurants here and overseas and has a long list of awards since returning to New Zealand in 1993. As well as owning Boulcott Bistro in Wellington, Morgan is a consultant to Air New Zealand and is a lifetime ‘Platinum’ Beef and Lamb Ambassador.

Sunday’s hangi challenge on Mokoia Island is one of four destination challenges in this MasterChef series (one of which will be international). It’s the first time the series has dedicated an episode to New Zealand indigenous cuisine and the first time hangi has been featured.

The series producers chose Rotorua as the place to host this special episode because the region is renowned for its Maori cuisine and the use of traditional ingredients in contemporary fine food.
Hughes says Mokoia Island’s famous hot pools are also used during this week’s challenge, alongside a range of locally-sourced ingredients.

“Wai Ora was MasterChef’s specialist supplier and we sourced local products such as horopito (Māori pepper), kawakawa (Māori bush basil), Māori potatoes and koura (fresh-water crayfish), as well as other indigenous herbs and vegetables.”

Hughes says Wai Ora’s Mokoia Restaurant is the only establishment in New Zealand that uses indigenous herbs and spices in every single dish on its menu – providing a unique flavour and point of difference when dining in Rotorua.

Hughes’ top tips for laying the perfect hangi is to source volcanic rocks which retain the heat (river rocks will blow apart at a certain temperature), and to ensure the rocks are hot enough – “you’ll know they’re ready because they turn white”.

“You also need to give your food plenty of time in the ground taking into account the temperature and proximity to the rocks… at least a couple of hours depending on the depth,” he says.

Aside from Mokoia Restaurant at Wai Ora Lakeside Spa Resort, visitors who are keen to experience Rotorua’s unique cuisine can also try a traditional hangi at Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, Te Puia, Mitai and at Tamaki Maori Village.

Destination Rotorua Marketing’s spokespersonKelly Stewartsays visitors to the city also enjoy experiencing other local cuisine, which includes the culinary delights of blueberry pies, koura and venison.

“We have a vibrant food and beverage scene here in Rotorua and some unique dining experiences as well as all the staples like great coffee, entertainment and cafes that we want to share with all New Zealanders and overseas visitors,” says Stewart.
For more information visit www.rotoruanz.com.

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