Reece Hignell is at the top of his game.
He has just made it into the top seven of MasterChef Australia: Back to Win and has now won back-to-back immunity challenges, meaning he is safe from elimination again this week.
The fan favourite was up against Callum, Tessa and Brendan in Tuesday night's 90-minute immunity challenge, "Decreasing time, Increasing ingredients". The rules were simple - the longer the contestants waited, the more ingredients they had to cook with.
Hignell wanted to make a lemon tart and intended to hold off until lemons were revealed as an ingredient. At the 70-minute mark orchard fruits were revealed and he decided to use quince instead, saying "When life doesn't give you lemons, you make a gin tart". His baked gin tart with quince puree, ginger ice-cream and juniper berry meringue won the judges' vote.
He is the only contestant to win two immunity pins in a row this season, and will watch his fellow cooks battle to stay on the show on Sunday night from the safety of the MasterChef kitchen's gantry.
Filming has now wrapped and Hignell is back home in Mayfield, busy creating works of art for customers through his Cakeboi business ("I've been doing lots of orders. People are driving from Sydney to get my cakes. It's crazy"). We won't find out who wins season 12's all-star crown for another few weeks.
He laughs when mention is made of his ever-growing fan base. Put it this way: compilation videos and memes are being made of his "best of" moments on the show.
"It gives me goosebumps thinking about it," Hignell said. "It's so weird. For instance, on Sunday night I wore some colourful shorts and it blew up online and there were articles about them and I'm like 'What the hell?'."
As for his second immunity challenge win in two weeks, he is thrilled.
"It is, like, the most epic thing ever, I'm so happy about it," he said.
"I was kind of frustrated with the judges about my tart the other night. I was like 'Guys, stop critiquing my style and just try my food'. I don't care about all the glitz and the glamour of a dish. I just care about making the tastiest food I can. I love classic cooking, that's why I make cakes and tarts.
"The judges are starting to get harsher in their critiques, and that's because they really want the best of the best. They don't want middle-ground cooks. And that's the kind of pressure that everyone is under. You can see people who have done really well throughout the competition making silly mistakes."
MasterChef Australia: Back To Win is now on Network 10 three nights a week: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
Raul ready to return
COVID-19 claimed a much-loved Newcastle casualty when Bocados closed. Owner and chef Raul Cabrera, who last July celebrated the restaurant's 10th anniversary, had no choice but to put the business into liquidation.
Thankfully, there is good news to share. Cabrera's Spanish cuisine is making a comeback. He is hoping to return to 25 King Street next month and, after several months of soul-searching and deliberation, says he is excited to be back doing what he loves best.
Watch this space.
Port Stephens oysters delivered
Seven Seas Oysters are now being delivered to pick-up points around the region. The next delivery date is Friday, June 26. The oysters are freshly shucked ($20 per dozen) or live ($15 per dozen) and are direct from the grower in Port Stephens. To order, email email@example.com or visit sevenseasoysters.com.au by 5pm on June 24. The June 26 pick-up details are as follows: Noon to 12.30pm at the Wine Selectors car park in Newcastle; 12.45pm to 1pm at Lambton Park on Howe Street, opposite Lambton Park Hotel; 2pm to 2.30pm at The Vintage Hunter Valley car park near the club house; and 2.45pm to 3pm at Maitland Street, Branxton, opposite the IGA supermarket.
Live and loud at MEET
MEET restaurant on Darby Street is doing its bit to support local musicians on Friday nights at the MEET Bar, 8pm to 11pm. This week, it's Crocq Lucero's turn (who, by the way, makes and sells the tasty Mini Pinoy Grill all-purpose marinade).
Fresh start for burger joint
Cessnock's popular Burger Lounge & Takeaway has joined forces with Burger Chef at Heddon Greta and is now called Burger Chef Cessnock. Same menu, just a new name.
Historic upgrade at hotel
The Junction Inn at Raymond Terrace opened in 1836 and, Food & Wine is told, has the second-longest continuous licence in NSW. It's currently being renovated by Dunn Build and so far they've "exposed" the underground cellar; added new tiling, a polished concrete bar, gaming room and new carpet; and given the place a fresh coat of paint. A new menu will be available when doors re-open.
Cold brew ice-cream
Newcastle business Fire & Ice Coffee is winning new fans with its handmade, cold brew coffee ice-cream.
"I'm looking at expanding into offering dairy-free coconut cold brew coffee ice-cream and possibly an almond option," owner Michael Lemon said. "On top of that I'm also looking at doing other add-ons for the basic cold brew recipe, such as choc chip, banana, white choc chip, mocha, cookie dough, and flavours of vanilla, caramel and hazelnut. I also have a new blend called Red Label."
Fire & Ice Coffee's cold brew won a silver medal at this year's Australian International Coffee Awards. You can order online at fireandicecoffee.com.au.
Freebie of the week
Cibi is a book on home-style Japanese cooking inspired by the Melbourne cafe and design space created by Meg and Zenta Tanaka.
It contains more than 80 recipes plus small features on elements of Japanese cooking and food culture, accompanied by beautiful photography and illustrations.
The recipes, many designed for sharing, strongly reflect Meg and Zenta's ethos - a fresh approach to simplicity using quality produce. Cibi also incorporates elements of Japanese design culture.
Cibi is out now through Hardie Grant Books, RRP $49.99. Food & Wine has a copy to give away. To enter, send the word "Cibi" with your name, address and number to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Entries close on Monday at 9am.