ChoppedSA Banner Whale CottageChopped South Africa’ was launched at Giggling Gourmet Jenny Morris’ studio in De Waterkant yesterday, to publicise the 10 programme Food Network series on DStv channel 175, commencing on Wednesday 23 July at 21h00.

Chopped South Africa‘ is the first professional chef reality TV competition in South Africa, based on the American ‘Chopped‘, but with a South African flavour. It is the first international adaption of the programme, and was created due to the series’ very strong following in our country, with 25000 viewers per programme, I was told by Nikki Cooper, the Commissioning Editor of ‘Chopped South Africa‘, based in London and working with programming for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.  She said that she was ‘blown away by the talent and graciousness’ of our local chefs.  Due to the strong support of South African viewers, Food Network is investing in creating content for our country, but with appeal to its international viewers too.

We were welcomed by Jacques Verster. He introduced the four judges, being Jenny Morris who has hosted programmes on Moroccan and on Mediterranean cooking for Food Network (and who turned out to be a tough judge, explaining that she wanted to be honest with her feedback, and for it to have integrity); David van Staden, the Executive Chef of the Tsogo Sun Group; Siba Mtongana, who has her own ‘Siba’s Table’ program on Food Network; guest judge Rebecca Hurst, who runs the Hurst cookeryChopped SA judges Whale Cottage school; and guest judge and Chef Lindsay Venn of Tsogo Sun The Cullinan (not in the photograph).  We were told how strongly the judges believed in their standards, and fought for their point of view in deciding which chef would be ‘chopped’. Heinz is the main programme sponsor, while Shoprite-Checkers provided all the ingredients for the cooking on the program.

Nikki explained how the series works, with each of the ten programmes having four contestants, 40 selected from many applications received from young professional chefs in South African kitchens.  Shot in Johannesburg, hosted by Denvor Phokaners, produced by Sue Nel from Snelco in association with Ukhamba, and directed by Eugene Naidoo, the contestants were given a mystery basket for each of three courses, one contestant per course being ‘chopped’, until only one contestant was left, to win R40000 per episode.

The mystery basket ingredients were selected by Jenny and Sue, and contained some indigenous ingredients (such as mebos, putu pap, and nastergal), which many chefs did not know, and therefore Chopped SA Jenny Morris and Nicky Carter Whale Cottagedid not use correctly.   These ingredients were explained to viewers, so that international as well as local viewers would be educated about our country’s unique ingredients.   Strict and tight time deadlines were set, only 20 minutes allowed to prepare a starter and 30 minutes for a main course.

A chef each from the Radisson Gauteng, Tasha’s, the Hilton Sandton, and the Centrecourt Restaurant at the Wanderer’s Club participated in the program excerpt shown to us, and their dishes were judged on presentation, taste, and creativity.  For example, the starter mystery basket contained calamari, Huguenot cheese, canned crab, and mebos, to which the participant chefs could add further ingredients from a well-stocked pantry.   The main course mystery basket ingredients were dried Japanese mushrooms, prepared putu pap, pork fillet, and Amarula! We were shown an excerpt from one of the episodes, and at times caused a laugh amongst the writers present at the function, with odd sayings from the contestants (e.g. ‘I imagine a purple light coming from inside me connecting with the judges’, and ‘I want to show me on a plate‘), and sarcasm from the judges (e.g. judge David described one main course as having ‘burnt putu pap and dead cow‘)!   Eleven cameras were focused on the chef contestants and judges.

In question time Jenny shared that some of the chef contestants were lazy in not using all their ingredients. Siba said that as the contestants were trained chefs, expectations were high.  David shared that it was not a competition for ‘sissies’. We were told that all three courses were created within one day, in ‘real time‘.  All the judges shared how they had to put their personal feelings about the chef contestants aside, to not show favouritism, if they had been previous colleagues or trainees.  Both Jenny and David were close to tears when they had to give some of the chef contestants the chop!

On arrival we were served bobotie as well as potato spring rolls, with a colourful Clement Skyy Gold cocktail.  We were served a Chopped SA Spring rolls Whale Cottagechicken broth with a cauliflower wonton while some of the food writers participated in a mystery basket Chopped SA Clement Skyy Gold Whale Cottagecooking challenge.  Jenny’s team had prepared a most beautiful and abundant buffet of healthy dishes, including sushi, butter chicken and rice, frittata, prawn salad, salmon, potato salad, cucumber salad, roasted beetroot salad with sunflower seed brittle, roast beef, calamari salad, a pear and Gorgonzola salad, and Tabbouleh salad.  A malva pudding was served as dessert, followed by cheese platters. 

Nikki said that a second series of ‘Chopped South Africa’ will be decided upon once the success of Season 1 has been measured at the end of the programme series.   Chopped SA Salads Whale CottageThe programme excerpt that we were shown was pacy, funny, and educational, and the comment at our table was that it seemed much better than the American series. Chopped SA Cheese Cake Whale Cottage (2)

Disclosure:   We were laden with goodies in our bag, including a plastic container, Bakers biscuits, Wellington’s Sweet & Sour Sauce as well as Chutney, Willow Creek extra virgin olive oil,  Freshpak rooibos tea, Toffifee, Loacker chocolate as well as wafers, Ritter Sport chocolate, Heinz Ketchup, Spekko rice, and Mambo candy!  Jenny was a real generous mama, sending me on my way with an amazing looking cheese ‘cake’ topped with  parsley and poppy seeds.

POSTSCRIPT 24/7:  The first episode of ‘Chopped South Africa’ was broadcast last night.

Chopped SA, Food Network channel 175.  Wednesdays at 21h00 from 23 July onwards.  www.choppedsa.co.za Twitter: @ChoppedSA

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:  www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage