It was a nail-biting episode 17 of MasterChef South Africa last night, with a dessert challenge, which sent Sue-Ann Allen and Sarel Loots into the Pressure Test, having to replicate a duck dish of Chef Peter Tempelhoff of number one South African Eat Out Top 10 restaurant The Greenhouse in Constantia. Sarel Loots was sent home, for forgetting to make the hazelnut gel for the complicated dish.

Not knowing why they were asked, the remaining four Finalists were asked what sacrifices they had made to be at MasterChef SA. Manisha Naidu said it was her husband playing second fiddle to the programme, and that she had to cut short her honeymoon in India to participate in the programme.  For Deena Naidoo it was staying away from his family.  Sue-Ann said it was giving up everything, including her job, to be at MasterChef SA. After this introduction, the Finalists were sent to their work stations, where a Mystery Box awaited them, the bottle of Amarula being the most visible.  To date the episodes have had very little Distell and Nederburg product placements, and this was one of the most branded episodes, in that the Amarula had to play a central role in the dessert. Other ingredients in the box were sweet potatoes, pears, risotto, oranges, cocoa powder, and coconut milk. They were told that a panel of secret judges would evaluate their dishes in a ‘blind tasting’, and they were promised ‘a reward to uplift you‘, being (then still unknown to them) the partners of Sarel (wife Lieze), Deena (wife Kathy), Manisha (husband Thoneshan), and Sue-Ann’s mother Gail.  They were given 60 minutes in which to create a dessert worthy of MasterChef SA.  Chef Andrew Atkinson reminded the Finalists that baking is about precision in the ingredient amounts, with Chef Pete Goffe-Wood saying that it would make the difference of a ‘sweet victory‘ or going ‘pear-shaped‘.

The four Finalists were sent to a viewing room, watching via a TV monitor how the dishes were evaluated anonymously by the four mystery guests, being their family members. Not having seen them for a number of weeks, it was the men especially that showed their emotions by crying in seeing their partners on the screen.  The ‘guest judges’ said that each of the four desserts were very different, and that the Finalists had done a ‘wonderful job’, it being impossible to judge which of their partners had made the desserts.  Sue-Ann said that ‘the judges were tough critics, but it was harder being judged by our loved ones‘.

Deena wanted to prepare a chocolate fondant, but there was no chocolate in the box.  He made use of his winning bell from episode 16, having won that episode featuring Chef Michel Roux Jnr from La Gavroche in London.  He used the lifeline bell to call on Chef Andrew, being ‘the maestro of chocolate’, asking him how he could make the chocolate fondant without the chocolate.  He was advised to use the cocoa, butter, vanilla paste, and sugar. Deena said that his wife Kathy is his harshest critic, and that he had ‘drawn from her positive spirit’ throughout MasterChef SA. She praised his dish as ‘delicious‘, without knowing that it was made by him, the custard served with it too, and said that the sugar work ‘had more craft in it’ compared to that which Sarel presented with his cupcake.

Sue-Ann made poached pear tart with Chantilly cream, and an Amarula reduction. Her fruit was too hot, and she had some problems with her pastry. Her dessert was said to ‘lack a bit of colour’, and her mother said it looked good enough for her to ‘order in a restaurant’. The sauce and the pears were liked, but the pastry not as much. Sarel made an Amarula cupcake, which he served with sweet potato crisps and spun sugar. Chef Benny Masekwameng was concerned that Sarel may have chosen too complicated a dish.  His dessert was described as ‘delicately balanced’, with ‘crispy sugar work‘, and not being ‘sickly sweet’.  Manisha cooked an interesting looking liquid, poaching her pears in the cocoa and orange liquid mix, serving it with Amarula custard and chocolate sauce. It was described as a ‘good dish’.

Three of the four family judges voted Deena’s Chocolate Fondant with Amarula Crème Anglaise and caramelised pears as being the best, and his prize was to take his wife Kathy on a picnic at Plaisir de Merle outside Franschhoek, test-driving the Hyundai Elantra which the MasterChef SA winner will win.  She proudly said to her husband of 18 years: ‘You are a Master Chef’!

Sue-Ann and Sarel were sent into the Pressure Test, and were introduced to Chef Peter Tempelhoff, who had made one of The Greenhouse’s dishes, for them to replicate, being Roast duck with hazelnut milk gel, confit duck pastilla, and honey roasted figs, served with an hibiscus duck sauce.  Chef Peter was described by Chef Benny as being at the cutting edge of culinary trends, being in charge of five restaurants at the Relais & Chateaux McGrath hotel group in Constantia, Hermanus, and Plettenberg Bay. They had 2 hours and 45 minutes to make the dish of six recipe pages, the most complicated to date, they were told.

Sarel said that on ‘this elimination day I will fight with everything I have’.  He recalled that he had ‘pulled through each time’, and that timing was important, and keeping his head together.  He confidently said that ‘timing was on my way’, and observed that he was ahead of Sue-Ann on time. However, Deena observed him from above, and cautioned him to slow down and to be gentle. Chef Benny told the other judges that Sarel’s spring roll did not look like one at all, and that it was not sealed at the ends, which would make the duck confit shoot out when fried. Sarel’s downfall was that he forgot to make the hazelnut gel, realising this in the last 15 minutes of the preparation time he had. He put as much on his plate as he could during the timing countdown. Sarel said that making the dish had been ‘like running a marathon’, and said that he was worried that it was this plate that would send him home.  The spring roll was judged to not be as crisp as it should have been. Chef Andrew said that while the thickness of the fat on the duck breast and the oil on the dish could put one off, the sauce had made it come together. Chef Andrew said that the hazelnut gel would have finished off and lifted the dish.

Sue-Ann placated herself by saying that she had made it through other Pressure Tests. She started with her stock first, something she had learnt in the reality show series. She said she would work ‘at the right pace to complete this task’. Discussing the springroll with Chef Pete, he said that it needed ‘a perfect coil around the spring roll’. She wasn’t happy with her first pastry attempt, and remade it. Chef Andrew was concerned that she was spending too much time on the spring roll.  She was confident of her dish, saying that she ‘did a damn good job of it’. Chef Benny said that it was a ‘good attempt’, and that she had done a lot of work on the spring roll. Chef Andrew said that the breast was a little overcooked, but that its fat was ‘nice and crispy’, and the hazelnut gel ‘superb‘, rounding off the dish. Chef Pete echoed the overcooking feedback, as well as the success of the gel, as the most important element, in bringing all the elements of the dish together.

It was the missing hazelnut gel that sent Sarel on his way, and he said that the MasterChef SA experience had been ‘amazing‘, and that he was ‘proud of what I have achieved’.  He added that he is a ‘soft guy’, but not given to tears.  He was told that his journey is only just beginning, and that he has a big heart.  It was announced that Chef Margot Janse of the Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français will be in the MasterChef SA kitchen next week.

Once again, it was noticeable that Chef Reuben Riffel appears to be increasingly cut out of the Robertsons TV commercials, only appearing in one of their six commercials broadcast during MasterChef SA last night!  It has been written with shock on Twitter, and this blog as a comment, that Chef Reuben is now endorsing Rama margarine, another Unilever brand!

POSTSCRIPT 25/8: It was very sad to see the news that Sarel Loots passed away from a heart attack this morning.

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