MasterChef SA finalists have become more than friends, they are family!

Since we have started interviewing the Finalists for MasterChef SA, three things have stood out – they are incredibly nice, and they care about each other, being kind enough to assist in setting up interviews with their fellow Finalists, and they make time available to meet for interviews.  The media attention that the four Finalists (including Samantha Nolan and Guy Clark) we have interviewed to date have received does not appear to have gone to their heads, and they come across as wonderful people who are in awe of their success as a result of MasterChef SA, no matter how they rank on the Top 18 list.  Yet all have big dreams in how they want to develop in future.

Having read on Twitter that Finalist Thys Hattingh was coming to Cape Town to do a demonstration with fellow Finalist Ilse Fourie at the Good Food & Wine Show, we requested an interview. He agreed immediately, and we arranged to meet at the airport. As fellow Finalist Sue-Ann Allen was fetching him from Cape Town International, she agreed to be interviewed as well.  A bonus was that Top 18 Finalist Fortune Kangueehi was at the airport too.

I recognised Thys immediately, as he came into the Arrivals Hall with a bounce, a smile, and the cutest gelled hairstyle, almost as one has got to know him over the last ten weeks on MasterChef SA (except for the gel). He hugged me as if we have been friends forever (we have only ‘met’ on Facebook and Twitter to date).  We met Sue-Ann shopping at Woolworths, and he reprimanded her immediately about the top she intended buying, and she decided against the purchase as a result.  They told me that one of the MasterChef SA highlights has been that the Finalists have become more than friends, they are now ‘family’,  and they have listed each other as such on their Facebook pages!  They go on outings together, meet for dinner when they are in the city of a Finalist, and support each other’s new ventures. For example, they recently ate at Bombay Bicycle Club, where their fellow Finalist Guy Clark is now working as a chef.

Seeing Thys on screen in almost every MasterChef SA episode, it was a surprise to hear that he was nervous about the first public cooking he was to do at the Good Food & Wine Show, saying that being watched by unknown workshop attendees was scary, nothing compared to cooking for 30 Finalist friends and judges and six cameras following their every move.  Thys made desserts and cakes with his mom. Both are ‘addicted to sugar’, he said, and ‘nothing could ever be too sweet‘ for them, he said with a laugh. He will always eat dessert first, before he has other courses, and Sue-Ann confirmed this.  As a child he wanted to attend a Rustenburg school offering a cooking and hospitality specialisation, but his dad would not allow him.  To ‘punish’ his dad, he chose Home Economics as a subject instead of Woodwork, the only boy to do so in his year.  He had to endure learning needlework and other related topics taught in the subject, but really bloomed when they got to the cooking.  Thys previously worked as a bookkeeper, and his MasterChef SA success has led to his appointment as Project Manager at the Compass Group, which sets up and improves staff canteens on a consultancy basis.  He trains the staff, identifies the equipment they require, he does the paperwork, and he gets to cook too, combining his love for cooking and bookkeeping. He had heard about MasterChef SA through his sister, and she encouraged him to enter.  Thys’ home cooking was augmented with self study, his collection of cookbooks exceeding 1000, more of them being dessert related.  He proudly took out his latest acquisition, Chef Michel Roux’s ‘Desserts’ , and one senses that he cannot wait to get stuck into it, to try the recipes, and to add his own personal touch to them. Thys is working on a new website www.sweetmafia.co.za, a name chosen for him by Finalist Guy, reflecting his ‘addiction’ to Caramello Bears, and this led to the red-haired gingerbread man for his Facebook page, and will be present on his website too.  The site will contain his recipes, articles he is writing for the Rustenburg Herald, and will feature his fellow Finalists as well.  A book is in the pipeline too for next year, and ultimately he wants to own a patisserie one day.  MasterChef SA has changed his life in that he has been blessed with offers for a book – he had written four before MasterChef SA, and no publisher was interested in them! Guy and Thys are also working on a ‘Top Gear’ type TV program for food for next year.  It has given him a new job which he loves, and it is a huge ego boost.  People come up to him in supermarkets, and check what he has in his trolley or what he is eating, which was echoed by Sue-Ann.  The public seems surprised that the Finalists are not buying ingredients to cook all the time, not recognising that the Finalists are human too.   Thys emphasised that while he loves desserts, he should not be written off for this focus, as he is well-rounded and cooks savoury dishes too.  The most amazing end to our getting together was at the parking pay machine, when Thys offered to pay for my parking, because I had taken the trouble to meet him at the airport – a most generous offer which I declined, but once again reflected how nice he is!

Sue-Ann Allen made a massive sacrifice to be on MasterChef SA, in giving up her job as a lighting consultant, and selling her car.  She confidently said that she knew that she would reach Top 18 in MasterChef SA because of her ‘desire to make it’, and not necessarily because of her cooking skills.  She has no job now, and is using this time to prepare for what is to come. Cooking is the industry that she wants to be in.  She is working on recipes and is cooking a lot. She loves writing recipes, and says that it is easier now, having grown in confidence.  They had ‘flavour pairings‘ drilled into them in a one day educational on MasterChef SA, and she is building this knowledge into her recipes. While they were at Nederburg, they actively read cookbooks.    She said that viewers should remember that they are amateur cooks who need to still learn a lot, and that they can’t turn into professional chefs just because they have been on the show.  She will be researching recipes for the next six months, and will make a decision of how to take her dream further. Sue-Ann is 100% self-trained, her love for cooking coming from her mom and her late grandmother, both excellent cooks.  She cooked her first meal at the age of 4 years, asking her mom to leave the kitchen while she prepared it herself.  Her gran cooked all day, and Sue-Ann tasted her food. She gave Sue-Ann confidence, always praising what she had prepared.  She has reached an ‘inner sense of peace’, she said, and that is why she is taking time to decide what to do next.  She was at the lighting company for ten years, and needed a change in her life – MasterChef SA has given it to her. Her dream is to have her own cooking show, wanting to teach South Africans to cook well, and to show that our local chefs are as good as the international ones. MasterChef SA has been a door-opener, which will help her make the dream of the show for next year come true, she believes.  The judges were super, and she loved them from the first day. She respected who they are in the food industry, and she accepted their criticism because it was constructive, and the judges are serious about food.  Chef Pete Goffe-Wood referred  to Sue-Ann as a ‘demon in the kitchen‘ when he saw her in the audience while he was doing a demonstration for Sea Harvest at the Good Food & Wine Show.

No matter where Thys and Sue-Ann land up on the Top 10 list in the remaining eight weeks, it is clear that they will be successful in their new endeavours, all because they followed their dream to participate and do well in MasterChef SA!

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

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