One of the nicest MasterChef SA Top 18 finalists must be Guy Clark, from his appearances in the reality TV show series to date, always staying in the background, with never a hair out of place.  Last week we had the privilege to meet with him for an interview at I my Laundry.

A surprise was that Guy had to run the interview request past Ingrid Engelbrecht, the M-Net PR executive, and ideally she wanted a list or questions which she could approve.  As the meeting was planned as an informal chat, Guy was comfortable that we could meet without such a list.  He asked me to send a copy of this article to Ms Engelbrecht, for her approval, demonstrating the extreme confidentiality which the 18 finalists have been subjected to via a contract, which could see the MasterChef SA title being removed, and M-Net suing the contestant(s) leaking any information for damages ‘which one would have to pay off for the rest of one’s life’, Guy said.  Of all the 18 MasterChef SA finalists, Guy has been the most quiet on Social Media, especially on Twitter, not having Tweeted at all.  He says that they were encouraged to open a Twitter account, and given Tweeting guidelines by M-Net.  He claims to not really know how to do it!  He told me that he does not go out to public bars, to avoid drinking, which could possibly lead him to inadvertently slip any information. Given that they are in the public domain now, contestants must be responsible with their Tweets, he said.  Guy and his fellow Finalists will be in an information ‘bubble’ for the next 13 weeks, all knowing who has won MasterChef South Africa, and all subject to the same stringent confidentiality conditions.  M-Net is watching their Social Media output closely, to ensure that no one slips any details. While the finalists may Tweet about previous episodes, they may not write or say anything about any of the remaining episodes.

I asked about the prize, and Guy told me that there is no second or third prize – the winner of MasterChef SA takes it all, a prize in value of R8 million, including R250000 spending money from Robertsons, a Hyundai car, a trip to Italy paid for by Woolworths, a sommelier course and wines from Nederburg, and a job as the Chef at MondoVino restaurant at Montecasino for a year.   The restaurant job prize had intrigued me, as it could be discriminatory to non-Johannesburg-based finalists, as well as to stay-at-home moms, for example.  Guy told me that they had thought about this, and that the restaurant prize can be taken in various ‘packages’, not being able to explain exactly how this will work or what this means.

The past few months of MasterChef SA have been so exciting and demanding that Guy appeared to not be able to remember exactly when they did the ‘Bootcamp’ in Johannesburg, and when they started at Nederburg outside Paarl.  He said that he had lost all concept of time whilst on the show, not being able to judge how quickly time was passing, being totally dependent on the MasterChef SA clock. All 18 the Finalists stayed at Augusta guest house outside Paarl, and the Finalists who were booted out had to go home immediately. They all returned for the filming of the last episode, in which the winner of MasterChef SA is announced.  Guy spoke fondly of Charles Canning, a good cook and therefore a surprise elimination in episode 4, who was regarded as their rock, ‘the dad of the house’, who spoke to the producers on the Finalists’ behalf when he was still there.

Guy gave up his job as a property broker for two months, with the blessing of his bosses.  This has been his job for a number of years, after the family business Clark Property closed down, one in which his dad was a property developer and his mom an interior decorator.  He laughed when he told me that his career as a model was short-lived, having only appeared in one unpaid shoot.  Guy’s first cooking was when he was 14 years old, trying to impress a girlfriend by making pasta alfredo for her. The good reception it received gave him confidence, and he increasingly cooked, volunteering to cook dinners at home.  He honestly said that his mom was not the best cook, preparing ‘sensible dishes’. He is self-taught, and is interested in flavour pairing in food.  His childhood memory dish, which was not shown in episode 4, was a dish which reflected both his parents: his dad loves Thai food, and his mom chicken and grapefruit, so Guy made a Thai sauce reduction which he stuffed into a chicken breast, and served with Julienne vegetables and caramelised grapefruit.

Six days a week over a two month period the Finalists started their MasterChef SA day at 5h00 and they returned to The House at about 20h00.  Guy couldn’t really tell me where the time went, but some if it went to setting up the film production, to filling up the Pantry, to meals they had on set, and the filming of each Finalist’s dish, not all of which has been seen in the past four episodes. In the ‘dead waiting time’ they struck up friendships amongst each other, and learnt from each other. The Finalists had to hand in their cellphones, not being allowed any communication with the outside world.  Guy said that it was intimidating to hear the use of terminology about cooking used by the other Finalists, but then some of his cooking knowledge also impressed some of the other contestants. Hearing that Finalist Thys Hattingh owns 1000 cookbooks was intimidating, he said.  Each time they prepared a dish, they had to set aside a side plate portion of the dish, so that the judges could quickly taste all Finalist dishes off-camera while they were reasonably hot, leaving the beautifully plated (but by now cooled down) dishes to be filmed, and which the judges tasted whilst being filmed.   Each Finalist was also interviewed about his/her dish after it had been prepared, which interviews were cut into the shots of them cooking, as if they were taking a break to speak to the camera, for the episodes.

Each of the judges had a specific role in the evaluation of the dishes and MasterChef SA Finalists: Chef Pete Goffe-Wood judged the efficiency, accuracy, and the Finalists’ ability to handle the ‘heat in the kitchen’; Chef Andrew Atkinson is very nice, the best chef of the three, Guy said, having won lots of gold medals for his food preparation, and his task was to judge the plating and flavours; Chef Bennie Masekwameng looked smart in his suits on the set, but off-camera he was very ‘Johannesburg chilled, cool, and relaxed’.  He looked after the ‘heart’ of the Finalists, and was particularly good at evaluating the African dishes.

Not all Finalists’ dishes are shown in each episode, as was evident in episode 4, and a number of the Finalists questioned on Twitter why their dishes were excluded.  Guy was critical of them about this, as he said the producers have given and will give a fair spread of coverage to each Finalist throughout the 18 episodes.  In each episode some of the best and worst dishes are shown.  The bottom five went into the ‘Pressure Test’ in episode 4, but in the episodes ahead it may not always be five going into the ‘Pressure Test’ – it appeared that whole teams could have been subjected to this too.  In episode 5 the trailer intimates that the team members had to vote out a Finalist, a hard task as they had become friends.  Recipes were provided for the ‘Pressure Test’ challenges. Not yet shown was the Master Classes done by outside real world chefs about how to make their signature dishes, to which only the Finalists who had received a ‘reward’ for good work were invited.  Guy could not tell me who the chefs were, but I speculated that Chef Reuben Riffel, endorsing MasterChef SA sponsor Robertsons’ products, was one of them, to which he did not reply.  The Robertsons’ TV commercials have the pay-off line ‘Masterclass’, and on their website Chef Reuben shows how to make really basic dishes such as garlic bread, and chocolate and banana.  I asked Guy what role Chef Vanie Padayachee played, now Chef at Le Quartier Français, and he said that her role would be revealed over time.  He praised Chef Arnold Tanzer, the Culinary Director on the show, who filled up The Pantry, pre-tested recipes, and checked the Mystery Boxes.

Guy had only watched four episodes of MasterChef Australia, and they all watched MasterChef America while at The House.  He said that MasterChef SA has its own unique identity, and is not as brutal as the USA version. The local judges were fair, and did not attack the integrity of the Finalists, only the dishes being criticised. Their confidence surged when they received praise from the judges, but could as easily be dashed by criticism.  The cameras focusing on them, the time constraints, and the judges asking questions created pressure and ‘cooking adrenaline’. Finalist Thys used a lot of expletives while cooking, and received a few words about this from the judges, none shown in any episodes to date (the programme has a PG13 rating).  He has used them in his Tweets too.

Guy has two reasons for participating: to test what he is capable of in terms of cooking, and to attract awareness for his Black White Green rhino conservation fund, for which he is generating monies by printing rhino pictures for sale.  He said that he will donate half his prize money to the fund, should he win. The R8 million prize package was a very strong motivation to give his best.  He was inspired most by Finalist Sue-Ann Allan, also from Cape Town, who has the same age, and who impressed him by giving up her job as a lighting designer and selling her car, so that she could participate in the show. Guy warned that the winner is not predictable, and that there were some ‘wild cards’ to come in future episodes.

Should Guy win MasterChef SA, he will give up his career and follow his real passion, being cooking, and will open a restaurant.  I asked if it would be in Cape Town, and he answered that it would be where ‘the money is’, hinting at Johannesburg.

PS: Ingrid Engelbrecht, Senior Publicist at M-Net, sent us this information about the contestant confidentiality: The confidentiality clauses in the contestants’ contracts with M-Net are the standard clauses that appear in any agreement between a contestant and the broadcaster when a series has been pre-recorded. They are in place so that no information is leaked about the show’s content in advance, thus spoiling the viewing experience of the show for fans”. She also explained (vaguely) how the restaurant prize could be dealt with: Regarding the restaurant prize, Southern Sun is happy to tailor-make the options in order to meet the needs of the winner and to ensure that all parties are happy going forward with this amazing prize. They will take into account factors such as the contestant not being from Johannesburg, having a family and any other obligations, and will assist to whatever degree is necessary”.

POSTSCRIPT 16/5: Guy Clark was eliminated from MasterChef SA last night, for his soufflé not meeting the judges’ approval.  When I called to commiserate today, he was ever the gentleman, saying that the judges’ decision was fair, and that they walk around the finalists all the time, having a good idea of what they are doing.  Exciting news is that he is making his dream to become a chef come true, starting at a well-known Cape Town restaurant group.

POSTSCRIPT 19/5: It’s official: Guy Clark is starting as a chef at the Madame Zingara restaurant group on Monday.

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