For the first time in the history of MasterChef SA a contestant was flown to another country alone, for winning best dish. Roxi Wardman made the best Proudly South African Mystery Box dish in episode 3, her butternut and peanut butter tart winning her the trip of a lifetime to eat at 2 Michelin star restaurant Thornton’s in Dublin. Phila Vilakazi was the first MasterChef SA Season 3 contestant to be sent home. For the first time a MasterChef SA episode contained an off-putting hard-sell punt for its main sponsor Robertsons!
Roxi arrived in a chilly Dublin, at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, where Chef Kevin Thornton spoilt her with an exclusive lunch at Thornton’s, one of the Top 25 restaurants in the world, and one of the top 10 for special occasions. Chef Kevin’s philosophy is that ‘food is about life. There are so many people starving in the world and then we have all this stuff to play with, so it’s very important that you have a huge amount of respect for it’, he told Roxi. He added: ‘If I was to describe our food, I would say it’s a natural energy based food so it’s all about natural energy’. Roxi was impressed with Chef Kevin’s introduction to his dish, a ‘circle of life‘ story and bringing a pigeon in a nest with pigeon eggs, before he served it in three parts. He explained that they use Eireyu beef, reared on mother’s milk for the first six months, and then on grass and two pints of Guinness, for a month, with massages too. Thornton’s website reflects the food journey of Chef Kevin: ‘His cooking, while contemporary, is informed by the distinctive flavours of local produce, and by his vivid memories of the food of his childhood’. Funny was seeing the subtitles for Chef Kevin Thornton’s Irish! Roxi winning the top dish in episode 3 and being jetted off to Dublin hugely boosted her confidence, she shared, and humbled her. She liked Dublin, and its busy-ness, it being fast track, and being ‘quite hectic’! She did say on entering Thornton’s restaurant that she felt intimidated eating at such a top level restaurant, but on leaving said that she had learnt from Chef Kevin that it is all about cooking local, fresh, seasonal, uncomplicated, and sustainable food.
Back in the MasterChef SA kitchen, the first Pressure Test of Season 3 was heating up. In the promo at the end of the programme last week, viewers were promised that the three Pressure Test contestants (Phila Vilakazi, Mel Sutherland, and Ndumiso Mncwabe) would have to cook a dish made by a ‘real MasterChef‘, leading one to believe that it could be the winner of Season 1 (Deena Naidoo) or Season 2 (Kamini Pather). What a shock to see Reuben Robertsons Riffel described as such, given that he rarely cooks at any of his five restaurants, and that it was his duck dish that had to be replicated in the Pressure Test. Ndumiso, Mel, and Phila cooked for ‘survival’, to stay on in the MasterChef SA kitchen. Riffel’s ‘signature‘ Pan Roasted Duck Breast with roasted beetroot, grilled spring onion and toasted garlic, cashew nut crème, and spiced citrus sauce with honey and ginger had to be replicated in the Pressure Test, the contestants being allowed to taste the dish. They were given a recipe to follow to prepare the dish and the ingredients were put out at their work stations. The brief was to replicate Riffel’s dish as closely as possible. Reuben warned the contestants a number of times to not burn their spices nor the cashew nuts, otherwise one would taste it, this not being rocket science! He also told them three times that they needed to reserve 10 of the 75 minutes allocated to the dish preparation to plating.
Phila proudly told Riffel that he does not follow recipes, ‘but this is the challenge, and I will tackle it head-on and try to follow your recipe as best as I can!’ The three contestants started to ‘steam-roast‘ their beetroot in a pan with butter, water, cumin, and thyme, then put foil over it, and put it into the oven to cook. Mel was excited about the challenge, as she has each of Riffel’s cookbooks, and wanted him to sign them. She had made duck before, and felt confident about the dish, saying that she works well under pressure, In the end her duck did not cook for long enough, and was not rested, making it undercooked, in the judges’ opinion. When she described how she made her sauce, she mentioned Robertsons spices specifically, which means that the contestants themselves are now talking off a script! Ndumiso got off to a slow start, not being able to open the roll of foil! His dish was cooked well, looked a lot like Riffel’s dish, but was under-seasoned (despite all the Robertsons spices hard-sell and all the spice bottles on the work station of each contestant!), and his sauce was completely wrong, with too much oil in it, which came from not following the recipe properly. ‘If that sauce had been better, this dish would have been top notch‘, Chef Pete Goffe-Wood said. Ndumiso must have been hoping for some brownie points when he told the camera that Riffel is a ‘world class chef‘ – were the contestants that badly misled about Riffel?! He was clumsy in dropping the spring onion onto the floor during plating, Philippa Robertson shouting at him from the gallery to pick it up! Mel’s dream was to become a chef, but could not afford to study to become one, she shared emotionally. Her brother is a chef, and she is proud of him. Her duck was too rare, needing to have rested more, Chef Benny Masekwameng advised. Phila was ready to walk out of MasterChef SA before the Pressure Test, and shared that ‘I had to find the last ounce of courage and do the best that I can, and not give up’. Phila’s dish was undercooked, and the sauce was over-reduced. Chef Pete told Phila: ‘You’re a good cook, this we know already, but you can’t work under pressure. And that’s something that you need to practice‘.
It was Phila’s duck dish that made him duck out of MasterChef SA Season 3 last night. Before leaving Nederburg he shared: ‘I want to inspire people. Ultimately I’d like to create a township fine-dining experience – just bring it closer to the people and show them that in the township we can do great things‘.
The episode was terribly boring, 45 minutes minus the Robertsons-dominant TV commercials being focused on the Pressure Test. For the first time viewers could follow how to make the dish, with the amount of time spent showing every step of preparing the dish, boring however to non-cooks. Shocking was seeing the blatant promotion of Robertsons spices and herbs in this episode (we have seen more and more camera shots of the brand bottles on the work stations in the episode to date this Season). Not only did Chef Pete Goffe-Wood oversell Riffel as ‘one of our country’s leading chefs‘ (Riffel is barely in the kitchens of his 5 restaurants, doing charity golf events, writing cookbooks, travelling through Africa for a TV series, judging MasterChef SA, judging restaurants for Eat Out, etc.), but Riffel himself did a plug for Robertsons herbs and spices, and how good they are for cooking, destroying any credibility MasterChef SA has in teaching viewers as well as the contestants how to cook – fresh herbs is what serious cooking is all about, the message which Roxi left Thornton’s restaurant with. This caused confused communication, showing the divide between a top notch 2 star Michelin chef and ‘Robertsons-star’ MasterChef SA homecooks The name of the programme should now be changed to MasterRobertsons!
Riffel’s English is shockingly poor, when he told the three contestants that ‘15 minutes has (sic) elapsed (sic)’! Given our complaints about the inability to hear all the judges whispering about the contestants and their dishes in the past three episodes, a welcome introduction in this episode is subtitles, but they were not used each time the judges spoke amongst themselves!
For an overview of MasterChef Season 3 read here, and read here too. For a summary of episode 1 of Season 3 at Bootcamp 1 read here, and of episode 2 read here. The summary of episode 3 can be read here. For the Twitter handles of the Top 12 finalists, click here.
PLEASE NOTE: The weekly WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards, usually posted on Fridays, will be posted on Saturdays until late December, to allow the write-ups of each of the 18 episodes of MasterChef SA Season 3 to be posted the day after the episode. MasterChef SA Season 3, M-Net. www.masterchefsa.dstv.co.za Twitter: @MasterChef_SA Thursdays at 19h30.
DISCLOSURE: As last night’s episode clashed with the ‘Chefs who Share‘ Gala Dinner, I wrote this episode summary from the MasterChef SA website, and the media release received from M-Net. I will watch the repeat at 14h30 tomorrow, and add my own observations to it then.
POSTSCRIPT 14/9: The advertised repeat of episode 4 of MasterChef SA did not happen yesterday, but I managed to see it at 12h00 today. I have added additional notes in blue after watching the episode.