The 90 minute special Finale episode of MasterChef South Africa last night was the most tense of all, ending off with the good news that Deena Naidoo has won the title of MasterChef SA, after he and Sue-Ann Allen were put through the tests of a Mystery Box, an Invention Test, and a Pressure Test, in the company of their family and the other 16 Finalists, who were flown in for the final cook-off.
The episode started in Johannesburg, at the Montecasino Palazzo Hotel, where they were shown the Presidential Suite. In the room was an invitation inside a cloche to attend a private dinner at the MondeVino restaurant, one of the prizes of winning the MasterChef SA title. Sue-Ann looked glamorous and beautifully made up for the dinner. They were surprised to see the three chef judges Pete Goffe-Wood, Andrew Atkinson, and Benny Masekwameng, dressed in their chef’s uniforms for the first time, and they prepared dinner for the two Finalists. The starter was a calamari dish, followed by a fillet steak, which was served with Nederburg Shiraz. A chocolate blini was served with seasonal fruit for dessert.
The dinner was an opportunity for flashbacks, to remember the highs and lows of each contestant. Sue-Ann spoke about giving up everything, to become a chef. Her turning point was the 12 hour Pressure Test which she did with Ilse Fourie and Khaya Silingile. For her the high point was being announced as one of the final two. Deena said his lowest point was the food and wine pairing, and he regretted that he had not ‘researched liquor and pairings’, he said. The chocolate mousse cake was another challenge, and he was close to giving up, when a ‘wave of energy came over me‘. His highlight was meeting Chef Michel Roux Jnr, and receiving the fantastic accolade from him, when he said that Deena’s attention to detail would make a professional of him. Sue-Ann was said to have fought ‘tooth and nail‘, Chef Benny saying that ‘whoever wants this most will be King or Queen of this place’. Chef Benny was the chef at MondeVino before he became a MasterChef SA judge, and now is one of the Executive Chefs of Tsogo Sun, responsible for the restaurants in the hotel group. Deena said the dinner was a defining moment in his life.
Returning to the MasterChef SA kitchen at Nederburg, the 16 eliminated Finalists met up with Deena and Sue-Ann, to support them, and to be present for the announcement of the winner. Deena’s wife Kathy, his stepson and his sister came too, while Sue-Ann’s mom Gail, her sister, and best friend Lauren also attended. Finalist Fortune Kangueehi commented that it was like a ‘family reunion‘. The Finalists were reminded that the MasterChef SA prize package to the value of R8 million is the biggest in the history of reality TV in South Africa. Sue-Ann was described as the ‘Queen of Pressure Tests’ by Chef Pete.
All work stations but two had been removed from the MasterChef SA kitchen, and were positioned so that Sue-Ann and Deena faced each other, Sue-Ann jokingly saying that they would have to take out their boxing gloves. The day started off with a Mystery Box, from which they had to prepare ‘an incredible dish with the most exciting Mystery Box ever’, within one hour. A beautiful box contained Fairview Chevin cheese with baby winter vegetables, such as radishes, endives, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and blue potatoes. Deena said that he would use as many of the vegetables as possible, to serve them with oven roasted root vegetable and a parsnip purée, whereas Sue-Ann chose those that she likes to eat best, making a beetroot and goat’s cheese samoosa served with ribbons of crispy fried vegetables and a herb mayonnaise. She prayed that her mayonnaise would emulsify, which it did. Sue-Ann made more portions than required, something she had learnt whilst being on MasterChef SA. Deena was criticised by the judges for having ‘no coherent idea’, and for wanting to serve a starter with a combination of hot and cold items. Both contestants finished within time, and Deena started ‘fiddling’, by adding additional items, being warned by his colleagues looking from above that he should stop. Thys Hattingh summarised the dishes of the two Finalists, Sue-Ann being ‘less is more’ and Deena focusing on ‘extravagance‘. Deena’s starter was praised for his texture being ‘spot on’, said Chef Andrew, but Chef Pete asked ‘what on earth the raw radishes are doing on the plate‘. His cutting skills were praised. Sue-Ann’s starter was praised for its ‘neat presentation’ by Chef Andrew, with good colours, being simplistic, and ‘an uplifting chive mayonnaise‘. Chef Benny said the samoosa had ‘an absolutely perfect taste‘, but that her vegetables were overcooked.
The Invention Test was a ‘proudly South Africa‘ one, and they were tasked to show what they had learnt while at MasterChef SA. Deena said that he would make the ‘meal of his life’. Sue-Ann chose to make a poached fillet of beef with shelled peas. Deena made a coriander crusted lamb loin with spinach bhaji. Chef Andrew questioned Deena’s mix of citrus juice and spices. It looked like he would run behind on time in getting his lamb loin prepared, but recovered. Manisha Naidu commented that Sue-Ann always does ‘minimalist plates’. Sue-Ann said that she was happy with her dish, but felt that she could have done more. Chef Benny said her main course was ‘simple sophistication’. Chef Pete praised her fillet, but said her mushrooms were bland. Chef Andrew said that her dish had a delicate flavour, and said it ‘was very well done‘. Deena’s dish was criticised for having a ‘very brown presentation’, and that it had a lot of lamb on the plate. Chef Pete liked the coriander and cumin, Chef Benny praised the light batter but criticising the potatoes. Chef Andrew was critical of the citrus glaze, saying that it overpowered the lamb loin. But the lamb itself was deemed perfect. Overall the ‘marriage’ of the elements did not work in Deena’s dish, the judges said, and the taste of Sue-Ann’s dish did not live up to its presentation promise.
The Pressure Test was the toughest ever, being a Deconstructed Milk Tart with ‘apple moes‘, apple gel, and a spun sugar spiral. Sue-Ann blew Deena kisses for good luck. Despite being reminded that exact ingredients and temperature in a recipe must be followed, Deena cut out the core of the apples and peeled them, and halved the quantity, to save time. This was a problem, said the judges and some of the other Finalists, as the pectin in the skin and pips is needed for the gel. It also affected the blending of his apples for the mousse. Disaster struck for Sue-Ann when her pastry burnt and her sugar had darkened, she calmly saying that she would remake both, but she could not make the spun sugar spiral as she used a spoon with crystallised sugar on it, which affected her second batch of sugar, Thys explained. Deena had never made spun sugarwork before, and made a relatively good attempt at it. He prayed whilst making the sponge. Deena was criticised by Chef Andrew for not sticking to the recipe, and for his ‘rustic apple mousse’. Chef Pete praised the consistency of the cooked pastry and the smooth custard. His milktart was described as ‘creamy smooth‘ and ‘delicious’ by Chef Benny, but he had only made half the spun sugar. He was told that it was a close resemblance to Chef Benny’s dish. Sue-Ann’s biggest weakness was the missing sugar spiral. She was praised by Chef Pete for the attractive look of the dish, also looking like Chef Benny’s, said Chef Pete, but her custard was undercooked. Chef Benny said that the pastry was flaky, and had the right colour and tight crispiness. Chef Andrew added that the apple mousse was ‘superb‘. It was disappointing that the very last dish cooked by the two Finalists, for such a big title and prize, had unforgivable errors, which could have led to both being eliminated in previous episodes, and the reality TV series ended on this note of imperfection.
Recapping the three dishes prepared by Sue-Ann and Deena, and highlighting that they had survived 30 challenges throughout the MasterChef SA series, beating the best amateur cooks in the country, it was announced that Deena had won the right to carry the first MasterChef title in South Africa. It must have been a close call for the judges to make the decision, as both Finalists appeared to make an equal number of errors throughout the episode. Deena appeared in fewer Pressure Tests than Sue-Ann, however.
Tsogo Sun sent out a media release shorty before midnight last night, announcing that it had signed a two year contract with Deena Naidoo, commencing at MondeVino restaurant at SunSquare Montecasino Hotel in November. ‘The restaurant concept will be a testament to Deena’s passion and love for food combined with our knowledge and expertise’, said Graham Wood, Managing Director of Tsogo Sun – Hotels. He added that Chef Benny will ‘be on hand to guide and support Deena’.
We wish all MasterChef SA Finalists all the best in their future careers, and look forward to Season 2, which is speculated to be on the cards for 2013. Tuesday evenings without MasterChef SA won’t be the same for a long time to come!
POSTSCRIPT 25/7: Tsogo Sun’s PR agency has clarified the changes that are to be made at MondoVino Restaurant, which they hinted at in their media release: ‘It is an existing restaurant but it will be re-launched with a new menu in November and redone accordingly to Deena’s wishes’.
POSTSCRIPT 25/7: In an interview on Kfm, Sue-Ann Allen has hinted that she will be doing training with Chef Peter Tempelhoff at The Greenhouse, Constantia Hohenhort Hotel. Alternatively, it may be with Chef Luke Dale-Roberts at The Test Kitchen. A series of cookbooks is also on the cards, the Cape Argus reported earlier this week.
POSTSCRIPT 28/7: A bomb burst yesterday, when The Citizen reported Deena Naidoo’s alleged dissatisfaction with the misrepresentation of the Tsogo Sun MondoVino restaurant prize, which was subsequently denied by M-Net and Tsogo Sun, quoting Deena too!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage