The MasterChef SA pace was fast and heavy last night, or so it seemed, with the 50 contestants that made the ‘bootcamp’ being whittled down to half in episode 2, by setting them what seemed to be three basic tasks: chopping onions, separating and whisking egg whites, and preparing a potato dish. The confidence of the judges had grown, there were no more sympathy votes, and the judges set more fair measurable goals to decide on the future of the contestants.
The ‘bootcamp’ was held in Johannesburg, and most dramatically started on what probably is the Nelson Mandela Bridge, which was closed for the duration of the shoot. The judges looked far more relaxed compared to episode 1, Chefs Benny Masekwameng and Pete Goffe-Wood wearing a T-shirt and waistcoat, and Chef Andrew Atkinson slightly more formal in an open shirt and waistcoat. The contestants proudly wore their Masterchef SA aprons. Three activities were given to the contestants, with the judges asking the contestants once again to ‘impress us’ and to show their ‘passion’. This would reduce the number of contestants down to 25, for participation in the second day of the ‘bootcamp’, a braai they were told, which will reduce them down to 18, and take them to Nederburg, where the rest of the 15 episodes were filmed.
Even more dramatic than the bridge was the arrival of a helicopter, flying in a container of 3 tons of onions. Chef Pete showed the contestants how to professionally chop an onion, and then each contestant had to chop onions until they were told by one of the judges to stop, having mastered the art of chopping. Some contestants clearly had not done much onion chopping before, and cried their eyes out, knowing that they might not be proceeding. Ten contestants were eliminated for their poor onion-chopping skills. Chef Pete said that it takes a good chef three years to learn how to chop onions perfectly. They were warned to watch their fingers, as the knives were razor sharp, and there were some mishaps.
Below the bridge, the old Johannesburg Market was pointed out to the visitors to the city, and the venue for the next two contestant challenges was the Bus House, a massive warehouse. A massive long table contained eggs and bowls, and each contestant was instructed to separate the yolk from the egg whites, and beat twelve of them so stiff that they could turn the dish around and put it above their head without its content falling onto their head. Not all contestants managed to keep their heads and hair clean! The first five to finish were allowed to skip the third task of the day, and could go through to the second day (episode 3). Ilse Fourie was the first to finish this task, and already impressed in episode 1, with the judges heaping great praise on her cooked dish.
The third task was to take the humble potato, and prepare a hot dish out of it in 45 minutes, adding some ingredients which had been made available in the hall. Chef Pete was particularly harsh of (singing in episode 1) Sanjeev’s colourful dish, criticising it for being ‘plated by a four year old’, and after tasting it, saying that it tasted as if it was ‘made by a 4 year old’. Jonathan was criticised for being over-ambitious with his potato fondant in the time available, Marianna’s potato soup was described as ‘dishwater’ (on Twitter this morning Chef Pete had even worse things to say about it), Mel’s dish was‘too basic’, and Peter and Ashley were told that their dishes were a ‘let down’.
The contestants that were eliminated across the three challenges last night included Dael, Anel, Abby, Mel, Ashley, Peter, Luxolo (a sympathy vote recipient last week, and who received lots of Twitter support last night), Megan, Karen, Helena, Stefan, Fortune, Charles, Cameron, Marianna, Sanjeev, Jonathan, Ken (he appeared to receive a sympathy vote last week too), Candice, Vani, and Bonguwusa.
There seemed to be more TV commercials in the ad breaks, including those for MasterChef SA sponsors Robertson’s, Nederburg, Woolworths, and Hyundai (with an interesting pay-off line ‘There’s a Hyundai for every taste’, and the commercial featured the car with sushi!). Other advertisers were Spur, Outsurance, a Lindt promotion with M-Net, ESKOM, Clicks, Cape Town Fish Market, L’Oreal, Virgin Active, Jaguar, Johnnie Walker Red Label, Nivea, Cell C, Valentino perfume, and Hippo.
The MasterChef SA contestants seemed surprised about the tasks that they were given, and the time pressure placed on them, and preparing their dishes in front of others raised their level of nervousness. Some of the contestants seemed to have been over-confident initially, and there seemed to be a correlation between this and their departure from the programme in yesterday’s episode! The pace of the programme reminded one of Charly’s Cake Angels, who had impossible sounding cake challenges to complete against the clock, the episodes creating anxiety for the viewers too. There is no doubt that MasterChef SA is gripping TV viewers, probably to the detriment of cinemas, restaurants, and theatres, as much of South Africa stays home on Tuesday evenings for the next sixteen weeks.
POSTSCRIPT 28/3: Candice Le Noury, who writes Gorgeous Blog, has written about her experience as a MasterChef SA Top 50 finalist.
POSTSCRIPT 1/4: I met MasterChef SA Judge and Chef Pete Goffe-Wood at the Bay Harbour Market today, where he and his wife Elize have a steak sandwich stand. I enjoyed his feedback to the questions I asked him about MasterChef SA. I asked him if Ilse Fourie or Jade de Waal is the winner, but (predictably) he said neither, as he may not share this information. He told us that pigeons were in the Bus House, and Marianna’s soup got hit by pigeon poo 5 minutes before her soup was judged. The judges were warned, and carefully avoided it in the soup they had to taste. It was dreadful anyway, he said. The judges wore an ear piece, and were reminded by the director of incidents about the particular contestant, to help shape their responses. Not all the high and low lights experienced could be shown, and had to be edited to fit the hour time limit. Three contestants were too scared to put the bowl with the whipped egg white over their heads by the deadline, and were sent off the programme. The judges had a dress code, in what they should wear. Being a TV programme, the judges had to be more animated that on other TV cooking programmes. Because the judges were not actors, they remained pretty natural throughout the show. There are no programme viewership figures available yet. Chef Pete is pretty confident that there will be a second MasterChef SA series.
MasterChef SA, M-Net, Tuesdays 19h30 – 20h30. www.masterchefsa.co.za Twitter:@MasterChefSA
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage