Tag Archives: MondoVino

Café Dijon and Ou Meul Bakkery move to Cape Town, and other Spring restaurant news!

Our list of latest restaurant openings and closures lists more openings than closures, and a number of restaurant location changes. This list is updated continuously, as we receive information:

Restaurant Openings

*   Café Dijon has closed its restaurants on Plein Street and at Zorgvliet in Stellenbosch, and has opened in the Rockwell Centre in Green Point, Cape Town, on Napier Street opposite Anatoli’s.

*   Luke Dale-Roberts, Eat Out Top Chef at The Test Kitchen, is to open a real test kitchen, called The Kitchen of Dreams, a private experimental place to develop new recipes, at the Old Biscuit Mill

*  Chef Luke Dale-Roberts is opening a pop-up Pot Luck Club in Swiss ski resort Verbier, at the Hotel Farinet, from 8 December – April, to be run by him, his chef Nicolas Wilkinson, and front of house Selena Afnan-Holmes.

*   Col’Cacchio has opened a new outlets in Westlake, and a new one is coming in Claremont too.

*   A new Vida é Caffe new branches are to open on Maindean Place in Claremont, at the new Wembley Square 2 development, at The Paddocks, and Groote Schuur.  Two more branches are planned for Mauritius.

*    Honest Chocolate is opening a second outlet, a ‘production kitchen’ in the Woodstock Industrial Centre

*   Moyo is to open in November, where the Paulaner Braühaus was in the V & A Waterfront.  It has taken over the tearoom at Kirstenbosch already.

*   TRUTH Coffee has opened on Buitenkant Street

*   FEAST is to open where Franschhoek Food Emporium was, in Place Vendome

*   Deluxe Coffeeworks has opened where Reuben’s Deli used to be in Franschhoek.

*   Okamai Japanese Restaurant has opened at Glenwood wine estate in Franschhoek

*   Cavalli restaurant is said to open on the stud farm on R44, between Stellenbosch and Somerset West, this year or next

*   The Slug & Lettuce has opened where Beads was on Church Street in Stellenbosch

*   Stables at Vergelegen Bistro has opened as a lunch restaurant in Somerset West.  Its Lady Phillips Restaurant is being given a make-over by Christo Barnard, and will open on 1 November with a new name called Camphors at Vergelegen. The new chef will be PJ Vadas, previously of The Roundhouse in Camps Bay.

*   Coopmanshuijs in Stellenbosch is opening a restaurant.

*   Chef Johan van Schalkwyk has left the Stone Kitchen at Dunstone Winery, and has opened his own restaurant Twist Some More in Wellington.

*    Chef Bjorn Dingemans has opened The Millhouse Kitchen restaurant on Lourensford wine estate in Somerset West.

*   Chef Shane Sauvage (ex-La Vierge) has opened La Pentola restaurant in Hermanus.

*   Ali Baba Kebab (renamed from Laila) has opened as a small beef and lamb kebab take-away and sit-down outlet, next door to Codfather in Camps Bay

*   Gibson’s Gourmet Burger and Smoked Ribs has opened as a 70-seater restaurant in the V&A Waterfront, taking part of Belthazar. Owned by the Belthazar/Balducci group.

*   Down South Food Bar, previously on Long Street, is said to re-open in the Riverside Centre in Rondebosch

*   Ou Meul Bakkery from Riviersonderend has opened a bakery and coffee shop in Long Street

*   Deluxe Coffeeworks has opened a roastery and coffee bar at 6 Roodehek Street

*    The Deli @ The Square has opened at Frater Square in Paarl.

*   David Higgs (ex Rust en Vrede) is opening a new 30 seater restaurant in The Saxon in Johannesburg.

*   Big Route Top Gourmet Pizzeria has opened on Main Road, Green Point, next door to Woolworths, serving 52 different pizzas, salads and crêpes.

*   Cousins has opened in the Parliament Hotel, where Il Cappero used to be.

* Aces ‘n’ Spades Bar has opened in ex-Boo Radley on Hout Street

*   No. 6 Restaurant at Welbedacht has opened at Welbedacht/Schalk Burger & Sons wine estate in Wellington, run by the ex-owners of Oude Wellington

*   Café Dulce is to open a new branch in Tygervalley Centre

*   Gourmetboerie is to open at the bottom end of Kloof Street, where Depasco used to be, in October.

*   Kushi Indian Restaurant has opened a branch on Main Road in Sea Point

*   Time & Place Restaurant and Bar has opened on the corner of Wale and Buitengracht Street

*   Make Sushi Bar has opened in Sea Point

*   Thai Café is opening on Plein Street, Stellenbosch

*   Simply Asia has opened in Paarl

*   Restaurant @ Zomerlust has opened in Paarl

*    Christina’s has opened at Van Loveren in Robertson

*   Bellini’s is said to be opening on Greenmarket Square in October

*   Moksh Authentic Indian Cuisine restaurant has opened in Paarl

*   Vino’s has opened in Wellington

*   Alfama’s has opened on Waterkant Street

*   Taj Mahal has opened in Sea Point

*   It’s a House is to open on Jarvis Street in October, as a bar, coffee shop, and design art space.

*   Lion’s Head Bar is to open on Bree Street in October, selling craft beer and food

*   An Indian restaurant is to open in the original Madame Zingara building on Loop Street, by the Madame Zingara Group

*   The Caviar Group is opening three new restaurants in the Gateway Centre in Umhlanga by the end of this year: Beluga, Sevruga, and Osetra

*   A new bar and Café is to open underneath the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, where Bamboo used to be

*   Cattle Baron has opened in Hermanus.

*   Café Blanc de Noir has opened on Brenaissance wine estate in Stellenbosch

* The Reserve is said to be opening a beach restaurant in the V&A Waterfront.

*   Chef Nic van Wyk, previously with Terroir, is opening a restaurant at Diemersdal in Durbanville during the course of this month.

*   Lizette’s Kitchen has opened in Vöelklip, Hermanus.

*   Cattle Baron is to open at Pontac Manor in Paarl

*   Col’Cacchio is opening in Hermanus at the end of November

*   Merchant Café is opening on Long Street, opposite Merchants on Long, later this month.

* Paulina’s Restaurant is opening at Rickety Bridge in Franschhoek

*   Ocean Jewel Deli opens at Woodstock Junction on 22 October.

*   Buitenverwachting has opened a Coffee Shop and Roastery

* Wakaberry is opening on Kloof Street at the end of October

*   Rock Sushi Thai has opened in Meadowridge

*   Jimmy Jimanos sports bar is opening on Long Street

*   Dolcé Bakery is opening in St John’s Arcade in Sea Point

*   The Coffee Bloc has opened at Buitenverwachting

*   The Salzburger Grill has opened in Sea Point

Restaurant Closures

*   Sabarosa in Bakoven has closed down.

* Sunbird Bistro in Camps Bay has closed down

*   Limoncello in Gardens has closed down, but is continuing with its pop-up restaurant truck

*   Paparazzi has closed down on St George’s Mall

*   Wicked Treats in Franschhoek has closed down.

*   Casa Nostra has closed down in Sea Point, until it finds a new venue.

*   Bistro on Rose in Bo-Kaap has closed down as a restaurant

*   The Kove in Camps Bay has closed down, its space has become part of sister restaurant Zenzero

*   Sinnfull has closed down in Sea Point and Camps Bay

*   Liam Tomlin Food is closing down in Franschhoek at the end of October

Restaurant staff/venue changes

*    Il Cappero has moved from Barrack Street, to Fairway Street in Camps Bay.

*  Table Thirteen has reduced in size in Green Point and will open in Paarden Eiland later this year.

*   The V&A Waterfront Food Court is closed for renovations until November.  A sign outside the construction area lists the following businesses moving into or returning to the area: Primi Express, Anat, Carnival, Nür Halaal, Royal Bavarian Bakery, KFC, Boost Juice, Simply Asia, Steers, Debonairs, Subway, Marcel’s, and Haagan Dazs.  Nando’s is also opening.

*   Fyndraai Restaurant will move to another building on the wine estate in November, and will offer fine dining.  The current restaurant will serve light lunches and picnics.

*   Josephine Gutentoft has moved to Makaron at Majeka House as Restaurant Manager and Sommelier.

*   The Reserve has changed its name to Reserve Brasserie. Seelan Sundoo, ex Grand Café Camps Bay and ex La Perla, is the new consultant chef and GM (Seelan Sundoo has since left, now running the Shimmy Beach Club).

*   Chef Andrew Mendes from ex-Valora is now at Nelson’s Eye restaurant, where they are setting up a lunch section and cocktail bar upstairs.

*   Giulia’s Food Café Restaurant has opened where Miss K was on Main Road, Green Point. Now serve Italian-style lunch and dinner, but have retained some Miss K breakfast and pastry items.

*   Having bought the farm about 18 months ago, Antonij Rupert Wines has taken over the Graham Beck Franschhoek property. They will re-open the tasting room in October, initially offering all its Antonij Rupert, Cape of Good Hope, Terra del Capo, and Protea wines to taste.  They are renovating the manor house, to which the Antonij Rupert and Cape of Good Hope wines will be moved for tasting at a later stage.

*   Orphanage is expanding into a property at its back, opening on Orphan Street, in December, creating a similar second bar downstairs, and opening Orphanage Club upstairs, with 1920’s style music by live performers

*   GOLD Restaurant has moved into the Trinity building

*   Opal Lounge has closed down on Kloof Street, and has moved into Blake’s Bar building, renaming it Dinner at Blake’s. A wine and tapas bar has also been opened, called Bar Rouge.

*   Mano A Mano has opened on Park Street, where Green’s used to be.

*   MondeVino Restaurant at Montecasino in Johannesburg, the MasterChef SA prize for the next two years, is to be renamed Aarya, and is to be run by Chef Deena Naidoo from November onwards.

*   Bizerca has moved into the ex-Gourmet Burger space in Heritage Square on Shortmarket Street.

*    Co-owner Abbi Wallis has taken over the running of The Stone Kitchen at Dunstone Winery in Wellington.

*   Marcelino has left Marcelino’s Bakery, leaving the control with Mr Zerban.  A Zerban’s style restaurant is being added onto the bakery and will open mid-October.  It will change its name to EuroHaus.

*   Chef Chris Erasmus from Pierneef à La Motte is doing a stage with Chef Rene Redzepi at Noma, the number one World’s 50 Best Restaurants, in Copenhagen this month

*   MasterChef SA runner-up Sue-Ann Allen is joining South Africa’s number one Eat Out Top 10 restaurant The Greenhouse as an intern for a month, from 21 August.

*   Vintage India has moved out of the Garden’s Centre to the corner of Hiddingh and Mill Street, around the corner.

*   Nook Eatery in Stellenbosch has been sold, with new owners.

*   Crêpe et Cidre has closed down in Franschhoek.  Gideon’s The Famous Pancake House has opened in its space.

*   Brampton winetasting bar on Church Street, Stellenbosch, is undergoing renovations to treble its current size, planning to reopen in the first week of September.

*   Noop restaurant in Paarl has new owners

*   Buena Vista Social Club has changed its name to Barbosa Social Club

*   Chris Marais is the new chef at Blaauwklippen, previously with The Oyster Box

*   Daniel de Villiers is the new chef at Grand Dedale in Wellington, previously with Delaire Graff

*   Phil Alcock is the new chef at Two Oceans Restaurant at Cape Point, having previously worked at The Cape Grace, The Showroom, maze, and more

*   Albert van der Loo, previously with Le Coq and Dieu Donne restaurants in Franschhoek, is the new Head Chef at Oude Werf Hotel in Stellenbosch.

*   Chef Emile Fortuin, who was at Reuben’s Robertson for a very short time, has left and moved to Tokara

*   Camil and Ingrid Haas (ex Bouillabaisse and Camil’s) have returned to Franschhoek, with the view to get involved in a restaurant

*   Chef Cheyne Morrisby has left The Franschhoek Kitchen at Holden Manz, and has joined the Mantella Group (owners of Blake’s and ex-Opal Lounge). Update: Chef Cheyne has left the Mantella Group, after a very short time.

*   Tiaan van Greunen is the new Executive Chef at Reuben’s at The Robertson Small Hotel, after the departure of Emile Fortuin

*   Alex von Ulmenstein is the new Restaurant Manager at Indochine, at Delaire Graff Estate

*   Manager Raymond Brown has left Reuben’s Franschhoek, and has been replaced by Martell Smith.

*   Zelda Oelofse is the new Manager of Harvest Restaurant at Laborie, having taken over from Yolanda Prinsloo.

*   Maryna Frederiksen is the new Executive Chef at The Franschhoek Kitchen at Holden Manz.

*   The ex-Caveau owners are said to be taking over the running of the Twankey Bar of the Taj hotel.

*   Sand at The Plettenberg hotel has changed its name to Seafood at The Plettenberg.

Restaurant breaks

*   Grande Provence is closing on Sunday evenings until the end of September.

*   Tokara is closing for a Spring break from 24 September – 4 October

*   Planet Restaurant is closed on Sunday evenings until the end of September

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

MasterChef SA episode 16: Deena Naidoo honoured by star Chef Michel Roux Jnr, Lungi Nhlanhla ballotined out!

Last night’s episode 16 was the most sophisticated MasterChef SA one we have seen to date, and reached a high with Chef Michel Roux Jnr of La Gavroche, a two Michelin star restaurant in London, giving a Masterclass. It felt that we as viewers as well as the final five Finalists had reached culinary heaven, the closest that most of us will get to getting a taste of a Michelin star restaurant!  It will have taught the MasterChef SA judges how gracious one can be with one’s feedback, no matter how negative the message is.

The episode started with a quick reminder of the big prizes at stake for the winner of MasterChef SA: R250000 in cash from Robertsons, a year’s supply of Nederburg as well as tuition from the SA Sommeliers Association, a trip to Tuscany sponsored by Woolworths, a Hyundai, and a year of being in charge of Tsogo Sun’s MondoVino Restaurant at Montecasino.  Sue-Ann Allen was the first to put up her hand when the finalists were asked who wants to become the winner of MasterChef SA.

Chef Michel Roux Jnr was introduced to the Finalists, Deena Naidoo saying that it was a treat to meet this ‘culinary royalty‘. La Gavroche opened in 1993, and Chef Michel is a judge on MasterChef UK. Lungi Nhlanhla cried tears of happiness in experiencing this famous chef. Chef Michel said of himself that he comes from a ‘family dynasty of butter and cream loving chefs’, whose clients ‘leave content with a full tummy’.  Chef Pete Goffe-Wood said that his meal at La Gavroche was ‘one of the most memorable’ he has experienced. Chef Michel shared with the finalists that if they ‘cook from the heart and believe in what you put on the plate’, they would be a champion. He prepared his La Gavroche signature dish, sounding even better with its French name, being artichoke stuffed with chicken liver, topped with truffle slices, and served with a Madeira sauce. All the Finalists as well as the viewers were taken through a step by step explanation of how to make the precious dish.  Turning the artichokes was difficult but important to reveal the beautiful shape of the heart. Chef Michel said that he seasons at the beginning, and then adds more, if needed. Keeping the chicken mousse on ice is important. Deena said he ‘captured every motion‘ of Chef Michel, who said one must take the ‘choke out of the artichoke’, yet retain its shape. Truffles must be treated with respect, being so expensive, he emphasised. Guests expect to pay more for dishes with truffles, but they expect the chef to be generous with them too, he said.  Sue-Ann said that Chef Michel’s work once again showed the ‘simple beauty of food‘.  When she tasted his dish, she said that she experienced a ‘texture and taste explosion‘. Sarel praised its ‘earthiness’, saying it was ‘just beautiful’, and Deena said it was a ‘heavenly dish cooked by a genius‘.

The task to the Finalists was to replicate the artichoke dish of Chef Michel Jnr, and to make a chicken ballotine, which can be prepared by braising or roasting it. The expectation of the Finalists was ‘perfection‘, he said. The ‘carrot’ offered was a bell, which the Finalist preparing the best dish would receive, for use in episode 17, to obtain advice from one of the Chef Judges.

Sue-Ann chose to make a cream cheese, sage, rosemary and parma ham stuffed chicken ballotine with beetroot rings and green pea mash.   She was said to cook with ‘heart’.  The judges were sceptical about her cream cheese stuffing, describing it as an ‘interesting combination’, and questioned how it would hold together, to which she answered that she would use egg white. Chef Michel said her presentation was nice, and its taste was the closest to his. However, her ballotine was not so successful, the cream cheese not binding. Sue-Ann said that who ‘comes out strong today, will have a serious chance to win‘.

Lungi was praised for her concept of echoing the artichoke stuffing in her ballotine, ‘a very clever idea’ according to Chef Michel. Yet he expressed his concern about her cauliflower pureé, cutting it fine if she wanted it to set and cook.  Chef Benny Masekwameng praised her artichoke dish, cut open to show the chicken liver inside. Chef Michel said that her concept was right, but not its execution. Her cauliflower mousse did not hold, and went ‘blop’, she said. While the judges were evaluating her dish, she started to cry, and gentleman Chef Benny got up and gave her a hanky to dry her tears. Chef Michel said her plate was too full, and she should have used a bigger plate to make her dish look better and neater. He told her that ‘we must learn through our mistakes‘.  Chef Andrew told her that ‘to be adventurous with food, you need boundaries as well’.

Deena used minced pork with roasted pistachio nuts. He said that he was worried about being judged by Chef Michel, but told himself to keep focus, and show respect to Chef Michel. His biggest challenge was to turn the artichoke, he said.  His dish was described as being ‘visually bold and simple’, but his use of two plates was questioned by the judges. Deena said he wanted to highlight the accompaniment on a separate plate, in honour of Chef Michel. Chef Pete very quickly said that it was the wrong thing to do. Chef Andrew Atkinson gave an approving wink. Chef Pete liked the ballotine sausage, saying it was clever, with his use of pistachio and the crisp ham on the outside. Chef Michel said that it was the only ‘true ballotine‘ prepared of the five he evaluated, especially as Deena had toasted the pistachio nuts.

Sarel Loots stuffed his ballotine with peppadew (spicy capsicum, it was explained to Chef Michel, not having heard of it or tasted it before).  When he was questioned about the peppadew overpowering the truffle, he said that it would give his dish colour, and that he was ‘experimental’, wanting to ‘push the envelope’! Chef Michel said that the truffle should be the star, and not the peppadew. The presentation was praised, but he was told his dish came in two separate parts: the artichoke mousse, which was a little heavy and dense, and the ballotine, which had a good balance of flavour, but the two did not match each other, as the peppadew overpowered the truffle. Sarel had taken a huge risk, he was told. During the broadcast, Sarel Tweeted sweetly: ‘We were so honoured to be in this episode – going home will be no problem‘.

Manisha Naidu looked worried when preparing her dish, and Chef Michel advised her to ‘stay calm, stay focused, and believe in yourself‘.  She said it was hard work to pass the chicken through the sieve to make the mousse.  Manisha was told that she could have added more colour to her dish, and that her stuffing was not visible (she said her mushrooms had shrunk). But her artichoke was well turned, and was very close to his.  Her ballotine was dull and over-cooked, said Chef Pete.

Chef Michel presented the bell for the best dish to Deena, saying that he ‘might one day become a professional chef‘, in presenting the ‘only true ballotine today‘, amazing praise!  Lungi was sent home, and Chef Benny said that she had cooked some of his favourite dishes on the show, reflecting her creativity and passion for food.  Chef Pete encouraged her to keep on cooking, and that ‘we look forward to seeing more of you’. Lungi said she was now recognised as a cook, having ‘become a mature young woman who had travelled an amazing road of self-discovery’ through MasterChef SA.  The highest compliment came from Chef Michel, with his invitation for Lungi to visit him at his restaurant when she comes to London. Chef Peter Tempelhoff of Eat Out Top 10 top restaurant The Greenhouse at Cellars Hohenhort will give a Masterclass in episode 17.

It was interesting to note that only one of the three or four Robertons TV commercials in MasterChef SA last night featured Chef Reuben Riffel!

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

MasterChef SA episode 14: ‘Bending the Boerewors’, Ilse Fourie rolls out in Perseverance Test!

Episode 14 on MasterChef SA last night was action-packed, with the seven Finalists having to make and cook their own Boerewors.  A Pressure Test, which turned into a Perseverance Test, saw the elimination of beautiful Ilse Fourie.

Returning at Nederburg from Zanzibar, Deena Naidoo said that it was ‘back to business’, while Sarel Loots said he had a ‘stomach turning’ feeling.  The three judges introduced an Invention Test, the task being to make Boerewors, a true South African sausage.  Not only did they have to prepare the dish, but they also had to make their own Boerewors.  Lungi Nhlanhla said that she had never made sausage before.  They were told to make a dish, ‘thinking out of the box’ , with the ‘right fat content, coarseness, texture, seasoning, being of 5-star restaurant quality’. Sarel commented that small mistakes could cost them the competition.

Lungi made ostrich boerewors with a North African touch, including couscous, adding cumin and coriander as spices. Chef Pete Goffe-Wood praised her dish for having a ‘lovely perfume, and North African vibe‘. Sue-Ann Allen decided on a Thai-inspired boerewors dish using rump, spicing her dish with chilli, garlic and ginger.  When she started off, the judges talked about her dishes in the past, commenting that she would cook her meat too early, let it stand, and that it would then dry out.  ‘She has a habit of cooking her meat to death’, Chef Pete said.  Her sausage was slammed, Chef Pete saying she had made ‘droë wors’ and not boerewors.  She was also told that they do not prepare sausage in Asia.  Sue-Ann seemed down, saying that she was ‘not feeling like a champ‘, and that she needed to maintain her confidence.  Sarel made a traditional boerewors, spicing it with cloves, cumin, pepper, nutmeg, and interestingly adding a mango chutney. Chef Pete said that he is a ‘chutney man’, and said that he looked forward to how Sarel would balance it out.  His dish was described by Chef Pete as ‘very presentable‘, the chutney addition to the sausage being ‘a risk which had paid off, its sweetness giving life, bringing out the spices’. Sarel was visibly proud of himself after this super praise.

Ilse made mini rump boerewors, flavoured with rosemary, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper, but they started popping when she cooked them, as she had stuffed them too tight.  She made polenta squares on which she placed an onion and tomato relish, serving a beetroot salad with a twist too.  When her mini boerewors did not turn out as she had envisaged, she put them onto skewers.  Chef Benny said that her sausage was dried out and over worked, being more like ‘pork bangers’. Chef Pete added that ‘the beetroot did not work at all’. Khaya Silingile added lots of spice to her sausage.  As she tends to do, she said that she was worried about the casing, which needs enough air, and must be evenly stuffed.  In her rush to finish, a sauce she has prepared fell over, but the judges did not seem to miss it in their feedback.  Her dish was described as having a ‘neat looking sausage’, but there was too much turmeric in the pap, being very yellow, but not with much taste, Chef Pete told her.  But her attractive plate was praised. She had used coriander, cumin, thyme, cardamom, and pistachio, but the cardamom was found to overpower the dish. Her sausage was said to need more fat.  Deena made his sausage from a mix of pork, lamb and beef, served with sauteed onions, and a chakalaka sauce.  Chef Andrew said that his boerewors had ‘safe and sound flavours’.  Manisha Naidu made her sausage from pork and beef, adding cumin, coriander, and some fresh herbs. Her presentation was described as symmetrical, and as a ‘celebration of colour, flavour, texture, and different cooking methods’ , Chef Benny Masekwameng told her.  Chef Andrew Atkinson added that her dish ‘blows the taste buds away’.  Manisha was happy with the feedback, saying that she has grown in confidence.

Manisha glowed when her dish was declared the best of the day, making her one of the two team leaders, with Sarel Loots, in the next episode, to be based in Paternoster. The Finalists were praised by the judges for their presentation in particular, saying that it was good enough to be served in many restaurants. They were told to be proud of their work.

MasterChef SA is a ‘complete package’, Chef Pete told the Finalists, and is a combination of perseverance and raw talent.  Instead of doing the Pressure Test the following day, as had been the norm, Ilse, Khaya and Sue-Ann were told that their perseverance would be ‘stretched to the absolute’, in that they had to work through the night, being given 12 hours to prepare their dish of a slow roasted deboned lamb, a pressed lamb shank terrine, Maxim potatoes, and a jus. Khaya laughed hysterically in reaction to the task, saying that if she did not laugh she would cry. The judges went home, as did the other Finalists, the judges popping in while the three Finalists cooked through the night. Ilse struggled to debone her lamb neatly. Khaya was so tired, being pregnant, that she lay down on a couch for two hours, the other two Finalists looking after her food.  The three Finalists gave each other advice. Ilse tried to make the potato crisps three times, encouraged by her ‘colleagues’, but did not get the hang of it.  None of the three had deboned meat before, and Ilse was seen by the judges to be using the wrong knife for it.  She was advised by Chef Andrew to take out the bone in one piece.  Sue-Ann said that the biggest obstacle would be time.  She added that she had never felt so ‘unconfident‘ ever, and was scared of having to go home.  She was delighted that her terrine worked.  She said that MasterChef SA is not a competition against others, ‘but against yourself’. Ilse did not have enough time to cook her meat for long enough.

Khaya felt that her meat was a bit underdone, being ‘a bit more pink than I like it’.  The lamb was judged by Chef Andrew to be a little fatty, not enough of the fat having been trimmed off. Her terrine was praised, and the ‘sauce was like velvet on the tongue’. Chef Benny also praised the sauce, saying it brought it all together. Chef Pete said the lamb was too pink and therefore a bit chewy, but he praised the terrine, saying it was a ‘good plate‘.  Ilse’s rolled shoulder did not hold when she cut it. Chef Pete loved her terrine, saying it was ‘soft and sticky‘. Chef Benny said she had had a problem with the deboning, had overcooked her meat, and that the sauce was too sharp. Chef Andrew said that she did not get the potato crisp correct, but that her terrine was superb.  Sue-Ann was delighted when Chef Pete said that her lamb was ‘beautifully cooked’, and her terrine excellent. Her jus was a bit bitter. Chef Andrew liked her perfect Maxim potato, and Chef Benny said that her lamb ‘was nice and glossy‘.  The best praise of all was when she was told that it was the best dish she has cooked on MasterChef SA to date.  She had ‘dug deep’, and the judges shook hands with the ‘real Sue-Ann’! She shared that a positive change in mind had led to a positive result.

Chef Benny praised all three dishes, saying that they had been good enough to serve in his restaurant (then MondoVino at Montecasino).  Ilse was sent home with praise from the judges, saying that she ‘is a talented cook’ and that she was leaving MasterChef SA with her head held high.  She responded that she was looking at food differently since she had started at MasterChef SA, and that it was her best experience by far.  Her dream is to do a cooking show, she said.

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

MasterChef SA Judge Benny Masekwameng sparks in the kitchen! ‘Face of Food’ at Tsogo Sun!

The highlight of my week two weeks ago was being able to sit down with Chef Benny Masekwameng, one of the three MasterChef SA judges, and Tsogo Sun Executive Chef.  He is incredibly nice, and overwhelmed about how his own career and life has changed since participating in MasterChef SA, much like that of the Finalists.

Chef Benny was in Cape Town for the official launch of the Southern Sun rebranding to Tsogo Sun, which was held at The Cullinan hotel. Previously Executive Chef of the MondoVino restaurant at Montecasino in Johannesburg, Chef Benny has been promoted to Executive Chef, responsible for promoting all the restaurants at the Tsogo Sun’s 95 hotels and 15 casinos around the country.   Tsogo means ‘rising’ in Tswana, Chef Benny told me.  Applying his MasterChef SA judging skills, Chef Benny challenged the Cape Town guests to participate in an ingredient test, identifying the 13 ingredients of the curry he had prepared.

I asked Chef Benny about the MasterChef SA prize offered of running the MondoVino restaurant at Montecasino, taking over his previous job.  The MasterChef SA winner will receive three month’s training in people and financial support he said, and his/her hand will be held by a mentor as well as by Chef Benny.  He said that the MasterChef SA reality TV show builds up the Finalists in what they learn, giving the winner a ‘crash course’ in running a restaurant kitchen, including ingredient pairing, budgeting, and food and wine pairing.

Chef Benny’s role in MasterChef SA was to support the contestants, many having made significant sacrifices to participate in the show. He said that he feels privileged to have been part of their journey, it mirroring his own journey of humble beginnings, and giving up many things to pursue his dream to become a chef.  He grew up in Alexandra township in Johannesburg, and was strongly influenced by his mother. She started her own business, after taking a cooking course, selling pap, stew, salad, as well as vetkoek, outside nearby factories. While his dream was to become an Electrical Engineer, it was a visit to Durban to visit his friends that led him to Technikon Natal, and he decided to study a 3-year Catering Management course in a city that gave him some space from home. On graduating he was appointed as a Trainee at the Hilton Hotel in Durban, where he worked for more than six years, promoted over this period.  The job took him overseas regularly, to promote local food at events held at South African embassies, and it was these events that taught him ‘showmanship’, in interacting with the guests. He moved to the Elangeni Hotel, his first Southern Sun appointment, and he has stayed with the group since then, moving back to Johannesburg as Executive Sous Chef at the OR Thambo Southern Sun.  The promotion to Executive Chef at MondoVino restaurant happened 16 months ago, and since the completion of Season 1 of MasterChef SA he is in charge of promoting all the Tsogo Sun restaurants, being its ‘face of food’.

MondoVino restaurant is Italian-themed, but with an African influence, also serving bobotie, oxtail, pap and wors, chakalaka, and its design is ‘modern, young, and hip’.   It is ‘casual dining‘, and offers ‘3 – 4 star service‘, he said.  It has shifted in its focus on being family-orientated, with a special menu for the children.

M-Net has a five-year licence for MasterChef SA, and there is talk of a Season 2. Chef Benny said it is a bonus for him that Tsogo Sun is a sponsor. His own kitchen staff is watching MasterChef SA, and it gives them hope that they too can develop as he has done, and they are proud to work with him.  For him it has been special to meet all the young aspirant chefs, and to inspire them.  He is keeping up to date with many of them, and he is delighted about the encouraging messages he is receiving, and the promotion and growth it has given him personally, much as the MasterChef SA Finalists have grown and succeeded too.  Just after MasterChef SA started airing, his first baby daughter Dimakatso was born, named after his mother. We laughed about his ‘TV flirt’ with Lungi Nhlanhla, about whom he says that ‘she knows how to combine her flavours’, and that ‘she can cook’.  With fellow Finalists Deena Naidoo and Manisha Naidu, Lungi knows her flavours. Yet, he said, all eighteen the Finalists had the potential of getting to the top.

Fellow judge and Chef Andrew Atkinson is a natural ‘clown‘, he said, always making jokes on set, and these kept the energy flowing. But, jokes aside, he knows his food.  Chef Pete Goffe-Wood was full of jokes too, but he was ‘tough on camera, telling it like it is‘. He praised his fellow MasterChef SA judges, who had more cooking experience than he does, but always treated him as an equal and made him feel part of the judging team, even though Chefs Andrew and Pete had worked together at the Beverly Hills hotel many years ago.  He was inspired by them, and are two of our country’s best, he added.  He can exchange information with them now, and pick up the phone to them, being ‘brothers’ now!  He assured me that there were no production influences in the judging of the dishes and elimination of the Finalists, and confirmed that the Finalists eliminated simply were those that made the most mistakes in a particular challenge.

To tie in with its sponsorship of MasterChef SA as a ‘Hospitality Host’, and Chef Benny’s involvement in the show as a judge, Tsogo Sun has launched Wednesday Night Dinners, a ‘themed dish of the week inspired by the show, and you be the judge’! The hotel group is advertising this in the Sunday Times Food Weekly.

Chef Benny has grown as much as his Finalists on MasterChef SA have, and he said that initially it was ‘terrifying’ to be on TV, surrounded by nine cameras, but now he is used to it, and he would love to do more of it, having discovered a new side of himself. Meeting with Chef Benny for about an hour reinforced what a nice person he is, the reason why he is so well-liked by the MasterChef SA TV viewers.

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

SA restaurant food on a par with best of Australia, but service lags far behind!

South African restaurants are on a par with the best restaurants in Australia in food quality, says Chef Darren Roberts, who has just returned from a visit to his country of origin. Compared to twenty years ago when he first came to South Africa, this country has made great strides in developing its own unique cuisine.

Grande Provence may not have made the 2012 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurants at the awards last year, but Chef Darren said that he respects sole judge Abigail Donnelly, and the awards, being a yardstick for excellence locally. As a Top 20 finalist, he did say that the restaurants in the 11 – 20th positions were not acknowledged on the awards evening, even though most of their chefs attended, and that this is a weakness of the awards system.  He felt that the local restaurant evaluation system should move to a rating similar to the Australian Chefs Hats (awarded by the Sydney Morning Herald restaurant guide) or Michelin stars, so that top restaurants achieving a cuisine quality are recognised, and are not limited to ten, nor should they be ranked, particularly as no feedback is provided by Eat Out as to why a restaurant has achieved a particular ranking.  He shared that not making Top 10 can be very harmful to a restaurant, some of its staff moving on to or being poached by Top 10 restaurants.  Chef Darren was far more critical of restaurant reviewer JP Rossouw, who had clearly got the rating of Grande Provence wrong, not only in its own right but also relative to other restaurants (e.g. rating Salmon Bar higher). He had also got some basic information wrong, e.g. criticising ‘guinea fowl’, which has not been served in the restaurant for years.

A personal visit to Australia last month allowed Chef Darren to eat at Rockpool in Sydney and at the Lake House outside Melbourne, both 2 Chef Hat rated. The Lake House’s Alla Wolf Tasker has been at the forefront of the development of Australian cuisine. Chef Darren praised Chef Bertus Basson’s Overture for being on a par with the Lake House.  While the cuisine in South Africa’s top restaurants is on a par with Australia, Chef Darren was bowled over by the excellent service he experienced, saying that our restaurants are very far behind in this regard. The service is so professional in top Australian restaurants that it almost makes the meal!  The cost is far higher in Australia, his two-course meal with a glass of wine costing R850 at the Lake House, and R800 for one course and a glass of wine at Rockpool.

Chef Darren has seen a marked improvement in South African cuisine, remembering that about 20 years ago his Rivonia restaurant Two Faces being marked down on a top restaurant rating because they did not serve a ladies size steak, then a criterion of excellence! Chef Darren was once described by The Star as ‘L’enfant Terrible’, for being a trendsetter, and for doing things differently.  South African cuisine has great potential to go back to ‘its most exciting African roots’.

Chefs don’t make money, Chef Darren lamented, and cook for love. In this profession, ‘the passion gets into one’s blood’, and it’s not possible to get it out again. This is why poor reviews are taken so personally by chefs, he said.  In this context he is critical of MasterChef South Africa, in its prize of a year as the Chef of MondoVino restaurant at Montecasino in Johannesburg. By implication it ‘cheapens’ his profession, in that not one of the Finalists will be able to run the restaurant on being announced the winner in July, he feels.  To get to where Chef Darren is now, he did a four year apprenticeship in Melbourne, being taught cooking as well as life skills by his colleagues in the main, and at L’Heiner in Vienna.  He recommends that young chefs go to Australia to gain experience, and then backpack through Asia, rather than going to London for international experience. Chef Darren predicted that more European chefs would be coming to South Africa, as the recession makes itself felt, and returning from overseas to get back to the sun.

Chef Darren is on the brink of leaving the country, having been the Executive Chef at Grande Provence for the past two years.  He will be taking up the position of Group Executive Chef of Mason’s, the largest tour operator in the Seychelles, with three luxury lodges, and a further one being built, on Denis Island and in Mahe.  Collectively about 300 rooms will be catered for every day. In addition, he will oversee the cuisine on four super yachts.  Chef Darren has previously worked for the company in the Seychelles, and he has a soft spot for the island country, owning land on it too.  On Denis Island they will be about 80% produce self-sufficient, growing their own fruit and vegetables, having a piggery and hatchery, with rabbits, duck, and milk. Only beef is brought in.  Charcuterie will be developed by Chef Darren’s team when he arrives next week. Chef Darren said that business is booming in the Seychelles, an archipelago of about 300 islands, with beautiful turquoise sea water and white sand beaches, in a country where Creole is the official language. The cuisine on the Seychelles is Creole, weighted to North India, with coconut milk, fish curry, lime, crab curry, and yellow lentils featuring strongly.  At Mason’s guests would experience a  Creole evening, a barbeque evening, and eat a la carte on the other nights of the week. Lunches are a Creole Buffet, with fish presented less than two hours after having been caught.  Breadfruit, Cassava, and palm hearts are local delicacies.

Chef Darren will be missed for his creative French fine-dining with an Pan-Asian twist menu and plating, for his dry sense of humour, and for his fresh thinking.  His successor is Chef Darren Badenhorst, and the two have worked together for the past year, and they will stay in touch.  Chef Darren Badenhorst has added three new dishes to the Grande Provence menu, and the attention to detail in each, and the vast number of carefully selected ingredients, is impressive, continuing the work of Chef Darren Roberts. I recently tasted the soft shell crab starter on pan-fried sushi with sesame seed, with a soft boiled yolk presented in a beautifully crafted kataifi pastry, with red pepper aioli, and finished off with soya and wasabi pearls. Yesterday I tried his new Ballontine of Chicken with a bone marrow centre, truffle of pomme duchess, carrot and cardomom pureé, morel mushrooms, cracked black pepper, and fresh Japanese truffle, an artistic portrait that could have been framed and hung in the Grande Provence Gallery!

We wish Chef Darren Roberts all the best in his new career in the Seychelles, and look forward to his regular visits back to Franschhoek, to see his family.

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

MasterChef SA is Finalist Samantha Nolan’s dream come true, has a heart for cooking!

MasterChef SA Finalist Samantha Nolan showed her leadership skills in the team competition in episode 5 of MasterChef South Africa last week, with her Red team winning the Harvest Celebration lunch challenge.  Her selection of mainly Cape Town Finalists to her team reflected her loyalty to Cape Town and to the team members that she had got to know in the earlier rounds of the reality TV show competition, and who had become friends.  She appears to be a strong contender for the title, not having been faulted by the judges in the episodes to date.

Samantha agreed to an interview immediately when I called her, subject to the approval from M-Net’s Senior Publicist Ingrid Engelbrecht, as we had to obtain for our interview with Finalist Guy Clark.  I asked Sam to choose a suitable venue, and even offered to drive out to Table View, but she selected Andiamo in the old Cape Quarter.

Samantha brought along her husband Paul, and he comes across as the most wonderful supportive husband one could wish for, the two making a good team.  They ‘met’ telephonically fifteen years ago, both working for ESKOM, and he called her in the Medical Aid department with a query. On his next visit to Johannesburg, where she was based, they met, and the rest is history.  Both had two children from their previous marriages, and now the family of six lives in Cape Town.  Paul left his job at ESKOM, and has become an electronic contractor, with contracts in Kazakhstan, Kenya, and Liberia, the family joining him for the first two contracts.  Disaster struck when Samantha had a heart attack last year, while Paul was in Liberia, and a rare genetic defect, being a shortage of chemicals which had never been evident before, was diagnosed.  She takes medication for the condition now. She said that the stress of MasterChef has not affected her at all.  It did mean however that she could not join Paul in Liberia, because of the poor medical conditions in that country.  Paul works six weeks away, and then comes home for two weeks. He finishes the contract next month, and then wants to start a facilities management consultancy, helping companies like ours with all maintenance requirements.

I asked Samantha where the MasterChef interest had come from, and she said that she saw the first Australian programme three years ago, and just knew that she wanted to be part of it when it came to South Africa. She has been Googling it over this period. She dreamt about being a contestant, and having become a Finalist is her dream come true. She is proud to have made Top 15 to date, out of an initial field of 9500 applicants.  For her cold audition at the Cullinan Hotel in Cape Town, when they were reduced down from 4000 to 120 contestants, she prepared hot cross bun ice cream with clotted cream (a challenge to find the unpasteurised milk), making it all herself, which she served with three berry sorbets and a white chocolate ganache. She loves experimenting with and making ice creams, something she developed when they lived in Kenya, as ice cream is very expensive there.  For the Hot audition in Johannesburg she prepared ceviche, seeing in the last minute that it had to be a literally hot and cooked dish, having interpreted it figuratively initially.  She quickly had to rewrite her recipe, creating a dish called ‘Fish cake journey‘, which represented three types of cultures in South Africa, and it put her into the final 120 finalists, and earned her the MasterChef SA apron:

*   the European influence was represented by salmon with dill sour cream

*   the South African influence, being smoked snoek with curry and a sweet chilli sauce

*   the Asian influence, being a prawn fish cake with a ponzu dressing

Taking part in MasterChef SA was something she absolutely wanted to do, and despite Paul being in Liberia, and the Finalists having to be at Nederburg for up to two months without contact with her family, the family made a plan to make Samantha’s dream come true.  Her 14 year old son Ryan seems to be following in his mom’s shoes, and had the cooking duty for his siblings, her daughter Caitlin did the shopping,  each child having specific chores. A friend down the road kept an eye on the children, and took them to school.  The children Skyped Paul daily, and so any problems were sorted out with Paul, even if he was far away from home, so that Samantha could be focused on what she was doing at MasterChef.  The children enjoyed the experience too, learning to be responsible, and independent. Her family organisational skills, with Paul away so often, seem to have benefited Samantha, from what we have seen in MasterChef so far, not easily getting rattled.  It appears that the judges did not manage to bring her to tears in the series.

Samantha looked soft and gentle in the interview, with her long blond hair loose, something I hadn’t seen in the show as it always tied back, but it is clear that Samantha is organised, determined, and focused.  She is honest and direct, reflecting her European background, with her father being Dutch, and her mother half Dutch and half Austrian.  Her dad didn’t cook, being better at woodwork, but her mom cooked European dishes, such as pea soup and ham, ‘kroketten’‘potjiepot’ (similar to our potjiekos), poffertjies, and she baked cakes, rusks, and spekulaas with her mom. She described herself as ‘a dutiful daughter’, in helping her mother, who lives in Johannesburg, and owns a B&B there.  There is a lovely relationship between Paul and Samantha, and sometimes she looked to him for answers, or he would prompt her about something she had cooked. He proudly said: “I get anything I want culinary-wise”.  But Paul did admit that he is a fussy eater, and he has exact requirements for his fried eggs! I got the feeling that Samantha can be independent, but that Team Nolan always comes first.

Samantha has a curious interest in food, and told me how she tried to make mozzarella herself. She found it very difficult to find unpasteurised milk, and said that she won’t be trying this again.  She taught herself to make artisanal bread when they bought some from Olympia Café in Kalk Bay at a market out their way.  She developed her own recipes, and she bakes a selection of breads, including olive ciabatta, epi breads, baguettes, seed loafs, and paninis, for friends, using Eureka flour. She says she has a standard domestic oven.  She describes herself as a ‘home cook’, and says she really got cooking when they used to eat out, and they were rarely happy with what they were served.  She would head home and recreate the dish, making it better than they had experienced. She told me how she spoilt the children and their friends in Kenya one day, when she made them self-made ‘McDonalds’ breakfast burgers, with a patty, cheese, and egg on a muffin, which she wrapped in wax paper, and then ‘branded’ with the McDonalds logo.  The children loved them, and she still receives ‘orders’ for them!  So too she has made them the KFC ‘Famous Bowl’.

I asked her what favourite dish she likes to prepare most, and Paul said it is her spit braai lamb.  What makes it so special is her marinade, for which she uses garlic, olive oil, lots of lemon juice and rosemary, pepper, whisking this in her Bamix. Both like to braai, but their techniques differ, Samantha keeping her grid closer to the coals, and therefore cooking her meat more quickly. She is good at making sauces, and makes her own Hollandaise, mayonnaise, and other sauces.

She told me how moving it was to do the braai challenge at the Cradle of Humankind outside Johannesburg, a beautiful, humbling and amazing experience, made all the more special that no one else had ever prepared food in this sacred space before, or probably would not do so in future.  In Paarl the group of 18 finalists was divided into three groups, and they took turns to cook for each other at night at the guest house at which they stayed.  She says that when they first started, they made fancy dishes for each other, but over the two month period they got to know each other better, and relaxed the level of cuisine over time. Samantha shared a room with Sue-Ann Allen, also from Cape Town.  She said that the MasterChef kitchen at Nederburg was ‘amazing’. MasterChef SA was tough, she said, a true test of character.  She did reveal that the sending back of her Red team’s pork shoulder in episode 5 by Chef Andrew Atkinson was ‘just TV’, as it had been cooked perfectly!  I asked her what the worst part of the show was, and she said there was nothing.  The best part was ‘everything’, she said, loving it, ‘a surreal experience’, and a ‘dream come true’.   Her end goal in participating is to win the title, but just having been part of it is a huge honour.  I asked her about the restaurant prize which goes to the winner, given her four children and husband, and she answered immediately that it is no problem at all, and that she would relocate to Johannesburg to take up the prize as Chef at MondoVino, if she were to win. Her mother is in Johannesburg, and it is a place that she knows, having grown up there.  She praised the judges, saying how nice they were, ‘all great guys’.  The tears on the show were real, and are important for such a reality show, wanting emotion.  She said that it was easy to break the Finalists’ resistance, giving the long days they had on set, so the tears came easily.

I asked Samantha how she decides what to cook for the family, and she told me that she loves reading cookbooks and magazines.  She rarely repeats what she has made before.  She will wake up, and decide that it is a ‘duck day’, or a ‘lamb day’, for example, and then look for a recipe that will be interesting to make.  She loves making an orange chocolate mousse, Paul said.  She couldn’t tell me what her personal favourite dish is, but finally said that it is pizza, the family having three favourites at different times of the day : For breakfast it’s the BBB, topped with bacon, banana and chilli; for lunch it’s topped with salmon and avocado after; and for dinner it’s the PPP (peri peri and prawns).

I asked Samantha if she is treated like a ‘celebratory’, and she laughed and said ‘unfortunately not yet’. Her children are very proud of her, and want to boast about their mom, and are a little surprised that she is not recognised everywhere she goes, wanting her to tell others that she is MasterChef Sam.  She has just been profiled in the Tygerburger, and more people in their area are recognising her.  Samantha couldn’t answer what her favourite restaurant is, first saying Thai Café, which is near Andiamo, where they enjoyed the crispy duck, but she admitted that her home is her favourite!  M-Net encouraged the Finalists to sign up on Twitter, and Samantha (@SamanthaLNolan) says she is getting used to it.  She is more active on Facebook, where she has a fan page onto which she posts recipes.

Samantha and Paul Nolan are a lovely couple, make a great team, and Paul clearly is proud of his talented wife. He watches the MasterChef SA episodes from Liberia via live streaming.  Their dream is to start a pizza restaurant together, but they were not very specific about where they would set it up or when.  Hearing how determined Samantha was to get into MasterChef SA, and having made her dream come true, it can just be a matter of time before the Nolan Pizzeria opens.

POSTSCRIPT 24/4: Samantha sent a photograph of her MasterChef logo steak and Guinness pie she baked with her son Ryan just before the start of the MasterChef SA episode tonight.

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

MasterChef SA: ‘Mr Nice Guy’ Guy Clark is a model finalist!

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

Masterchef SA cooking up a controversy already?

Instead of being delighted to have been selected as the judges for Masterchef SA in Johannesburg earlier this week, they looked utterly miserable in the photograph which M-Net posted on Facebook for the 18-programme series, which starts on M-Net on 20 March at 19h30, leading to immediate criticism.

Not only were the judges criticised for looking so glum, and for M-Net choosing such an inappropriate photograph, but the Facebook page also highlighted that all three judges are male, clearly not to their liking! I would like to add the criticism that only Chef Pete Goffe-Wood is from Cape Town, the gourmet centre of South Africa,  while Chefs Andrew Atkinson and Benny Masekwameng are from Johannesburg.  Good news is that Sam Linsell, a Cape Town (female) food stylist and blogger, has been appointed as food stylist for Masterchef SA, according to her Tweets, but her appointment has not been publicly announced by M-Net.

Masterchef is an international reality cooking competition for amateurs, and has been run in 33 countries. More than 10000 entries were received locally, and in December auditions were held in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, using judges from the SA Chefs’ Association.  Later this month a shortlist of amateur cooks will appear before the judges, and the finalists will be selected. Cape Town’s reputation as ‘foodie capital’ was evident in the very high quality of dishes which the contestants prepared and in their impressive knowledge about food. Durban contestants were said to have been the most creative.   The stakes are incredibly high, with prizes to the value of R8 million being the highest payout of any reality television program in this country.  Robertson’s is offering R250000 in cash; the winner will receive a Hyundai Elantra;  a 7-day culinary experience in Italy is sponsored by Woolworths; Nederburg will offer a food and wine pairing course, cellarmaster Razvan Macici will do a one-on-one master class with the winner, and the winner receives a year’s supply of Nederburg Winemasters Reserve wine; and the crowning chef’s hat will be the running of MondoVino restaurant for a year, taking over Chef Bennie’s job.

Chef Pete Goffe-Wood is a colourful outspoken character, who was an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant judge for a number of years, until the judging panel was thrown out by Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly last year.  He is a judge of the San Pellegrino World ‘s 50 Best Restaurants, still judges the Eat In Produce Awards, is the owner of the Kitchen Cowboys Cookery School for men, has owned Wildwoods restaurant in Hout Bay and the restaurant at Nitida, and has been a consultant chef to SALT restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel and to Blues. He has been a food editor of GQ.  Bennie Masekwameng is the Executive Chef of MondoVino restaurant at Montecasino, while Andrew Atkinson is the Chef at Piccolo Mondo, and is a Director of the South African Chefs’ Association. Andrew has owned a catering company, cooking for VIP’s, and presented a series of 32 cooking programs on SABC 2 during the World Cup last year.  The Facebook writer for Masterchef SA has written that the judges were concentrating on their briefing, to explain their stern look in the photograph!

The judges have said that they are looking for passion, planning, personality, and experimentation, in selecting South Africa’s top amateur Master Chef.  There is no doubt that Masterchef SA will become the most talked about TV programme on Social Media from March onwards, if the reaction last year to Masterchef Australia is anything to go by.  Masterchef USA starts airing on M-Net on 16 January at 6 pm, with judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliot.

POSTSCRIPT 8/1:  It would appear that top local chefs will be invited to judge individual sessions.  As soon as their names have been confirmed, we will add them to this blogpost.

POSTSCRIPT 8/1: Interestingly, the link to this blogpost, which we added to the Masterchef SA Facebook page this morning, has been removed.

POSTSCRIPT 30/1: The Cape Town leg of Masterchef South Africa commenced at Nederburg today.  The venue has not been officially announced by M-Net, but was mentioned by Nederburg Tasting Room staff a week ago. From Tweets this morning, judge Pete Goffe-Wood and stylist Sam Linsell will be spending the following six weeks at their Masterchef South Africa shoot location.

POSTSCRIPT 6/2:  An official media release received from Nederburg’s media agency today has confirmed that the Masterchefs SA series is being shot at the wine estate, being its wine sponsor too.  “This could well be the loveliest venue ever chosen for a MasterChef series anywhere in the world’, says Anne Davis, M-Net’s senior commissioning editor of the series.  “We wanted to shoot in the Winelands because Cape vineyards are immediately recognisable to local and international viewers as distinctly South African.  The Western Cape is also the culinary capital of South Africa and has great access to fresh produce”.  Nederburg revamped its 1000 square meter Johan Graue Auction Hall to become a 20-station MasterChef kitchen with state-of-the-art appliances and utensils, in which the 18-series programmes will be filmed.

POSTSCRIPT 7/2: Sam Linsell, stylist for MasterChef SA, although never formally announced as such by M-Net, parted ways after a week of shooting, announcing her departure as follows on Twitter on 5 February: “It was love at first sight, a whirlwind relationship but with little in common, Masterchef and I have parted ways. Disappointed & relieved”.

POSTSCRIPT 14/3: Chef Vannie Padayachee, now living in Franschhoek again, was involved with MasterChef SA for the past 5 weeks, testing the recipes of the participants, she told me today.  She has signed a confidentiality contract with M-Net, and will share her MasterChef SA experience with us once the programme series starts airing.

POSTSCRIPT 14/3: On Twitter today we saw that a new MasterChef SA recipe book will be published by Human & Rosseau in October.

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