Tag Archives: Samantha Nolan

MasterChef SA Season 1 Guy Clark creates a stir in India, chef at new EuroAfro fusion Uzuri restaurant!

Guy Clark, the best looking and one of the nicest MasterChef SA Season 1 Finalists, has been in India for the past six months, helping to set up a restaurant kitchen, and has just been appointed as one of two chefs to run the kitchen of Uzuri (meaning ‘goodness’ in Swahili), a European/African fusion restaurant seating 90 patrons, which is opening in New Dehli next month.  He returned to Cape Town to renew his visa last week, and cooked a five course meal for his friends and food writers at his mother Di’s house in Bakoven.  Chef Guy’s MasterChef SA experience has taken him a long way, both figuratively and literally! Continue reading →

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Vodacom Sweet Service and FNB Sour Service Awards!

The Sweet Service Award goes to Vodacom, and is nominated by South Africa-loyal tourist Nick Jones from the UK:  I would like to nominate a Vodacom employee at CPT who was incredibly helpful at 0700 hours on Friday 22 Feb 2013. We had just arrived from London & I needed a sim card for my cell phone. Chandré very quickly assessed my needs, put in the card, registered it & loaded my credit. He also informed me of a ZAR5 registration special which would allow overseas calls at 89c/ minute. Obviously extremely useful for a foreign visitor.  The whole procedure took less than 5 minutes & his duties were performed with both a smile & some friendly chat. This young man is indeed a great credit to both Vodacom & SA as a whole. He provided an excellent first impression of South Africa”.

The Sour Service Award goes to FNB, and is nominated by MasterChef SA finalist Samantha Nolan: “I changed to FNB in November. This morning I got a phone call from a random stranger saying that she was also in the process of changing banks and that FNB emailed her all MY details. Bank acc, address, contact numbers, ID number, salary, marital status etc! This is unacceptable and I will be taking it further. Luckily this lady phoned me but how many other people may have got my details and said nothing. There is something called Identity theft and this kind of incident provides the perfect platform. I do believe I will be changing banks again as I cannot deal with a bank that is so unprofessional. I also want answers from FNB…….

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com.   Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.

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MasterChef SA cooks with new ‘MasterChef South Africa: The Cookbook’!

I felt honoured to have been invited by Errieda du Toit to attend the Cape Town launch of ‘MasterChef South Africa: The Cookbook’ at Exclusive Books at Tygervalley on Thursday evening.  With a number of the finalists present, it was impressive to see how much camaraderie there is between the Finalists, even though the filming for the series ended more than six months ago.  The Cookbook documents the journey of the MasterChef SA finalists, in addition to their best recipes.

Published by Human & Rousseau, the text for the book was written by Errieda, the food was styled by Jacques Erasmus of Hemelhuijs, and photography of the food was done by Myburgh du Plessis, all under the editorship of Daleen van der Merwe, and is the ideal keepsake for everyone who loved MasterChef South Africa.  Errieda said that MasterChef SA was a landmark program, which changed the face of food in South Africa. Even children are becoming excited about cooking.

The book profiles each contestant and judge, and summarises each episode, sharing the best recipes of each contestant, e.g. Deena Naidoo’s prawn curry, Thys Hattingh’s Cherry Frangipane tart, Sarel Loots’ Boerewors with Polenta and butternut mash, Khaya Silingile’s Chicken Ballotine, Sue-Ann Allen’s Oysters with horseradish mayonnaise, Lungi Nhlanhla’s pork tails, Jade de Waal’s warm Cape berry chocolate tart with pistachio and cardamom ice cream, and Samantha Nolan’s Dutch croquettes.  Recipes for traditional South African dishes such as koeksister, koesiesters, denningvleis, tripe and phutu pap, Waterblommetjiebredie, and chicken pie, are also offered.  The book culminates in the Grande Finale, and Deena winning the title of first MasterChef SA.

Each page offers a tip or hint, or an interesting comment, by one of the MasterChef SA finalists.  There are guidelines to sustainable cooking, food and wine pairing suggestions by sponsor Nederburg, and Le Quartier Français Chef Vanie Padayachee’s tips for cooking curry.  Visiting chefs Peter Tempelhoff from The Greenhouse, Coco Reinharz from Le Petit Sel and Sel et Poivre in Sandton, Michel Roux Jnr from La Gavroche in London, Margot Janse at The Tasting Room, Michael Broughton from Terroir,  Reuben Riffel from Reuben’s, and Lorraine Meaney from the Cape Grace hotel, are captured in the Cookbook, and most have a recipe included in the book.

The book also provides background information on how many kilograms of butter (100), cheese (250), litres of fresh cream (100) and milk (600), 215 kg fresh herbs (no Robertsons spices were used, as they are not stocked by Woolworths, despite the joint sponsorship of MasterChef SA), and vegetables (200 kg onions, and a further 3 tonnes for the bootcamp, 100 kg mushrooms, and 250 kg avocado), 57 kg prawns, 165 kg chicken, 400 kg lamb, and more than 2500 eggs were used!

A number of the Cape-based MasterChef SA Finalists attended the book launch, including Sue-Ann (now a private chef, with her own demonstration kitchen at the newly opened V&A Market on the Wharf, Ilse Fourie (now a private chef), Guy Clark (now a private chef, having left the Madame Zingara group), Samantha, Charles Canning, Jade (who has recently published ‘Luscious’ vegetarian cookbook), and Lungi (now Deputy Food editor of Drum magazine).  Ilse and Sue-Ann have signed a book deal for ‘Gourmet Sisters’ for next year.  Sarel Loots travelled all the way from Sabie to be present, and Chef Pete Goffe-Wood also attended.

As MC, Errieda asked the Finalists how their lives had changed in the past year.  Sarel related that he did not expect to be moved emotionally, and to cry about food! He also shared that he was mobbed at the Good Food & Wine Show in Johannesburg. Sarel is about to launch a range of Boerewors with fruit chutney, in conjunction with a spice company, first in Mpumalanga, and then nationally.  Lungi shared that she has always been creative, and being creative about food was a further extension, showing who she is. Chef Pete said that he was seen to be ‘insensitive’ and tough, but he knew how much was at stake for each contestant, and how much they had given up in their professional and family lives to be there. Chef Pete was chased by a traffic cop for making a call on his cellphone – when they recognised him, the traffic cop told him he wanted to share how much he enjoyed MasterChef SA!  The traffic cop opened the highway for Chef Pete, so that he could get to his function on time, referring to this as ‘culinary corruption’!  Sue-Ann said that she is cooking for 120 guests with ease now, and that her knowledge of food and wine has improved dramatically.  Ilse said that she has learnt knife skills, and how to eat and cook, yet stay small, being a ‘plus size model’. The finalists were most gracious in signing the book, and writing personalised messages.

Food trends for 2013 are Refined (beautiful plates of food, even if one is making it for oneself), Clean (in its content and origin), and Considerate (evaluating its impact on the environment), said Sue-Ann.  Chef Pete added Sustainability, seeing this as THE food trend for the next ten years.  Consumers are becoming more aware about environmental responsibility, both in supermarkets and in restaurants.

A dinner at Zibaldone in the Tygerberg Waterfront after the launch was even more special, as it allowed one to get to know Lungi, Sue-Ann, Sarel, and Ilse even better, and provided interesting behind the scenes MasterChef SA information: The contestants stayed at the guest farm in Paarl for up to 10 weeks (Sue-Ann and Deena), and were cut off from all communication (no cellphones or internet connection was allowed, with only a few calls to their families). They shared rooms. There was a ghost in one of the accommodation buildings, which frightened Sue-Ann and Ilse, especially when most of the other contestants had been sent home. They got home late at night, and had to get up at 6h00 to be back on set. They made their own food at night when they got back to the guest farm. They were provided with loads of cookbooks.  The judges brought their own clothes, Woolworths not using the opportunity to market their clothing lines.  Sue-Ann and Deena had to buy their own clothes for the Grande Finale dinner cooked for them at Montecasino in Johannesburg, and bumped into Ilse at Canal Walk by absolute coincidence on that day, not being allowed to tell her anything. Not shown on the program, but shared with Sue-Ann, was that good performance was rewarded with a shopping pass, which allowed her time off to shop at Paarl Mall!  Almost all the contestants got on like a house on fire.  Some of the male finalists were like naughty boys, dropping insects on Ilse, who is petrified of them, and other even worse pranks.  Charles was the ‘papa bear’ and Samantha the ‘mama bear’ of the group.  It was 54° C in Zanzibar, the heat and humidity affecting everyone badly, even the judges.  A large number of the MasterChef SA team got food poisoning from eating the food at the Zanzibar night market, due to the food having been exposed to the heat throughout the day.  The Finalists were not allowed wine.

The two owners of Zibaldone, brothers Adriano and Roberto Pietrella originally from Umbria, were extremely generous, in sending antipasta to the table, including Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna sauce), Coppa ham with a spelt, tomato and mozzarella salad, lamb tortellini, Veal Romana, and ending off with Tiramisu. I was impressed with Sarel’s love for food, so many months after the reality TV series, spending more time with the owners in the kitchen than at the table with us, always keen to learn something new.

The MasterChef SA interviews we had done during the season one series, and the book launch, showed how the Finalists have bonded, and become friends for life, it would seem, some becoming like brothers and sisters to each others. All the Finalists seem to have remained humble, even though they are instantly recognisable wherever they go.  They will become famous in the United Kingdom, the UK TV channel soon flighting our MasterChef SA series, Chef Pete announced on Thursday.  I asked Ilse, Sarel and Sue-Ann how they felt about season two of MasterChef SA, and each of them had a different reaction: Sarel said he is already working on building more Twitter followers, Ilse said she is concerned, while Sue-Ann said it will have no effect on them, as they were the first Finalists in the first MasterChef SA program in our country. Season two of MasterChef SA has commenced, the cold tests completed, and the hot dish tests are underway. Filming at Nederburg will probably start late in January, and flighting will be twice a week, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, from about end March. Chef Pete said that the quality of the contestants is of a very high standard, having learnt a lot from MasterChef SA season one.  The new ‘MasterChef South Africa: The Cookbook’ is compulsory reading for all MasterChef SA hopefuls, and for the fans of the TV series.

MasterChef South Africa: The Cookbook, Human & Rousseau.  www.mnet.co.za/masterchefsa Twitter: @MasterChef _SA  Available at leading booksellers.  R350 recommended price.

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

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MasterChef South Africa: has Season 1 been a success?

It is interesting to analyse how successful MasterChef South Africa has been, its final 19th episode being broadcast this evening, the winner of the first season being announced in the special 90 minute Grande Finale.  It would appear that the reality TV cooking program has been enjoyed by many South Africans, yet some aspects about it were disliked.

To judge the success of MasterChef SA we looked at quantitative information:

1.  Audience Ratings (ARs) are used by the South African advertising industry to quantify the success of a TV program.  ARs = Reach x Frequency, or the % of the Target Market reached.  It was explained by a media strategist that the AR statistics do not reflect viewership of M-Net repeats, and therefore they do not reflect the full number of viewers.  The AR of 0,8 achieved for MasterChef SA exceeds the expectation of 0,5 on an ‘All Adults’ target market filter, she said, and described the program as ‘world class’, ‘professional’, and with good production values.  A food TV producer felt the opposite, saying that M-Net must be very disappointed with the viewership achieved, its ultimate goal having been to sell more decoders.

2.  On Twitter the @MasterChef_SA account has grown to 11253 Followers.  One may have expected more Followers, for the stature of the programme.  When one reads the Timeline after an episode, the mix of South African Tweeters is evident, attracting commentary from male and female viewers, and from different language groups.  @RobertsonsSpice has only achieved 733 Followers, a very poor performance.  @Woolworths has 33 466 Followers, an exceptional number, but had embraced Twitter prior to its MasterChef SA sponsorship.  @Nederburg only has 1265 Followers, also disappointing for this sponsor.

3.  On Facebook the MasterChef SA page has 8511 likes, Robertsons Herbs and Spice has 1373, Nederburg 7544, and Woolworths an amazing 193676 likes!

4.  The YouTube videos of the Robertsons’ Masterclasses by Chef Reuben Riffel show the viewership, and it is understandable that some of the earlier videos would have the highest viewership.  The first Masterclass in week 1 (16 March) was for a ‘Cheesy Garlic Bread’, and has achieved 4154 views in the past four months.  ‘Stuffed Chicken Breast’ (30 April) has 3335 views to date. ‘Crepes’ (20 March) achieved 3201 views. ‘Pepper Sauce’ (19 March) was seen by 2882 viewers. ‘Chocolate Braaied Bananas’ (16 March) has achieved 2864 views. ‘Milktart’ (2 May) has 2732 views to date, and ‘Roast Chicken’ (15 May) has 2252.  The other videos have had lower viewership, some extremely low.  The viewership figures must be disappointing for Robertsons, and we could see a sharp drop-off in viewership growth two months ago, midway through the series. The dishes demonstrated by Chef Reuben were hardly of a ‘Masterclass’ stature!

5.  Arnold Tanzer was the leader of the MasterChef SA culinary team of eleven, which included Chef Vanie Padayachee from Le Quartier Français too, working behind the scenes in testing every recipe that the Finalists had to prepare, often more than once, checking the preparation times, and making sure that the challenges were ‘doable’.   Interesting was the article in the Sunday Times, detailing the quantities of food and liquid that the 19-series programme went through, supplied by Woolworths in the main: 62 kg mussels, 300 kg fish, 500 kg beef, 400 kg lamb, 165 kg chicken, 2592 free-range eggs, 250 kg of cheese, 215 kg of fresh herbs (mainly mint, thyme, and dill – there is no mention of Robertsons’ herbs and spices, which are not stocked by Woolworths), 100 kg mushrooms, 100 kg butter, 600 l Ayrshire milk, 200 kg onions, 240 l sunflower oil, 144 l olive oil, and many more ingredients.  These quantities used benefited the suppliers of these products.

6.  Twitter was a new social medium to most MasterChef SA Finalists, and they were encouraged to open Twitter accounts.  Deena Naidoo has by far the largest number of Followers at 1986, followed by Sarel Loots (1331), Jade de Waal (1254), Ilse Fourie (1019), and Lwazi Mngoma (1018). The other Finalists have very much lower Follower numbers.

Qualitatively, it was interesting to observe:

1.  Initially, no one went out on Tuesday evenings, being glued to their TV screens.  From Twitter one could see that after the first four weeks life started getting back to normal, and event organisers were not afraid to schedule functions on Tuesday evenings any longer.  The hype about MasterChef SA never reached that of the Australian series when flighted locally.

2.  Many TV viewers, especially men, were initially not interested in watching the program, but the talk on Twitter and in social circles enticed them eventually to watch the program. Towards the end of the series we saw fewer proactive Tweets about MasterChef SA, and fewer people talking about the reality series socially.

3.  Most restaurant staff were unable to watch, as they were working at the time of the program.  If they had access to a PVR, they watched a recording afterwards. Most of them do not seem to own a M-Net decoder, and seemed surprisingly uninformed about the reality TV series, or were not interested in it, most chefs seeing it as ‘amateurish’.

4.  Viewers expressed their extreme dissatisfaction with the judges’ decision to eliminate Guy Clark and not Jade de Waal in episode 9.  There was talk on Twitter about the elimination choice being a ‘production decision’, and many said that they would no longer watch the program due to the perceived rigged choices made.

5.  The program sponsorship will have benefited Woolworths and Nederburg, but the impact on Robertsons’ sales is not expected to be significant:

*   Woolworths has run superb food advertising during the MasterChef SA episodes, well matched to the theme of each episode, and creating amazing appetite appeal. In the episodes too the Woolworths Pantry was well-branded when the Finalists had to source their ingredients. Significant discounts offered to Woolworths card holders must have brought more feet into their stores. The sponsorship is said to have taken attention away from the embarrassing Frankies beverages debacle. Surprisingly the in-store branding of their sponsorship of the reality TV series was low key, with small banners at the tills.  The initial uproar caused by two recipes of the Woolworths Pantry guest food bloggers appeared to have blown over quickly.  The Woolworths sustainable seafood commercial linked to the seafood episode shot at Paternoster caused controversy, because the content of the advertisement was not reflected in its stores.

*   A media strategist interviewed for this blogpost fed back how she had started buying Nederburg wines again, now finding it trendy to do so, as a result of watching MasterChef SA. Despite the show being filmed at the wine estate, there was little Nederburg branding in the episodes.  Its commercials were less impactful than those of Woolworths, and many say that the ‘ingredient’ composition of the Nederburg wines shown in its commersials, to demonstrate the flavours of the wines, may have been taken literally, if viewers did not know better. Surprising was the low key product placement of Nederburg wines, given that the MasterChef SA kitchen was built for the show on the wine estate. A bottle of Amarula received prominence in a Mystery Box for a dessert, one episode focused on food and Nederburg wine pairing, which highlighted that Deena had little wine knowledge, and one episode featured the celebration of the harvest at Nederburg. Disappointing for Nederburg would be Deena Naidoo winning MasterChef SA tonight, as he does not appear to be a wine drinker, given that the prize includes a sommeliers’ course, and a year’s supply of their Winemasters Reserve range wines.

*   Robertsons went through the Social Media wars since MasterChef SA started in March, its endorsement by Chef Reuben Riffel having raised credibility and advertising honesty questions, and its Social Media Manager Sonia Cabano having been dismissed soon after she took on the job.  The end result is that Chef Reuben’s Robertsons’ endorsement has cost him credibility as a chef, and he appears to now be written out of the Robertsons’ advertising, only one of the five or six spice brand TV commercials featuring him in each of the last few episodes. A further blow to Chef Reuben’s credibility is his very recent endorsement of Rama margarine, also a Unilever brand. Robertsons did not manage its sponsorship well, in that registered ‘members’ of their Masterclass page were sent recipes unrelated to the previous day’s MasterChef SA episode, a marketing failure. In general, Robertsons went through a torrid time, and ‘MasterChef SA‘ must be a swearword inside its hallowed halls!  Its attempt at Social Media was a miserable failure in many respects, and appeared poorly managed, despite its use of the Liquorice social media marketing agency.

6.  The MasterChef SA series benefited sponsors Woolworths and Nederburg, jointly creating two wine brands specifically for the series (Grenache 2010, and a Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend). It also opened the door for Nederburg to sell its Winemasters Reserve range in Woolworths stores over the four month MasterChef SA broadcast period.  There was no cross-benefit between Woolworths and Robertsons, the retailer having to publicly admit on Twitter that it does not stock Robertsons spices and herbs.

7.  Initially the response to our competitions to predict the overall winner of MasterChef SA and the weekly Finalist leaving the show was surprisingly low, but increased the closer it got to the Finale, and the fewer the options for elimination and winning the grand prize became. The readership of our weekly MasterChef SA episode summary the day after the show saw an increase week by week. Restaurant staff working on Tuesday evenings, international readers, and local non-subscribers who cannot view M-Net, and surprisingly even viewers of the program, fed back that they read our MasterChef SA weekly write-ups. We got hooked onto MasterChef SA, loving writing up each episode, and will miss the Tuesday evening programmes.

8.  MasterChef SA dislikes focused strongly on the judges, particularly the expression on Chef Andrew Atkinson’s face, his dress, and his stare at the Finalists when judging their dishes. Chefs who have met him, however, say that this is not him at all, and praise his culinary skills.  Chef Pete Goffe-Wood attracted negative criticism from the second half of the series onwards. Chef Benny Masekwameng was the most loved judge by far, always kind and supportive to the Finalists. In general chefs felt that the chef judges should have worn chef outfits, and not worn earrings and piercings, to set a good example to young chefs.  Interesting is that every guest chef wore a chef’s outfit in the series.   Initial feedback at the start of the series was critical of all the chef judges being male. After Chef Margot Janse’s appearance, she was judged by Twitterers to have been an ideal judge.

9.  The program series has been criticised for the poor quality food that the Finalists prepared for many weeks, although this criticism subsided in the last few programs, when the Finalists had to replicate dishes made by top chefs Michel Roux Jnr of La Gavroche, Peter Tempelhoff of The Greenhouse, and Margot Janse of Le Quartier Français.  Linked to this is the chefs’ criticism about the prize of a year-long (now extended to two years) contract at MondeVino restaurant at Montecasino, saying it is irresponsible, as none of the Finalists could step into the shoes of a restaurant chef, who has had years of training and experience, and said that it is demeaning to their career to imply that little or no training is required.

10.   There is no doubt that MasterChef SA has stimulated an interest in cooking, and in trying out more complicated dishes.  It probably has stimulated interest in eating out at restaurants such as Terroir, The Greenhouse, Biesmiellah, Sel et Poivre, and The Tasting Room, all featured in the series.

11.  The most gratifying end result of MasterChef SA has been the growth in the Finalists’ cooking skills, in what they learnt from the judges, and the Masterclasses held by the visiting chefs. They also grew vastly in confidence. Chef Arnold Tanzer fed back in the Sunday Times that ‘you could see the change in people as the series went on, particularly how their perception of food changed‘.  He added that he was surprised that even the film crew members were excited about what they had filmed, and wanted advice on how to make some of the dishes. A number of the Finalists have made the best of their MasterChef SA participation:  Berdina Schurink has opened Bella Sophia Culinary Café in Pretoria; Thys Hattingh has changed jobs, now working at the Compass Group as a staff restaurant consultant; Guy Clark changed careers, and now is a chef for the Madame Zingara group, at Café Mozart and at Bombay Bicycle Club; Charles Canning and Samantha Nolan have a stand at the Old Biscuit Mill market on Saturdays, following in the footsteps of Chef Pete; and Lungi Nhlanhla is now deputy food editor at Drum magazine. There is not one Finalist that has not benefited from his or her participation in MasterChef SA, being a springboard to living their passion for cooking.  Tonight it will be Sue-Ann Allen or Deena Naidoo who will walk off with the MasterChef SA 2012 crown, and one of their lives will change forever!  We wish them both the best of luck.

POSTSCRIPT 28/7: A furore has been created by The Citizen, reporting yesterday that MasterChef SA winner Deena Naidoo was unhappy about the misrepresentation of his Tsogo Sun MondoVino restaurant prize, damaging the image of the reality TV series, M-Net, its sponsors, Finalists, and chef judges.

POSTSCRIPT 28/7:  Times Live has published audience figures, to highlight the success of MasterChef SA TV series: MasterChef SA had the 5th highest viewership on M-Net between its start in March and 24 July, beaten by ‘Carte Blanche’ (265939 viewers), ‘Lincoln Lawyer’ movie with Matthew McConaughey (221411), ‘CSI Miami’ (202102), and ‘Idols’ (196698).  The reality cooking show beat ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ on viewership.  M-Net had capitalised on the trend to viewership of cooking programs in producing the local MasterChef SA TV series.  No decision has been made about producing a Season 2 of MasterChef SA next year.

POSTSCRIPT 29/8: If the article from Channel 24 is correct (it is part of the same media group that owns M-Net), there will be a season 2 of MasterChef SA, another measure of the success of the reality TV series. M-Net has not confirmed this.

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

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MasterChef SA episode 10: Family budget meal, too many cooks spoil the broth for Samantha Nolan!

It was a less exciting episode 10 of MasterChef South Africa last night, with the challenge to the ten finalists to prepare a family meal within a budget of R150.  The three finalists who went into the Elimination Challenge had to fix a Minestrone soup, and it was Samantha Nolan who had to leave the MasterChef SA kitchen, a shame given her leadership role and her ability to keep a cool head under pressure in previous episodes.

The visit by Abigail Donnelly, Food editor of the Woolworths-owned Taste magazine and editor of restaurant guide Eat Out, added an extra dimension to the tension, joining the judges. The brief was to prepare a family meal for four persons within a budget of R150, but had to be ‘worthy of royalty’, they were told.  The finalists were told by Mrs Donnelly that budgeting is part of the real world.  She said that she would judge the dishes based on taste, they ‘should not be too fancy‘, and they should ‘showcase the beauty on the plate’.  They had 60 minutes in which to complete the dish.  They had to select ingredients from the Woolworths Pantry within the budget limit, but it was evident that none of them had a calculator with them to tally up their grocery cost.  Chef Pete Goffe-Wood had an über calculator, and did the honours for each finalist.  Only Lungile Nhlahla came in within budget.  The other nine finalists had to give up ingredients to make the budget balance, Khaya Silingile being most over budget, at R265!  She admitted that she was a ‘ditz’, having gone over budget. In summary, Chef Pete told the finalists that going over budget would have led their restaurants to go under within 6 months.

Chicken seemed to be the most popular choice for the finalists’ family meals, only Samantha choosing to prepare poached trout (served with Asian vegetables and egg noodles as well as asparagus cream), and Jade de Waal making pork poached in milk (using bay leaves and lemon) served with creme fraiche, salad, parmesan, and pasta, admitting that she may have cooked her pork for too long, and that it may therefore be too tough.  While the finalists were preparing their dishes, Mrs Donelly and the judges discussed how some of the finalists push their limits and show amazing technique.  But she noticed that many do not taste their dishes.  Deena Naidoo made chicken schnitzel with a parmesan coating and mushroom sauce, which was praised by the judges for his delicious farm-style budget within budget. Mrs Donnelly said he made the ‘chicken proud’. Khaya deboned two chicken legs and stuffed them with red onion and aubergine, serving them with corn bread.  The judges were shocked that she would only serve two pieces of chicken for four persons.  She countered that she was challenging the ‘spirit of ubuntu between the chefs in sharing’ her food. Her bread was said to be too salty. Chef Pete said that she had shone in the previous episode in winning the international challenge, but that it had not been in evidence in yesterday’s episode. The chicken lacked flavour and intensity, she was told. Khaya said that she was the only finalist that had not been in a pressure test. Lungile was praised for her ‘rustic family-style’ meal, even though her portion sizes were criticised for being too small. The texture was praised, the polenta had a sweetness, and the chicken was perfectly roasted.  Jade’s salad was said to be creative, and her crispy sage was liked by the judges. However, her pasta was not seasoned, and her pork dish did not work, she was told. She admitted that she did not put out her best.   Thys Hattingh had a very quick review, his parmesan crisp being the tastiest of the whole dish. Samantha’s roasted onions were said to be too robust for the delicate poached trout. Mrs Donnelly said that she was disappointed with the asparagus cream, not really tasting it, and the roasted onions overpowered the dish. Chef Pete said that he would only eat the pasta. Manisha Naidu was highly praised by the judges, being told that she ‘truly has a palate to get flavours right’, said Chef Benny Masekwameng. Mrs Donnelly praised her for a ‘beautiful balanced plate of food’, and her dish was judged to be the best, the care and generosity coming from ‘the heart and soul’.  Mrs Donnelly loved her bottled sauce so much that she wanted the recipe for it.  While the Finalists were cooking, Woolworths ran a fabulous looking ad, inviting one to eat in for four persons, at R150, with chicken, and tiramisu for dessert.  No dishes were shown for Sarel Loots, Ilse Fourie, and Sue-Ann Allen.

The bottom three finalists were selected as Jade, Khaya, and Samantha, and were sent to the Elimination Challenge. Chef Pete brought in a big pot of Minestrone soup that had ‘purposely been ruined‘, and their challenge was to ‘get it back on track’. Chef Pete explained that things do go wrong in the kitchen, and the challenge for a chef is to rectify this.  A table contained bowls of ingredients, and each of the three finalists was given six opportunities to collect ingredients from the table.  They were told that the ‘worst tasting soup‘ goes home.  Samantha commented that the soup ‘looks like dishwater with left-over vegetables’. She selected red onions, butter beans, garlic, tomato paste, and pancetta (Italian bacon), but chopped the pancetta (sourced from Wild Peacock Food Emporium, they Tweeted proudly during the show) into cubes, which Chef Pete said was incorrect, as Minestrone is a meatless vegetable soup. The soup tasted too much of the pancetta. Chef Benny added that Samantha had shown throughout the program that she could not get seasoning right, either having too much or too little. The tomato paste and garlic should have been added earlier by her, Chef Pete said.  Khaya added red onion, garlic, fresh tomato, tomato paste, as well as coriander, which she assumed was parsley.  Chef Pete was critical of the soup in having become a tomato soup, making it more Mexican and less Italian. The judges coughed on tasting her soup, there being too much pepper, but they liked its chunkiness.  Jade identified that the soup lacked body and flavour, and she added pancetta for the flavour (but removed it before plating the soup), garlic, celery, and parmesan.  She was praised for adding and then removing the pancetta, giving her soup a smokiness, Chef Andrew Atkinson said. Chef Pete said that the soup had great balance of flavour, and that her stock had ‘beautiful body’.

Chef Benny was very ‘talkative’ on Twitter during the show last night, and made some funny comments.  He remarked on Khaya’s red lipstick, saying she was wearing it for luck!  He called Manisha the ‘Flavour Queen’ on Twitter too.  Chef Andrew’s blue shirt was criticised on Twitter, and once again many wrote that Khaya should have gone home, given that she did not know coriander from parsley.  Criticised too was that Ilse Fourie’s dishes rarely are featured, as happened last night.

It was Samantha that was sent home last night, and she was told that she can ‘cook with passion, and that no one can take that away from you‘. She said that she ‘will never forget any of it’!

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

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MasterChef SA episode 10: Who of the Top 10 will be booted out? Win with I ♥ my Laundry!

MasterChef SA is the talk of the country, and we have 9 more gripping episodes to look forward to in the next two months.  To spice things up a little, we have launched two competitions, the first being a prediction of who will win MasterChef SA in episode 18.

We are also running a weekly lucky draw for the correct prediction of who our readers think will be booted out of the MasterChef SA every week. For the correct prediction of who will leave MasterChef SA in episode 10 (on 22 May),  my Laundry has generously offered a food and wine pairing voucher to the winner.

my Laundry opened two months ago. The back section is on two floors, and contains the laundry, with washing, dry cleaning, ironing, and collection/delivery (within the City Bowl initially) services offered, not visible from the coffee shop/restaurant on the ground floor. It has been beautifully transformed, with a 14-seater silver grey concrete table top resting on steel legs, comfortable white and black high-back chairs, a wooden counter, and wooden shelving.  On the mainly brickwork walls are artworks, which will be rotated over time. The inspiration for the name and concept for I  my Laundry, which is co-owned by Clayton Howard and Mico Botha, comes from The French Laundry in New York, which was first started by a husband and wife team, running a restaurant and a laundry first as two outlets next door to each other, and then opened up to become one entity.  The Buitengracht branch is the third to open in the past four months, with branches in Durbanville and Kenridge too.

Free wifi is offered, and a coffee machine makes perfect cappucinos from Brazilian-imported beans by Joga Joga Café, exclusively stocked in South Africa by I my Laundry. Cupcakes, fudge, and chocolate pops are for sale, as is delicious Dim Sum all day long, at the most unbelievable value of R40 for eight pieces and a cup of coffee or a glass of Chenin Blanc.  An exciting subsidiary business is I  my Wine, for which Clayton and Mico host interesting events, in which they bring together an alcoholic beverage supplier and a chef or restaurant to create magical food and wine pairing evenings.

Tweet your prediction of which of the 10 remaining finalists will be booted out of MasterChef SA to @WhaleCottage, or e-mail it to whalecot@iafrica.com. Closing time for entries is Tuesday 22 May at 19h30, at the start of episode 10.  The winner will be contacted immediately after the show ends. There will be a weekly Restaurant Voucher prize draw per episode for the correct prediction of who will be booted out of MasterChef SA, and voting for the following episode can start as soon as that day’s episode has been aired. Should there be no correct entry received, the prize is rolled over to go to another week.

POSTSCRIPT 22/5:  Samantha Nolan was sent home in episode 10 today.  There was no correct vote for her elimination.

my Laundry, 59 Buitengracht Street, Cape Town.  Tel 084 660 0777 (Clayton)/083 6020291 (Mico) www.Ilovemylaundry.co.za Twitter:@ILovemyLaundry,  Monday – Sunday, 7h00 – 19h00.

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

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MasterChef SA episode 9: Around the world 11 ways, Twice Baked 3 Cheese Soufflé falls flat for Guy Clark!

A TV screen at The Grand Cafe and Rooms in Plettenberg Bay that lost its picture just as MasterChef SA started was an exciting start to episode 9 last night, but the problem was quickly fixed when I was moved to another room.  The Finalists were sent around the world in the dishes that they had to create, sending four of the eleven Finalists to the ‘Pressure Test’, and leading to gorgeous Guy Clark being eliminated.

Each Finalist chose a country and with it a method of preparation, having 90 minutes to prepare their dish.  Not all Finalists were visible in this episode, and only some of the Finalists were interviewed and their dishes shown.  Sarel Loots chose Brazil, and decided to make a chocolate dessert, with custard, and mango, all elements steamed. His dish got raised eyebrows from Chef Benny Masekwameng. He was berated for not making something ‘more MasterChef’, to show his technique. The dish was said to be ‘not good enough’.  Thys Hattingh chose Morocco, and decided to make a pear dessert poached in a Nederburg wine, to criticism of Chef Pete Goffe-Wood, given that Morocco is a Muslim country.  With this he prepared a sweet couscous and cinnamon custard.  He said he has ‘dessert in his genes’, influenced by his mom.  He received the highest praise from Chef Pete, saying that it was ‘visually beautiful’, and that he would ‘pay a lot of money in a top restaurant for that’.  Chef Bennie liked the custard, calling it a ‘lovely dish’.   Samantha Nolan was proudly South African, and chose to make vetkoek and mince, with a peach chutney.  Chef Benny was critical of her spice choice for the mince, which included cardamom, chilli, cumin, ginger, garlic, and tumeric.  Her vetkoek was praised by him for its light golden brown colour and for being ‘perfectly made’, but her mince ‘let you down in having too many spices’.

Manisha Naidu chose to make an Italian grilled chicken with a basil cream sauce and a Parma ham-wrapped tomato. Her plating was praised, representing ‘Italy on a plate’.  Guy Clark chose the United Kingdom, and decided to make ‘pub food’, using a beer batter for the fish, and poaching all the elements of the dish, saying it was ‘worth the risk’. Chef Pete said that he could taste the beer in the batter and that the fish was perfectly poached. However the peas were ‘too mushy’, and the mash ‘lumpy’. Lungile Nhlanhla represented China, and had made deep fried tempura vegetables and stirfry, served with crispy duck.  Chef Andrew Atkinson said that the flavour was ‘absolutely fantastic’. Jade de Waal made mini bite size hamburgers, with fries and a home-made tomato sauce, adding a guacamole topping after one of the chef judges asked her about it. Chef Pete was very critical of the hamburger bun, saying it was ‘too dense and chewy’, but praised her ketchup, saying it was ‘superb’ and ‘the hero’ of the dish, but that the hamburger was not. Khaya Silingile wanted to show the versatility of flavour and technique, making a French inspired chicken ballotine with turned vegetables, ‘with loads of butter’ in her mash, making Chef Pete smile.  When he tasted the dish, Chef Pete said that it was ‘perfect mash’, and Chef Benny said it was a ‘lovely dish’.  She was praised for its ‘taste of Paris’.  Khaya was so excited that she said that she felt ‘tres magnifique’.  Deena Naidoo had prepared Asian baked fish with tempura prawns; Sue-Ann Allen a Spanish deconstructed paella with an avocado, corn and red onion salsa; and Ilse Fourie made a Mexican chicken and chilly pocket with guacamole, salsa,  and a spicy red pepper sauce.

The eleven Finalists were praised by Chef Benny, saying that the judges were blown away by their international dishes, and that they should be proud of what they had presented. They announced Khaya as the winner of this challenge, to which she responded in saying that she had reached ‘culinary heaven’, with Thys in second place, happy about the ‘pat on the back’ which he had received.  Their ‘prize’ was a Masterclass just for the two of them, by Chef Andrew with assistance from Chef Benny. Chef Andrew taught them to make Tagliatelle pasta, and a Putanesca sauce containing garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and peppers.

Samantha, Sarel, Guy, and Jade were sent into the Pressure Test, for their errors in making the international dishes. One of the Finalists would be sent home as a result of it, they were told. It was to be the ‘toughest and most complicated dish to be prepared so far’. They had to recreate Chef Andrew’s dish, being a Twice Baked Three Cheese Soufflé with a Waldorf salad, Onion Braise, and a Gruyère tuile, in 80 minutes.  They were told that a soufflé is difficult to make well, Chef Andrew saying that the ingredients, grammage, and oven temperature are crucial to its success.  One has to be gentle with a soufflé, in folding in the egg white. Guy started with the beetroot, then made the soufflé, the onions, and finished off in making the tuille.  He seemed to panic, and his colleagues watching from upstairs encouraged him to start from scratch. Chef Andrew said that Guy was ‘too heavy handed’ in making his soufflé, saying that it needs air when one folds in the egg white.  Chef Pete said that Guy had left out the apple and celery from the salad, and that the bacon had not been cooked properly.  Chef Benny added that Guy had not followed the recipe properly. Guy commented that one needs science to be a MasterChef, and that he had last had science at school!  Jade said that she could not faff around, saying that she would start with the onions, then moving onto the soufflé, ‘giving it my all’.  She got her ramekins in the oven too late, running out of the 20 minutes baking time required.  She admitted that she was ‘not up to scratch’, had ‘gone through the wall’, and just had too little time. She served her soufflé in the ramekins, to the surprise of the judges, saying that she ran out of time. When he removed it from the ramekin and cut it, Chef Andrew said that it had ‘not cooked through’. Chef Pete was very direct when he told Jade that she is still young, and that she still ‘has a lot more to learn’. Samantha said that a soufflé requires ‘precision work’, starting with her onions, putting her beetroot in the oven,  and then making the soufflé, which if one is not gentle with it could become a ‘flat-fle’!  She did not make the Gruyère tuile, having run out of time.  Her soufflé was praised for its presentation, looking very similar to that of Chef Andrew, but Chef Pete said that it was not ‘souffle  light’, and tasted more ‘cakey’.  Chef Andrew praised her Waldorf salad, saying that he thoroughly enjoyed it’.

Sarel immediately commented that he would have a time problem, in the recipe being three pages long.  He said this challenge was a ‘tough one’, and he didn’t make a cheese sauce, as he ran out of time.  Chef Benny said that the salad was very crispy, but that the walnuts had been ground, and not sliced as in the dish they had to replicate. Chef Andrew said that Sarel must have made many soufflés before, saying that his seasoning was right, and that he was happy with Sarel’s interpretation. The judges had observed the four Finalists at work, and commented that they were not starting with the soufflé, which worried them. All four of them ran out of time, and had to leave out an element of the dish. The four Finalists were praised for tackling the challenge head on. Guy was selected by the judges to leave MasterChef SA, and he was praised for his spirit and effort, and that he had showed glimpses of not giving up. Guy replied that MasterChef SA had given him a ‘doorway’ to his dreams. The remaining Top 10 MasterChef SA finalists were congratulated for having made it so far, and were told to ‘keep believing in yourself’.  Finalist Deena Naidoo said that they had been simmering up to now, but that they had now reached the ‘reduction stage’. Deena is the only MasterChef SA finalist to not have been in a ‘pressure test’.

For a second week running, the judges choice for elimination was questioned on Twitter, Jade’s soufflé flop having deserved elimination, it was felt.  It annoyed many Tweeters, and many threatened to no longer watch the show, given its loss of credibility.

POSTSCRIPT 19/5: Guy Clark’s ‘doorway’ to his dream to become a chef has come true.  He has been appointed as a Chef at the Madame Zingara group of restaurants, starting on Monday.

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

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MasterChef SA episode 7: saved by the Navy bell, judges pig out on pork and turn the other cheek!

The seventh episode of MasterChef South Africa last night saw the first out-of-studio cooking action since the Finalists came to Nederburg, visiting the SA Navy ship SAS Amatola in Simonstown, mass cooking for the crew of 100. The Blue Team won by a close shave, and the Red Team collectively had to go into the ‘Pressure Test’ back at Nederburg, cooking a whole pig, each team member preparing a different part of it.  Finalist Mmutsi Maseko was sent home when her pork cheek dish did not meet the judges’ approval.

A SA Navy representative said that the meal requirement is that the food be tasty and nutritional, prepared according to a meal plan and calorie count.  The meal must be balanced, and the food must add to the morale of the crew.  Curry dish kings from the previous episode, Deena Naidoo and Thys Hattingh, were allowed to choose their Blue and Red teams for this challenge, respectively, and Deena chose Samatha Nolan, Sarel Loots, Jade de Waal, Manisha Naidu, Brandon Law, and Khaya Silingile.  The rest of the Finalists were chosen by Thys. The teams were given the brief to prepare a meal with a protein, one vegetable, and one starch within 90 minutes. Cooking conditions were less than favourable, the ships’ galley being too small to comfortably accommodate the MasterChef cooks.  Samantha was firmly in charge of the Blue team, even though Deena was the team leader, and she chose to make fried chicken, which had first been marinaded, and then covered in batter and deep fried, served with a rustic potato salad and broccoli. She confidently told a judge that she had made this dish many times before, showing once again that there is little that can rattle her, while Deena fetched ingredients that were required by his team. The potatoes were not as well cooked as they should have been, so they were cut into smaller pieces and the water was reduced by Khaya.  Thys’ Red team made lamb chops with carrots julienne and potatoes, and he instructed his team to make sure that each dish was tasted before serving, as the Finalists have been taught in previous episodes.  The navy crew came back for seconds and more, loving both teams’ food, and had to each ring a bell in voting for their favourite dish. It was a neck-to-neck contest, the Blue Team getting to the majority vote of 51 first. One of the Finalists asked how it was possible for a crewman to vote for chicken when he had eaten 5 lamb chops!

Back in the Nederburg MasterChef SA kitchen, the losing Red team was told that the team is only as strong as its weakest link.  The team members had to rank each other by placing a photograph of each into seven boxes, in front of the rest of the team, forcing an honesty from the Finalists that did not make all of them feel comfortable. Guy Clark had no shame in voting himself first, saying classically that ‘this is MasterChef, and not Master Best Friend’!  On the basis of the rankings, the seven Finalists were allowed to choose one each of seven pork parts, some of the Finalists visibly shuddering at what they saw.  Sue-Ann Allen chose first, having the highest ranking, taking the pork loin, being told that it should not be over-cooked.  Thys chose the pork belly, one of the most popular dishes in restaurants.  Guy looked for a challenge, and chose the pig’s ear, which he was told by Chef Pete Goffe-Woodhas to be braised to get it soft and gelatinous’.  Ilse Fourie chose the pork shoulder (right), being lean and fat, and was told that it must be cooked for long enough. Lungile Nhlanhla chose the tail, deciding to make a stew of it, reminding her of cooking chicken neck, slow cooking being required.  Babalwa Baartman chose the trotter, reminding her of her mother’s cooking at home. Poor Mmutsi Maseko had no choice, being the last ranked, and had to prepare the pork cheek.

During the 90 minutes that the Red team members had to prepare their pork dishes, the judges came up with pig-related phrases (‘bellyful’, ‘rub shoulders’, ‘trot over the finish line’, and more), which were felt to be corny, judging by the reaction on Twitter.  The judges praised the ‘wonderful smell’ of the dishes cooking, saying that they looked forward to tasting them.

Sue-Ann felt confident about her pork loin dish (left), to which she added apple and a honey and mustard sauce, saying that she had thoroughly enjoyed cooking the dish, and once again had realised that she belongs in the kitchen. The judges were less impressed, saying that she had ‘killed it’, despite having chosen the best pork cut, in that it was very dry.  Mmutsi decided to turn her grilled pork cheek into Dim Sum, something she had never made before, having been inspired about the dish in seeing it on TV, which elicited a cheeky response from Chef Andrew Atkinson! He judged the pastry to be too thick, and the cooking time to have been too short, there still being too much fat, one mainly tasting the fat and oil.  Thys braised the pork belly in a red wine sauce, which Chef Pete sounded like ‘Glühwein’ from its ingredient list!  He wanted it to ‘take one to Sunday’, and he succeeded, according to the judges. Ilse had added mash, and a citrus, cherry and star anise sauce, to her pork shoulder dish. Having only received accolades up to now, she must have been disappointed by Chef Pete’s initial feedback that her plating looked very brown, but after tasting the dish he judged it to be the ‘hero of the afternoon’. Guy said that he had never prepared pork ear before, but had once seen a recipe for it, flavouring it and deep-frying it, preparing it whole (right).  Chef Pete said it had been an ‘adventurous choice’, but he was not that happy with it, saying that it had not been cooked properly and was very ‘chewy’. Lungili was proud of her dish, saying that the pork tail meat was falling off the bone, as she wanted it. Chef Benny Masekwameng could not wait to taste it, saying she had prepared a big platter, having brought chakalaka into her pork tail dish. Chef Benny was beaming after tasting it, volunteering to be the man her mother is looking for for her, to much laughter and applause!  Babalwa’s trotter dish was judged to be a ‘good attempt’ by Chef Benny.

Ilse and Lungile were judged to have made the best pork dishes. The two worst dishes were those by Mmutsi and Sue-Ann, and in the end it was Mmutsi that was sent home, given that she had landed in the ‘Pressure Test’ twice before.  She was sent home with the comforting words that she is a winner to herself and her family, and she said that she is leaving ‘better prepared’ and ‘as a more confident cook’.

Interesting was the debate on Twitter after the show about MasterChef SA discriminating against Jewish and Muslim contestants, in having allocated so much time to pork preparation last night.

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

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MasterChef SA episode 6 spices things up, Finalist Lwazi ‘used up all his lives’ and leaves!

Episode 6 promised to be a spicy and heated one, the promotional video ahead of the program giving MasterChef South Africa fans a taste of Judge Pete Goffe-Wood’s dissatisfaction with the preparation of his favourite food, being curry. The filming was very colourful, with beautiful multi-coloured seafood curry dishes, followed by the rich orange of the salmon preparation. Finalist Lwazi Mngoma had to leave MasterChef SA last night.

To introduce the curry theme, Le Quartier Français Chef Vanie Padayachee from Franschhoek prepared her favourite Rendang curry, which the Finalists had to taste, and then were put to the test as to the spices which Chef Vanie had used, including Star Anise, peanut oil, and garlic.  Finalist Samantha Nolan showed her cuisine strength, by correctly identifying the three ingredients, and was therefore allowed to choose the main ingredient of the curry dish to be prepared by all the Finalists, from a selection of duck, chick pea, tofu, lentils, or seafood, the latter being her choice. The three chef judges emphasised that the art of good curry-making lies in the ‘balance of flavours’, ‘in the flavour combinations’, and they said that it is ‘the mark of a great chef’.  The outcome of the curry dish, to be prepared within 75 minutes, was made clear – the creators of the two best dishes would become the team leaders in episode 7, while those of the three worst dishes would go into the dreaded ‘Pressure Test’.

Most of the Finalists chose to make a prawn curry. Thys Hattingh had only cooked curry two or three times, being a dessert man, and was seen to add almost every spice possible. While Judge Benny Masekwameng felt that his Thai green prawn curry was ‘too busy’, Judge Andrew Atkinson said that it was ‘a gem, a treasure’. It was voted as the second best curry dish, ‘with exotic flavours, refreshing, and perfectly executed’.  Ilse Nel was praised for her meal presentation (left), and Judge Andrew’s succint evaluation was ‘simply wow’.  Samantha prepared a Madagascar prawn curry with star anise, while Sue-Anne Allen chose to make a yellowtail curry. Judge Andrew complimented her plating, but felt that she had not made the dish in line with the brief, only having a curry sauce on the side.  ‘This is going to be a good one’, she had said prior to the judging. Sarel Loots had also rarely prepared prawn curry, but was up to the challenge, saying ‘let’s have fun, let’s do something crazy’. Judge Pete observed Sarel, and felt that he was throwing in too many spices. Sarel admitted to oversalting his prawns, and tried to balance this error with lemon juice and yoghurt.  He said that the curry dish would ‘Titanic me’! His dish was judged to have‘too many things, all fighting for a place in the bowl, being impossible to eat’, and it would have been sent back in a restaurant. Lwazi Mngoma admitted to having a head cold, not being able to taste nor smell his dishes, adding atchar and parsley to his curry.  Judge Pete asked him if he had tasted his dish, and he admitted to not having done so. Chef Pete told him to taste it again, and he admitted to a ‘taste of bitterness’. Chef Pete slated the dish, saying that it was ‘inedible’, and the prawns had not been cleaned nor cooked properly. He was sent to the ‘Pressure Test’ with harsh words from Chef Pete: ‘dude, this dish is disgusting’.  Lungile Nhlanhla was very unsure of herself, saying that it was not her best attempt, that she should have had more sauce and sambals, and that she ‘could have done better‘. The judges said that she had done just fine. Deena Naidoo was judged to be the star curry master of all finalists, Judge Benny saying that he was taken back to his days in Durban, and that his curry dish demonstrated that ‘less is more’.

Chef Pete lost his cool, saying that he had looked forward so much to his favourite dish being prepared, and had never been so disappointed, that he ‘went to hell in a handbasket’, that he had seen better from Grade 10 cooks ‘than the garbage served today‘. He added that Judges Andrew and Benny had tempered his reaction, as he would have sent eight Finalists to the ‘Pressure Test’, had it depended on him! In the end it was Lwazi, Sue-Ann, and Sarel that went to the ‘Pressure Test’. The three finalists were put to the ‘hardest test, stretching them to their ultimate limits’, being the preparation of ‘Salmon Three Ways’, a dish which had won Judge Andrew a gold medal in an international competition. It consisted of delicate salmon poached in miso infused olive oil; salmon tartare with a poached quail egg; and a teriyaki seared salmon.  The three finalists were given 90 minutes to recreate the dish.  Chef Pete got into his chef’s outfit for the first time in the show, and taught them how to fillet the beautiful salmon, to remove the pin bones with a pair of tweezers, and to remove the skin.  They were told that the filleting is important, to achieve equal portions. Sarel sailed through the salmon test (below left), his dish being almost perfect: ‘superbly executed’ with his poaching and searing having been done to perfection. Sue-Ann looked fearful and was close to tears, saying her ‘life was hanging in the balance’, given that she had given up so much to get to where she wanted to be at MasterChef SA, having given up her job and selling her car. Her presentation was judged to be neat and symmetrical, her quail egg was perfectly poached, but her tartare lacked seasoning and had no lemon juice.  One felt sorry for Lwazi when he said that his hands were not delicate enough relative to the quail egg.  He admitted that this challenge had been ‘too far beyond his experience’, the oil was too hot, Chef Andrew said, the teriyaki salmon was on the ‘raw side‘, and it did not ‘melt on the tongue’. Given that Lwazi was in the koeksister ‘Pressure Test’ too, he was dismissed from MasterChef SA, ‘having used up all his lives’.

One should question the focus on salmon, especially with Chef Pete in the program.  He has been a strong advocate of the SASSI fish list, and does not advocate the usage of non-green rated fish varieties.  SASSI only lists Alaskan salmon as green, Cape salmon (‘geelbek’) being on the orange and red lists, kob appearing on all three lists, and Norwegian salmon is on the orange list!  The judges did not use the opportunity to educate the audience about SASSI and responsible sustainable fish eating.  For the first time the judges gave more specific feedback, of benefit not only to the finalists, but also to TV viewers lapping up every cuisine detail.

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

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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

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