What an exciting show MasterChef South Africa episode 11 was last night, with a number of surprises, including VIP guests having to evaluate the remaining nine Finalists’ pairing of their food and the Nederburg wine they selected, and the ability of the winner of the best dish to earn an Immunity pin, providing immunity against all Pressure Tests with the exception of the last two stages, if he/she wins in a cook-off against a top chef, which turned out to be Chef Reuben Riffel.  No Finalist was eliminated, the first time in any of the past episodes, but the three Finalists going into the Pressure Test in episode 12 were selected.

The judges congratulated the Finalists on being the final nine, and reminded them that it was ‘time to shine’. Called an Invention Test, preparing food paired with beautiful wines, where 1 + 1 = 3, can also go horribly wrong, said Chef Pete Goffe-Wood. Immediately Deena Naidoo spoke to the camera, saying that he had never ever drunk wine, and that his knowledge of it was ‘dismal‘. Chef Pete said that in food and wine pairing, one seeks a ‘balance’, and that the texture of the food should match the texture of the wine. They should not fight each other.

Nederburg Cellarmaster Razvan Macici spoke to each wine that the Finalists selected in a wine cooler, and they had 90 minutes to prepare a dish that was suited to the character of the wine. In this episode it wasn’t only the three judges that evaluated the pairing – they were joined by seven VIPs, being Unathi Msengana (radio and TV personality), Desmond Dube (singer and actor), Springbok rugby player Breyton Paulse, model Ryan Botha, Milan Murray (actress), R&B singer Loyiso Bala, and Drum food editor Siba Mtongana, and therefore they had to prepare ten portions of their dish.

*   Nederburg Sauvignon Blanc was chosen by Ilse Fourie, and the wine was described as fresh and crisp, and suitable to be served with seafood.  Ilse decided against serving prawns, given the time that it would take to clean them, so she chose to make roasted salmon served on a bed of asparagus, and a sauce made of oranges and gooseberries, to balance the acidity.  The guests praised her perfect vegetables, and her food brought out the best in the wine.

*   Nederburg Winemasters Reserve Rosé was chosen by Lungi Nhlahla, and she was told that it is well paired with fish. She chose to make a seared ostrich salad with a balsamic sauce.  The guests enjoyed it, saying that they would have it ‘any time’.

*   Manisha Naidu seemed nervous when she was allocated the Pongracz Rosé, a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend, well paired with oysters. When she started off, she said that she had struck a blank as to what to prepare with her sparkling wine.  She decided to make a dessert, with white chocolate ganache, mint, almonds, and a strawberry soup which contained the Pongracz.  She was praised for having done a ‘great job’.

*   A stylish-looking Khaya Silingile chose the Nederburg Winemasters Reserve Noble Light Harvest, the wine brand’s ‘most awarded wine‘ in the range, excellent to serve with patés. She chose to make a trio of chocolate desserts (panna cotta, fondant, and truffle), but ran out of time, the panna cotta not having enough time to set. She opted for a fondant only, served with a berry coulis. It had a very rich sauce, with a nice crusty top and ‘gooey inside’, and gave the wine structure, the guests said.

*   Nederburg Merlot was described as being ‘robust’, good to serve with duck, fruit, pizza, pasta, and roasts, and was the choice of Deena.  He decided to prepare a lamb curry, but Chef Pete warned him against ‘overpowering the wine with the curry’. Chatting amongst themselves, the judges agreed that Deena’s curry and tomato ‘will kill the Merlot’. The guests were silent when they tasted his curry, nodding their heads in approval, saying it was ‘yummy’. Yet Chef Pete said that the vinegar, tomato, and spices in his dish made the wine ‘tannic’.

*   Sarel Loots chose Nederburg Riesling, to be served with intense aromatic dishes. He surprisingly chose to make a curry, not having done well with it in a previous challenge, but said that he had mastered it since. His dish was to be a light chicken curry in a butternut case, served with apricot purée and roti.  His dish was praised by the guests, describing it as well presented, and a ‘delight’ in its match with a complex wine.

*   Nederburg Winemakers Reserve Shiraz has berry flavours and spiciness, and should be paired with spicy lamb, kebabs, and souvlaki. This wine was chosen by Jade de Waal. She chose to make lentils, Mediterranean vegetables, ravioli, and a Shiraz poached beef fillet, but said that she had blown it away. Her guests contradicted themselves in their feedback, saying that they ‘like the girl but not the dish’, ‘quite bland‘, ‘strong taste’, ‘meat not great‘, and that ‘the elements were not connected’, said Chef Pete.

*   Sue-Ann Allen chose the Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon, the ‘biggest’ of the wines in weight and texture, best served with red meat. She chose to make beef fillet, which was enjoyed by her guests, and they liked its ‘simplicity’.

*   Thys Hattingh selected the Nederburg Chardonnay, with vanilla and citrus notes, a good match with grilled fish and cheese, a versatile wine. He chose to make an open lasagne with mushrooms and herbs, ‘a simple dish with lots of flavour’, he said, its creaminess pairing well with the wooded and creamy Chardonnay. He seemed to have a problem with his pasta, taking forever to cook. Bravely he had made his own pasta for the first time. The guests described his dish as ‘more buttery’, ‘richer’, ‘very nice’, ‘too rich’, ‘too oily’, contradictory feedback, but his pasta was praised.

All the Finalists were praised by the judges for their ‘outstanding’ job, and were given a round of applause. Khaya’s chocolate fondant was chosen as the top dish, described as ‘superb’ by Chef Andrew Atkinson, which led her to burst into tears.  It was explained to her that she would go up against guest chef Reuben Riffel, and should she beat him in the cook-off, she would win the Immunity pin. Chef Reuben was introduced as putting Monneaux restaurant onto the map when it was named an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant, before he went overseas, returning to open Reuben’s Franschhoek in 2004, and winning Eat Out Top Chef and Top Restaurant six months later.  Chef Reuben said that he is passionate about ‘fresh produce‘, ironic given his Robertsons’ endorsement!

The three Finalists that were chosen to go into the Pressure Test in episode 12 are Thys, for his dish being too rich and oily, but with great pasta; Jade, for her flavours not combining, and not complementing her Shiraz; and Deena, his first Pressure Test, as his dish did not complement the Merlot. His reaction was: ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger‘!  The next episode is likely to be an exciting one, in that the three Finalists need three hours to prepare their Pressure Test dishes. It will also show the cooking duel between Chef Reuben and Khaya.

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