The second last episode of MasterChef SA left one with a little sadness, in that there is only one episode of MasterChef SA left this season, the 90 minute Finale being broadcast next Tuesday. Many viewers were sad to see Manisha Naidu leave MasterChef SA last night, as she has rarely put a cooking foot wrong, and showed tremendous leadership in team contests.
Before driving to Franschhoek, the Finalists were asked how they felt about being the final three. Manisha said she was in fighting mode, while Sue-Ann Allen said that she would fight ‘tooth and nail‘. Deena Naidoo said he was ‘scared as hell’. Sue-Ann said she would train hard to run the MondeVino restaurant at Montecasino if she should win, wanting to learn more about fine-dining, and that she is ready to go to Johannesburg. Manisha said that she wants to cook ‘my food my way‘.
Chef Pete Goffe-Wood introduced the venue of the day’s challenge, being Le Quartier Français’ The Tasting Room, serving the ‘story of South Africa‘. Chef Margot Janse said that she challenges her team continuously to do things differently, and that she sources local ingredients in preference to imported products. Chef Pete described Chef Margot as a ‘national treasure’, saying that she is in a ‘class of her own’. The episode was concentrated on three courses which the Finalists Sue-Ann, Manisha, and Deena had to taste at The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, the third ranked South African restaurant on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list. Deena, Sue-Ann, and Manisha were shown the Le Quartier Français kitchen, and then tasted three of the dishes on Chef Margot’s Tasting Menu. Sitting down with the Finalists, Chef Margot described the restaurant dining room as the ‘stage for my food‘. Chef Margot Janse received compliments on Twitter for being firm yet friendly in her interaction with the Finalists, and it was suggested that she would have been an ideal judge. Her Dutch accent gave her an interesting character.
The starter was a Beetroot sponge and spinach purée with buttermilk labne, and a dill and cucumber granita, with a dusting of buchu. Deena said he had never seen buchu, and Chef Margot described it as having elements of eucalyptus, lavender and citrus. The beetroot sponge is made from beetroot juice and gelatine, and dissolves once it is in one’s mouth, they were told. Sue-Ann chose to make this dish. The main course was quail and braised fennel with porcini, liquorice root purée, and a liquorice glaze. Chef Margot said that balance was important, and that none of the other flavours should overshadow those of the quail. Manisha chose to make this challenging main course. A very South African dessert was the baobab pear parfait, served with a pistachio crumble, honey jellies, and a mango gel, which Deena elected to make. The Finalists were given 90 minutes to make their dishes, and had to prepare four portions of each for the judges and Chef Margot to try. Chef Margot advised the contestants to remain focused, and to not panic. She said all three dishes were equally difficult. She shared with the MasterChef SA judges how neatly the Finalists were working, packing away dirty dishes around them, to keep their work space tidy. Chef Pete reminded the Finalists that there was ‘zero margin for error’.
Sue-Ann was given some tips about the starter by Chef Margot, saying the beetroot sponge must set thoroughly. The timing of its plating is essential, as the granita can melt if plated too early. She was also told that the spinach for the puree must be cooked properly. Sue-Ann said that there was ‘no room for error’. When she took out her beetroot sponge, it was slightly underset, but she had enough time to return it to the blast freezer. Sue-Ann did not panic, and seemed to be in control and focused. The judges told her that her granita had a refreshingly different texture, and that her buttermilk labne was rich and creamy. The best compliment came from Chef Margot, saying that Sue-Ann’s dish looked ‘a lot like mine’. The labne and granita were said to be perfectly seasoned, but that the beetroot could have used slightly more seasoning. Chef Pete called her beetroot a ‘beetroot Aero‘.
Manisha chose to make the quail dish, being ‘beyond me’, to stretch herself. Chef Margot told her that she may not overcook the quail, and that the glaze needs time to reduce. She was also advised to cook her fennel early and braise it gently, as it takes time to cook. Asked by the judges whether she would add her own touch, Manisha said that she would stick to the recipe ‘precisely’, because it was someone else’s recipe, and not her own. Chef Pete seemed worried about her timing. She reduced the quail cooking timing, given how small they were, and they were perfectly pink inside once she cut them open. The biggest criticism of her dish was her untidy plating, having served two quail pieces instead of only one in Chef Margot’s dish, and she forgot the pea shoots, due to her dish having so many different elements, she said. Her fennel was said to not be as soft as Chef Margot’s. Not following the plating of Chef Margot was a dangerous move at the tail-end of the reality TV series, with so much at stake.
Deena said he had to overlap on some of the processes, and started making the Pate a Bombe. He spent about 20 minutes too much time on making the parfait, losing valuable time. He was criticised for having too much pistachio crumble on his plate, and for his parfait being too dense, not being ‘frozen air’, said Chef Pete. Chef Margot said the flavour of the parfait was fantastic, but did not have lightness, therefore not being a parfait. Chef Benny Masekwameng added that the jelly ‘was not there yet‘, but that it had flavours of honey.
When the judges returned to announce their elimination decision, they said it had been a very hard call. The errors that Manisha made in not following Chef Margot’s plating exactly cost her the chance to win the competition, and she was sent home with words of praise about the great food that she had cooked during the programme, and how good she is at combining flavours. Chef Benny said that he looked forward to eating at her restaurant. Chef Pete said that he would never forget her sausage dish. Manisha left without tears, and said that it had been an absolutely amazing experience, which had grown her ‘confidence and strength’.
Sue-Ann did a little dance of joy when she realised how close she and Deena are to the end, and to one of them winning MasterChef SA. She said ‘May the best man or woman win’! Of the two contestants, it is clear that Sue-Ann has grown in her confidence and is more focused on winning as a goal. Deena will win by not making mistakes, and comes across as more humble.
Once again Chef Reuben Riffel appeared in only one of the five Robertsons TV commercials flighted in the MasterChef SA episode last night.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage