Tag Archives: MondoVino

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