Tag Archives: Sarah Proudfoot

MasterChef South Africa cooking up an exciting Season 2!

Last week I was lucky to be the only blogger to be invited by M-Net‘s PRO Ingrid Engelbrecht (right in bottom photograph) to attend a Media Day on the set of MasterChef SA at Nederburg, to obtain a behind the scenes feel for the production of one of our country’s most successful reality TV cooking shows.  It emerged that the show management is highly organised, executing the shoot for the day and planning shoots five days in advance simultaneously. MasterChef SA Season 2 will commence flighting mid-year, and will be extended to twice-weekly broadcasts of the 26 episodes.

The media group of about 25 from Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban watched a cooking challenge of the contestants from the mezzanine level. Guest house duties prevented me from getting to Nederburg so early, so unfortunately I missed out on seeing the contestants, who arrived at the MasterChef SA kitchen almost three weeks ago.  It was a delight however to see judges Pete Goffe-Wood and Benny Masekwameng again, as well as to meet Andrew Atkinson for the first time, having undergone a complete change in his appearance, and particularly in his dress. Gone are the jackets and suits, and all three the judges looked far more comfortably dressed.  It is from the judges, and later from MasterChef SA Culinary Producer Arnold Tanzer, that we heard that every dish that the contestants have to prepare is tested multiple times.

The accuracy of the recipe ingredients and method of preparation is tested by four different chefs in Chef Arnold’s test kitchen.   The dishes that are prepared by the contestants are filmed for presentation, while the judges taste an additional portion prepared by each contestant, which one does not see on screen. They then taste the filmed dishes, and provide their feedback for the camera.  Chef Pete has taken to tasting the dishes during the preparation already, to get a feel for them.  The three judges are called the ‘three stooges’, and are like brothers, much like the bonding that has taken place amongst most of the Season 1 contestants, even after the end of the season. None of the judges received any screen training, and Chef Pete said that they are no longer conscious of being filmed. They have had to learn interviewing skills however. Last year Chef Arnold and Chef Pete visited the set of MasterChef Australia for two days. The bond between the crew is strong as well, 85% having shot a number of series for M-Net in addition to Season 1.  The next season of Idols will be shot soon too. Ingrid said that her job is to ‘put a pep in everyone’s step’, and to show that ‘M-Net Cares’! She also conducts the exit interviews with the departing Pressure Test contestants.  It was super to see Lungi Nhlanhla, a MasterChef SA Season 1 Finalist, and now a journalist at Drum, and it was sweet to see her sit with Chef Benny, having had a special affinity with him during Season 1. Chef Pete sat at our table, and shared that the season 2 contestants are of a higher calibre, having had the benefit of watching season 1. The contestants had also attended a Chef’s School in Randburg before the festive season, at which they were taught basic kitchen skills, such as deboning chicken and filleting fish.  About half the contestants are from the northern provinces, with one or two from Durban, and the rest from Cape Town.  For the first time the contestants will also be filmed in their House, and therefore more upmarket accommodation has been selected, to share the contestants’ interaction with each other off-set, as per MasterChef Australia, giving the show more of a three-dimensional and real element.  The House contains a large collection of cook books, and last year those by guest chefs were also part of the collection, it obviously not being known by the contestants which guest chefs would surprise them on set on a given day.  Some contestants have quit their jobs, to participate in MasterChef SA.  The top finalists will be spending about 7 weeks on the MasterChef SA set in Paarl.

We were treated to a long slow lunch at The Red Table Restaurant at Nederburg, at which I had a less than satisfactory experience just over a month ago, when it had just opened.  Chef Pete referred to the colour of the restaurant as resembling ‘Edgars Red’. The restaurant is operated independently by Dish Food & Social.  I was told that the new Restaurant Consultant Sarah Proudfoot and the German waitress that I experienced on my first visit have already left the employ of the restaurant.  An amuse bouche of tasty tomato soup was served with a pastry in an espresso cup.  It was funny to see the NOMU sea salt and black pepper grinders on the The Red Table Restaurant table (being an independent operator they may use the ingredients they want to), with Robertsons being the sponsor of the MasterChef SA kitchen just a few meters away!  The salad of duck confit, roast baby beetroot, with orange segments, and baby spinach was perfect for the hot day.  The grilled kingklip served with fondant potato, leek, a red onion salad and chili lime dressing was a massive improvement on the kingklip which I was served on my first visit to the restaurant.  While the waiter had heard my request for the dressing to be excluded, he did not pass on the same message about the red onions!  The waiter stretched right across me to place a fork on my left, from the right!  The ‘brûléed’ lemon tart was a flop, being completely runny and without the brûlée!  The mini strawberry milkshake it was served with was perfect.  Instead of a cappuccino, I requested an iced coffee, and it was perfectly made.

We felt sorry for the contestants and judges on the 35°C day in Paarl,  but they looked super cool.  Chef Pete shared that for Season 1 it was 48°C when they filmed in Zanzibar, and that the 50 crew and contestants drank 50 cases of water on the first day alone, given the heat and humidity.  The test on MasterChef SA is not so much the ability to cook than it is to deal with the pressure of preparing a dish against the clock, being asked questions by the judges, and having seven cameras focused on them.  Chef Pete said that the food of each contestant reflects the personality of that person.  We can look forward to seeing more cooking, and more contestant interaction in Season 2.  Editing is meticulous, with only 1 in 5000 seconds of filming used. The day is a long one on the MasterChef SA set, from 6h00 – 19h00, Mondays to Saturdays.

Chef Arnold (middle in photograph) showed us his test kitchen, and I saw rows of Robertson’s spice bottles, which they have to source separately, as Woolworths does not stock the co-sponsor’s brand.  Bronwen Smithers is Chef Arnold’s right hand, having worked with him for 17 years already, and is Head of Pantry, being responsible for ordering produce for each day’s production.  We saw racks of oranges, lemons, limes, apples, red onions, eggs, pineapples, potatoes, and more.   She also checks that ingredients are not too freely available, to ensure that the contestants use a good variety of ingredients in their dishes. She has a policy of not freezing any of the ingredients.  Filming off-set is a particular challenge, in planning what to take along. They also need to stock the contestants’ and judges’ Houses with food. Chef Arnold said that they need to test guest chef recipes too, as ‘chefs are notorious in not spelling and writing well”. Chef Arnold said that the amateur cook contestants are really good cooks, and that there is no objective to ‘trick them’. How they handle the pressure will make the difference on their way forward.  The fruit and vegetables last for three to four days, and what is left over and still edible is collected by the Valcare Trust, which distributes the food to a list of worthy charities in Paarl.  The contestants are taught to be responsible in their ingredient selection from the Woolworths Pantry on set, so that the minimum goes to waste.  We met Candice Tennant, the Series Producer, who co-ordinates the smooth running of all aspects of filming MasterChef SA (left in above photograph).

We spoke about MasterChef SA Chef Season 1 winner Deena Naidoo’s Aarya restaurant at Montecasino, and how busy it has been.  Season 1 Finalist Brandon Law is now working for Deena in the Aarya kitchen.

We finished off the day in the Nederburg tasting centre, and my eye caught the new Nederburg pay-off line in their product display, the MasterChef SA sponsorship clearly having influenced it.  Annetjie Hopkins led the tasting of the Winemaster’s Reserve Riesling; the Heritage Heroes range which honours Johan Graue’s son Arnold (‘The Young Airhawk‘), first Nederburg owner Philippus Wolvaardt (‘Anchorman’), well-known ex-winemaker Günter Brözel (‘The Motorcycle Marvel’),  and Johan Graue (‘The Brew Master‘); and the Winemaster’s Reserve Noble Late Harvest.

I was initially invited to attend a blogger day, but the invitation was switched to the Media Day in the last minute, as the ‘amount of bloggers originally short listed was way too many to accommodate in the episode. As such, we had to notify  almost half the list that we would no longer be needing their presence at the shoot. Of all the bloggers sadly struck from the list, you are the only person to whom we extended an invitation to the Media Day tomorrow’, wrote Ms Engelbrecht.  Andy Fenner must have been invited too, and then uninvited, if his Tweet of 11 January refers to MasterChef SA: ‘I get invited to be on a local TV food show, I ask about provenance of the meat. I get uninvited’!

MasterChef SA Season 2, M-Net, starts cooking mid 2013. www.masterchefsa.dstv.com Twitter: @MasterChef_sa

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

Restaurant Review: There is no master chef at The Red Table Restaurant at Nederburg!

The Red Table Restaurant at Nederburg opened last week, and is the first restaurant to operate on this historic wine estate.  As Nederburg is synonymous with MasterChef SA, it was a surprise that the restaurant interior, service, and food are so far removed from what the reality TV series epitomises, and the quality positioning of the award-winning Nederburg wine brand.

The decor was done by Espresso, an interior design consultancy specialising in contemporary furniture for kitchens, bedrooms and living spaces from leading Italian furniture brands including Euromobil™, Zalf™, Silenia™, Desiree™ and Tonon™. The latest Italian functionality, practicality and style is brought to life by our award winning design team. We have showrooms in London and Cape Town” its website states.  No signs of this were to be seen in the restaurant, which consists of the main room and the side room (in which classic concerts were held) in the Manor House.

One notices the red signage for the restaurant as one arrives, odd looking small signs giving one a temporary feel, directing one to the restaurant at short intervals.  In the parking area, an overturned table holds the signage, and square exterior tiles have been painted red, as if to resemble a red carpet, to indicate the path one is to follow.  One is led to the front of the Manor House, shown the many tables outside, and enters the restaurant here, and no longer at its back entrance.  Pot plant holders have been painted red, and one took strain from the terrible southeaster blowing a gale at the wine estate on Friday. The tables look like they were original antiques from the Manor House, their tops having been given a red lacquer treatment, but I was assured that they were newly made. So too the chairs, with riempie seats, were painted white with one red backrest.  The 212 year old manor house has retained its beautiful wooden ceiling, and its brass lamps, but red splashes of colour are carried throughout both the rooms, with red ice buckets, red plant holders, red edging on weird shelves that look like tables ‘growing’ out of the wall, and red print on the menu.

I could not help but feel that the decor was amateurish, forced, someone having chosen a colour and creating a faux interior, clashing with the historic interior of the building.  Burrata’s use of its colour red is sophisticated and classy by comparison. Green touches are everywhere, with a ‘portrait’ of succulents over the fireplace in the second room, and hanging plants in the main room. The grand piano serves as a display surface, with bell jars containing stacked cups and saucers, books, and music scores. A children’s collection consists of a drum, a Children’s Britannica set, marbles, dinosaurs, Scrabble, sports cups, and more.  The fireplace is stacked with almost perfectly shaped logs. There are no curtains or drapes anymore, making the previous concert room echo.  The Persian carpets have been retained.  Books form part of the decor display.  No red serviettes have been used to carry through the colour theme.  The bathroom decor is untouched, with heavy drapes, a contradiction to the design of the restaurant rooms next door!  Sarah explained that the design is meant to be ‘colourful, vibey, aimed at modernising the brand, and attracting a broader group of people‘.

Cutlery was an ordinary looking Forum.  The table had tiny bowls with coarse salt and crushed black pepper. The orange pincushion protea in the vase on the table did not match the red colour scheme. The restaurant brochure (incorrectly) waxes lyrical about the restaurant: “Picture a novel (pardon the pun!) configuration of red tables meandering (sic) through the heritage building Manor House and into the gorgeous gardens (one enters FROM the garden into the building!) with lots of fun activities for both young and old, like croquet, giant Jenga games, skittles, reading spots and other fun options“!

I happened to walk in at the same time as did Sarah Proudfoot, the Restaurant Consultant working with Dish Food & Social, which operates the restaurant.  We talked about MasterChef SA, and she said that M-Net is working on a new set design for the second season of the TV show, everything used for season one having been removed.  The venue will be used for events after the second season has come to an end, meaning that a third season seems unlikely.  Sarah bent over backwards to find information, and to keep things running as smoothly as possible.  Dish Foods & Social has been contracted to operate the restaurant, a further shock, given the high standard and quality one associates with Nederburg and its wines. The contract caterer runs SideDish, the restaurant at The Theatre on the Bay, and does catering for functions and events. All staff have been brought in by Dish Foods & Social, and wear black pants and shirts, with a red branded The Red Table Restaurant apron.  Waitress Elmarie addressed me in German immediately, which would have been a sweet touch had I been a tourist.  She told me that she had grown up in Paarl, and recently returned from Germany after living there for 15 years! The more I replied in English, the more she spoke back in German, whereas the other tables with German tourists did not benefit from her language proficiency.  The Chef is called Mr X, as most of the staff cannot remember or say his name, being Nqobani Mlagisi, who was a member of one of The Ultimate Braaimaster teams.  It was here that Oscar Foulkes, husband of Dish Foods & Social owner Andrea and also a participant in the Braai competition, had met Nqobani.

The menu is an odd collection of loose slim pages, only two for the food, and seven pages dedicated to beverages, all wines being from Nederburg, clipped to a wooden board.  Strangely one page is dedicated to Dish Food & Social, but none to the history of Nederburg or a description of its wines and its awards overall. The menu is introduced as follows: “One of life’s delights is eating with friends, second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy (who writes copy like this!?), there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends”!

Rolls were brought to the table on a wooden board, with soft butter.  The waitron staff take the order via iPad, but on my visit this hi-tech tool was not foolproof!  I ordered the Chilled gazpacho with roasted tomato and cucumber salad served with crispy parmesan chards (R45), a thick chunky refreshing portion brought to the table within minutes of placing the order, the only fast service I experienced. Other starter options are Salad Lyonnaise (with lettuce, bacon, croutons and poached egg), available as a starter or a main (R40/R60); a Brie, roasted wild mushroom and caramelised onion tart (R50); Confit duck, roast beetroot, orange and baby spinach salad, served both as a starter and main course (R60/R90); and a twice-baked cheese soufflé (R50). For the main course I ordered Kingklip with a pesto soufflé, crispy new potatoes, and peperonata (R115) from the blackboard. A staff member came back to tell me that the kingklip was sold out.  Sarah returned and apologised, saying that mine was the last portion of kingklip.  It was the most disappointing kingklip I have ever eaten, being over-complicated with the pesto ‘soufflé’, and the pesto clashing with the ice cold peperonata and the lemon aioli. The potatoes were not an ideal combination with the fish either.  The menu main course options are very restricted, and not particularly attractive: a venison, avocado, and caramelised onion burger (R95), Mozzarella roulade filled with aubergines, peppers, grana padano cheese, and basil pesto (R65); chicken and mushroom pot pies (R65); and free-range sirloin steak with fries and salad (R95).  Children can order a sirloin steak roll, a thin-based pizza, or sticky chicken skewers, at R40 – R50.

For dessert there are only four options ranging in price from R35 – R45, of which two are brûléed, being a lemon tart with mini strawberry milkshake, and an espresso brûlée.  I ordered the yoghurt panacotta with a refreshing strawberry and mint salad, and a cappuccino with it (requested as dry, with coffee and foam, but what came to the table was undrinkable). What followed was a case of broken telephone, the iPad no longer being used.  I was asked what I wanted for dessert, and I said that I had already ordered.  Sarah returned, saying that the staff said that I had said that I had already paid.  I explained to her that I had said that I had already ordered the dessert.  She returned to the kitchen, but they clearly could not find the order, and so she had to return to ask what I had ordered.  Sarah comped the dessert, as an apology for the dessert disaster, which cost almost an hour of waiting time.  One can also order a chocolate fondant with ice cream, or a cheese and preserves platter (R65).

The Nederburg wines are very reasonably priced, and many are available by the glass. The Première Cuvèe Brut costs R22/R69; 56Hundred Chenin Blanc 2012 R16/R55 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 R18/R60; Winemaster’s Reserve ranges from R18/R57 – R27/R87; Baronne 2011 R62; Manor House Shiraz 2009 R43/R125, Sauvignon Blanc 2011 R115, and Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 R125; the Heritage Heroes R39/R105 – R43/R120; Ingenuity at R175; and II Centuries Cabernet Sauvignon costs R245.

The only classy red touch in all the redness of The Red Table Restaurant at Nederburg was the bill brought to the table in a red envelope!  Odd was the choice of a Friday lunchtime for a major construction project at the entrance to the wine estate, meaning that one had to drive on a grass verge without any warning or guidance.

Originally the restaurant was meant to be a pop-up one until the end of April, but it has since been decided to continue running it through the winter.  I must commend Sarah for her calmness in trying to deal with the staff problems, given that the restaurant had only been open for three days, although they had ‘practised’ on Nederburg staff before opening.  I found it a shame that the lovely Nederburg Manor House, a national monument, has been cheapened with such a faux interior, such a poor menu, such poor food quality, and such poor service!  I would find it hard to give it a second try unless there is a radical improvement and change.  Poor Johann Graue, one of the earlier owners of the building, must be turning in his grave!

POSTSCRIPT 9/12: in reconciling my credit card slips this evening, I saw on the slip for my lunch at Nederburg that the credit card machine has been set up as ‘Dish Nederberg (sic)’.

The Red Table Restaurant at Nederburg, Nederburg Wines, Sonstraal Road, Daljosafat, Paarl.  Tel (021) 862-3104.   www.nederburg.com Twitter: @Nederburg  Wednesday – Saturday à la carte lunch, Sunday lunch buffet (R195).

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