Entries tagged with “culinary heritage”.


What an exciting MasterChef South Africa episode 8 was last night, and what a super theme, focusing on the iconic South African cuisine, which challenged eight of the Finalists in an Elimination Challenge, and saw the demise of Brandon Law and Babalwa Baartman, two contestants who did not receive much coverage in the preceding seven episodes. Cape Town’s tourism industry should have benefitted from the episode too, with beautiful filming in Bo-Kaap, with Table Mountain as a backdrop.

The 13 Finalists were put to a taste test, with 30 small bowls of ingredients placed on their work stations. They were asked to taste an ‘iconic’ Carrot Cake which Chef Benny Masekwameng had baked, and then choose the 15 ingredients he had included in its baking. Brandon said immediately that he did not have a good track record in identifying ingredients, and looked worried. He added that he had made a carrot cake before, but certainly had not added so many different ingredients. Thys Hattingh was excited when he saw the sugar, knowing it was a cake or a dessert, saying it probably was something he had made before. He started with the foundation of a carrot cake, choosing the base ingredients: carrots, walnuts, sultanas, and more. The carrot cake was praised by the Finalists for its aroma, and some guessed that it contained nutmeg, cinnamon, and fruit.  The Finalists had to choose the ingredients they thought were in the cake, the bottom eight Finalists going into the ‘Elimination Challenge‘, they were told.  It was the second ingredient (walnuts) that caught Thys short, and another seven incorrectly chose sultanas, which were not in the cake. Brandon, Ilse Fourie, Sue-Ann Allen, Jade de Waal, Deena Naidoo, Manisha Naidu, Thys, and Babalwa went into the Elimination Challenge as a result. In choosing a cooking utensil, which matched that of a second Finalist, the eight were paired into groups of two, and had to open a Mystery Box, which contained a directive of where to go to recreate an iconic South African dish, each pair driven to a different destination in the sponsor Hyundai’s vehicles.  They were given 4 hours to meet with the maker of the dish, to taste the ingredients, and to feel the texture.  The makers of the dishes were not allowed to tell them the recipes or give any specific guidelines.  The eight Finalists were told that the makers of the ‘worst dish’ would be sent home, a surprise that two Finalists were set to be eliminated.

Brandon and Babalwa were sent to De Volkskombuis in Stellenbosch, where they met Chef Dawid and were presented with his restaurant’s ‘Meraai se Hoenderpie’, his mother having added the dish to the menu 35 years ago, in honour of one of their chefs at the time. They tasted the dish, described the chicken to be ‘moist and juicy’, covered with a thick and crispy pastry. There were no strong spices, but they detected a taste of sweetness.  On their return, Brandon decided proudly that they would not use puff pastry from the Woolworths Pantry, and that they would make it themselves, a decision which was criticised by Chef Pete Goffe-Wood, in that puff pastry takes two days to be made, he said.  Brandon confidently replied that he knows the short cuts to make puff pastry. They cooked the chicken with bacon, to give it saltiness, as well as mushrooms. Again Brandon told the camera proudly that he came to MasterChef SA to ‘push his boundaries’, and that’s why he chose to make the puff pastry from scratch.  As it does, it shrunk in the oven, and exposed some of the meat. The dish therefore did not look as good as that of De Volkskombuis, and Brandon was told that store puff pastry had been used in the making of the dish at the restaurant. The judges said that the filling had dried out due to the pastry not creating a seal, due to it shrinking.  The dish was not cleaned before presentation, as can be seen in the photograph.

Jade and Sue-Ann were sent to Goedemoed Country Inn in Paarl, where local waterblommetjie bredie expert Tannie Naomi presented her iconic waterblommetjie dish in the 1818 Cape Dutch home, which had housed some of the MasterChef SA production crew, its owner Russian Count Kim Nicolay told me telephonically after the show. Tannie Naomi said that waterblommetjies grow in 60 – 100 cm of water, and are an iconic Boland dish. Kim told me that the phone had rung off the hook after the show last night, for bookings of waterblommetjie bredie, but they are not a restaurant. Back at Nederburg close by, the two Finalists chose bay leaves, salt and pepper, sugar and white wine to cook the lamb.  They left the cooking of the waterblommetjies to last, Chef Pete questioning this, but Jade confidently said that they did not want to overcook it for it to become ‘mushy’!  When served to the judges, they said it was a ‘bit green’, and the dish was shot down for the potatoes, lamb, and waterblommetjies all having been cooked separately, instead of being cooked together, the ingredients not ‘having lived together in the same pot’, they were told.

Ilse and Manisha were sent to the Eziko Cooking and Catering School in Langa, where Chef David presented the dish they had feared, being tripe, both never having prepared it before.  Tripe is a traditional Xhosa dish, served to guests to welcome them, Chef David explained.  The two Finalists described the texture as ‘furry’, and ‘chewy’, and having a salty taste.  Initially they seemed hesitant to taste the dish, but realised that their future participation in MasterChef SA depended on it. Back at the MasterChef SA kitchen, they put the tripe into a pressure cooker.  They had to make phutu pap too, and followed the instructions on the pack.  Chef Benny liked the aroma coming out of their pots, but the two Finalists were worried that the tripe was not yet soft enough and also not as brown as in Chef David’s dish. The judges said that their tripe dish had an identical presentation to that of Eziko, and the tripe was judged by Chef Andrew Atkinson to be ‘not bad’.  Chef Pete liked its texture, but Chef Benny said that the pap did not have the right consistency. But he said that the dish ‘blew me away’, saying that the texture and flavours were right, and therefore they were allowed to join the other five Finalists who did not have to do this Challenge.

Thys and Deena were driven to Biesmiellah, the iconic Cape Malay restaurant in the Bo-Kaap in Cape Town, on a glorious day, and Cape Town was shown off in its glory.  They were presented with Denningvleis, the most popular Cape Malay dish that the Indonesians had brought to this country.  It was described as containing lamb and a ‘watery gravy’. They tasted a ‘sweetness’, nuts, and tamarind.  Being furthest away, they had the longest time to discuss their strategy whilst they were driven back to Nederburg.  Arriving back, their challenge was to balance the sweet (with brown sugar) and sour (with tamarind, but which they could not find in the Woolworths Pantry) of the dish. They added raisins, whereas Biesmiellah had used sultanas. When presented to the judges, their dish was said by Chef Andrew to be ‘nearly there’, to look similar to that of Biesmiellah, that the lamb could have been cooked for longer, and that there was a ‘good balance between sweet and sour’, Chef Pete said.  Their dish was judged to be good enough for them to stay on at MasterChef SA.

In the end two teams did not do well: Jade and Sue-Ann did not ‘marry their dish in one pot’, and Brandon and Balalwa did not follow the judges’ brief of replicating the dish they were allocated. The judges reminded the Finalists that this episode had exposed them to the culinary heritage of our country, and that both teams had fallen short in this Challenge. It was their decision to eliminate Brandon and Babalwa in this episode. Brandon said that cooking is the great passion in his life. Babalwa said that she had had an awesome time at MasterChef SA.  From Twitter it would appear that the wrong team was sent home last night, many Tweeting that it was unfair that Brandon was ‘punished’ for preferring to make his own puff pastry instead of using a prepared one.

The remaining eleven Finalists were given a pep talk by the judges, being told that they were a third way through MasterChef SA, and that it was ‘time to shine’, and to ‘reach out and grab it’! They were challenged: Let’s see it’, referring to one of them becoming MasterChef.

POSTSCRIPT 9/5: I popped in at Biesmiellah today, and the manager told me that they have been overwhelmed by the number of calls of Capetonians who want to taste Denningvleis.  One TV viewer came to them straight after the show last night to eat it!

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

Two-star Michelin noma restaurant in Copenhagen has been named the top in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards for two years running. Its founder and chef René Redzepi paid a literal flying visit to Cape Town last week, addressing the Design Indaba conference. It appears that he spent little time in Cape Town and did not connect with local chefs. Delegates that were lucky enough to hear his address were impressed with his passion for food design. ‘Design and food go hand in hand’, he said.

Chef René believes that the food should be served by the chefs who created it, making this the focus of noma, and the interior design is of lesser importance, being simple, reflecting the ‘essential simplicity’ and ‘purity’ of the ‘Nordic gourmet cuisine’ which they serve. His 20-course Tasting Menu costs R2000 a head, and one can expect to eat celeriac and unripe sloe berry, white currant and douglas-fir; dried scallops and beech nuts, biodynamic grains and watercress; pickled vegetables and bone marrow; wild duck and beets, beech and malt; and pike perch and cabbages with gooseberry juice.

Chefs are not as important as the farmers who supply the ‘freshly foraged ingredients’, allowing the kitchen team to create original dishes, he said. His stage prop for the talk was a dead duck, and he asked what ‘was the last image flying through its head’. A chef’s challenge is to create food for now, ‘projecting time on a plate‘. His challenge is to create new flavours, a team effort incorporating the food growers, those that cook the food, and those that present it on the plate.

Last year Chef René organised a MAD Food Camp, and the only South African to attend was Cape Town blogger and urban farmer Matt Allison.  He shared his experience with the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club. Through the Food Camp, noma demonstrated its international leadership in food usage in restaurants, and highlighted to the chefs attending that the more one understands about the history of food and its culture, as well as of the latest food science, the better one will cook.  These views were not only shared with the 250 food lovers selected by Chef René to attend the Food Camp, but with his 25000 Twitter followers too.  Chef René is an active Tweeter, sharing many photographs of his beautifully presented dishes.  He did not Tweet about Cape Town or its restaurants and chefs, only writing about his presentation: “I spoke to a crowd of 3000+ people for the first time today. Thank you South Africans for taking my virginity gently”.

The noma website confirms that this restaurant has left behind foie gras, olive oil, black olives, and sundried tomatoes, focusing instead on the ‘revival of Nordic cuisine’, representing fine produce and the food heritage of the Scandinavian countries, with seasonal and regional foods. So, for example, they have sourced skyr curd and halibut from Iceland; as well as musk ox, berries and water from Greenland.  Not only expensive ingredients are sourced, but also ‘disregarded, modest ingredients such as grains and pulses’, served in unusual form.  Chef René and his team use the base of their culinary heritage to create something brand new.  They experiment with interesting uses of milk and cream, and forage herbs and berries that others wouldn’t bother with, and which are not commercially available.  They salt, smoke, pickle, dry, and grill all their own foods, make their own vinegars, and even an Eaux de Vie, a brandy made from fermented fruit juice.  State-of-the-art kitchen appliances and techniques are used. Instead of cooking with wine, noma uses beers and ales, fruit juices, and fruit vinegars to create freshness and flavour in its dishes. ‘Greens take up more room on the plate than is common at gourmet restaurants’.   Interesting is that noma’s 40-page wine list is classic in predominantly featuring wines from France, Germany and Italy. No South African or New World wines are listed.

Chef René said in an interview that it would be time for him to get out of the restaurant if he could not ‘reboot’, or see things with a new light, or with a breathe of fresh air. He is filled with inspiration, and focused in developing ‘the flavour’. His life ambition is not to make profit, but to keep searching, learning, and teaching.

Ferran Adriá, the owner of the previous top World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards El Bulli, which closed down in July last year, addressed the Design Indaba conference in 2009, at the height of his Modernist Cuisine culinary reign.

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

If it had not been for Cape Town urban farmer, eco-activist and food blogger Matt Allison addressing us at the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meetings in August and September, I would not have known about the MAD (means ‘food’ in Danish) Foodcamp ‘Planting Thoughts’ symposium, which he attended in August, as the only South African in an elite group of 250 hand-picked chefs, food scientists, foragers, microbiologists, and policy-makers.  The workshop resulted in an important appeal to chefs to change the world, by going back to the roots of food growing and sourcing.

The MAD Foodcamp was held in Copenhagen, and was organised by Chefs Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer, co-founders of Noma (food photographs below from this restaurant), the top S. Pellegrino World 50 Best restaurant for two years running.  Concerned about the projected shortage of food, showing that food production must increase by 70 %, to feed an estimated population of 9 billion by 2050, Redzepi invited applications for attendees at his MAD Foodcamp. Fellow 50 Best Restaurant chefs who presented included Michel Bras from France, David Chang from momofuku Noodle Bar in New York, Alex Atala from D.O.M. in São Paulo, Daniel Patterson from Coi in San Fransisco, Yoshihiro Narisawa from Les Creations de Narisawa in Tokyo, Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz in Spain, Gaston Acurio from Café del Museo in Lima in Peru, and Ben Shewry from Attica in Melbourne, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

The following key recommendations resulted from the MAD Foodcamp:

*   Sourcing food locally is paramount, and it is available to chefs from their purveyors, and can be grown by themselves too. The impact of rising petrol prices on food prices will ensure that chefs seek more local food supply.  But local food is not always desirable, and nations should become proud of their culinary heritage again.

*   There will be a move away from meat, as it was in past generations.  Meat production impacts on the soil, energy usage, water supply, and carbon output, and therefore a new balance between proteins, cereals and vegetables needs to be found.  Chef Michel Bras said that vegetables should be made to be as important and as desirable as meat in restaurants.

*   Soil plays a role too, and Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa serves a soup made from organic soil.  Ideally, food planted should not have to be irrigated and spayed with chemicals.  Monocultures are destructive to the soil. Rice, wheat, corn and potatoes supply 60% of calories, and chefs are challenged to make something new with them, but should instead look at finding bygone varieties.

*   Food foraging is all the trend, and edible plants could help make up the shortage of food.   Ethnobotanist François Couplan has identified 80000 varieties of edible plants, documented in 65 books he has written. Many of these have greater health benefits than the foods that we know.  Author of ‘The Forager Handbook’, Miles Irving said that wild foods are the ultimate in being seasonal, local and sustainable, and that ‘there is treasure in the woods and fields’. Chefs who forage need to know which plants and other foods are plentiful, and which are scarce and endangered.

*   Urban gardens are an answer to food shortages too, and we have seen Matt becoming a local urban farmer, renting unused land from the City of Cape Town to grow vegetables.  It is estimated that New York could produce 3 million tonnes of food per year on city rooftops, in parks and in private yards.  City beekeeping is being encouraged, and this honey is cleaner and healthier than that from the countryside, less contaminated with pesticides.

*   Insects are a valuable source of protein, and can also be used to address food shortages.  Chef Alex Atala encouraged delegates to eat Amazon ants, tasting of lemongrass and ginger. Other edible insects include ant eggs, grasshoppers, and termites.

*   Farmers should return to the old-fashioned way of hands-on farming.  Chefs are encouraged to connect with farmers, and to buy directly from them, rather than via agents or suppliers.

*   The focus should be on children and to re-introduce them to non-processed food, to teach them ‘what real food tastes like’, said Chef Daniel Patterson.

Matt Allison was interviewed about the MAD Foodcamp by Katie Parla for the New York Times as well as for her Blog.

MAD Foodcamp: www.madfoodcamp.dk

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