It was a less exciting episode 10 of MasterChef South Africa last night, with the challenge to the ten finalists to prepare a family meal within a budget of R150.  The three finalists who went into the Elimination Challenge had to fix a Minestrone soup, and it was Samantha Nolan who had to leave the MasterChef SA kitchen, a shame given her leadership role and her ability to keep a cool head under pressure in previous episodes.

The visit by Abigail Donnelly, Food editor of the Woolworths-owned Taste magazine and editor of restaurant guide Eat Out, added an extra dimension to the tension, joining the judges. The brief was to prepare a family meal for four persons within a budget of R150, but had to be ‘worthy of royalty’, they were told.  The finalists were told by Mrs Donnelly that budgeting is part of the real world.  She said that she would judge the dishes based on taste, they ‘should not be too fancy‘, and they should ‘showcase the beauty on the plate’.  They had 60 minutes in which to complete the dish.  They had to select ingredients from the Woolworths Pantry within the budget limit, but it was evident that none of them had a calculator with them to tally up their grocery cost.  Chef Pete Goffe-Wood had an über calculator, and did the honours for each finalist.  Only Lungile Nhlahla came in within budget.  The other nine finalists had to give up ingredients to make the budget balance, Khaya Silingile being most over budget, at R265!  She admitted that she was a ‘ditz’, having gone over budget. In summary, Chef Pete told the finalists that going over budget would have led their restaurants to go under within 6 months.

Chicken seemed to be the most popular choice for the finalists’ family meals, only Samantha choosing to prepare poached trout (served with Asian vegetables and egg noodles as well as asparagus cream), and Jade de Waal making pork poached in milk (using bay leaves and lemon) served with creme fraiche, salad, parmesan, and pasta, admitting that she may have cooked her pork for too long, and that it may therefore be too tough.  While the finalists were preparing their dishes, Mrs Donelly and the judges discussed how some of the finalists push their limits and show amazing technique.  But she noticed that many do not taste their dishes.  Deena Naidoo made chicken schnitzel with a parmesan coating and mushroom sauce, which was praised by the judges for his delicious farm-style budget within budget. Mrs Donnelly said he made the ‘chicken proud’. Khaya deboned two chicken legs and stuffed them with red onion and aubergine, serving them with corn bread.  The judges were shocked that she would only serve two pieces of chicken for four persons.  She countered that she was challenging the ‘spirit of ubuntu between the chefs in sharing’ her food. Her bread was said to be too salty. Chef Pete said that she had shone in the previous episode in winning the international challenge, but that it had not been in evidence in yesterday’s episode. The chicken lacked flavour and intensity, she was told. Khaya said that she was the only finalist that had not been in a pressure test. Lungile was praised for her ‘rustic family-style’ meal, even though her portion sizes were criticised for being too small. The texture was praised, the polenta had a sweetness, and the chicken was perfectly roasted.  Jade’s salad was said to be creative, and her crispy sage was liked by the judges. However, her pasta was not seasoned, and her pork dish did not work, she was told. She admitted that she did not put out her best.   Thys Hattingh had a very quick review, his parmesan crisp being the tastiest of the whole dish. Samantha’s roasted onions were said to be too robust for the delicate poached trout. Mrs Donnelly said that she was disappointed with the asparagus cream, not really tasting it, and the roasted onions overpowered the dish. Chef Pete said that he would only eat the pasta. Manisha Naidu was highly praised by the judges, being told that she ‘truly has a palate to get flavours right’, said Chef Benny Masekwameng. Mrs Donnelly praised her for a ‘beautiful balanced plate of food’, and her dish was judged to be the best, the care and generosity coming from ‘the heart and soul’.  Mrs Donnelly loved her bottled sauce so much that she wanted the recipe for it.  While the Finalists were cooking, Woolworths ran a fabulous looking ad, inviting one to eat in for four persons, at R150, with chicken, and tiramisu for dessert.  No dishes were shown for Sarel Loots, Ilse Fourie, and Sue-Ann Allen.

The bottom three finalists were selected as Jade, Khaya, and Samantha, and were sent to the Elimination Challenge. Chef Pete brought in a big pot of Minestrone soup that had ‘purposely been ruined‘, and their challenge was to ‘get it back on track’. Chef Pete explained that things do go wrong in the kitchen, and the challenge for a chef is to rectify this.  A table contained bowls of ingredients, and each of the three finalists was given six opportunities to collect ingredients from the table.  They were told that the ‘worst tasting soup‘ goes home.  Samantha commented that the soup ‘looks like dishwater with left-over vegetables’. She selected red onions, butter beans, garlic, tomato paste, and pancetta (Italian bacon), but chopped the pancetta (sourced from Wild Peacock Food Emporium, they Tweeted proudly during the show) into cubes, which Chef Pete said was incorrect, as Minestrone is a meatless vegetable soup. The soup tasted too much of the pancetta. Chef Benny added that Samantha had shown throughout the program that she could not get seasoning right, either having too much or too little. The tomato paste and garlic should have been added earlier by her, Chef Pete said.  Khaya added red onion, garlic, fresh tomato, tomato paste, as well as coriander, which she assumed was parsley.  Chef Pete was critical of the soup in having become a tomato soup, making it more Mexican and less Italian. The judges coughed on tasting her soup, there being too much pepper, but they liked its chunkiness.  Jade identified that the soup lacked body and flavour, and she added pancetta for the flavour (but removed it before plating the soup), garlic, celery, and parmesan.  She was praised for adding and then removing the pancetta, giving her soup a smokiness, Chef Andrew Atkinson said. Chef Pete said that the soup had great balance of flavour, and that her stock had ‘beautiful body’.

Chef Benny was very ‘talkative’ on Twitter during the show last night, and made some funny comments.  He remarked on Khaya’s red lipstick, saying she was wearing it for luck!  He called Manisha the ‘Flavour Queen’ on Twitter too.  Chef Andrew’s blue shirt was criticised on Twitter, and once again many wrote that Khaya should have gone home, given that she did not know coriander from parsley.  Criticised too was that Ilse Fourie’s dishes rarely are featured, as happened last night.

It was Samantha that was sent home last night, and she was told that she can ‘cook with passion, and that no one can take that away from you‘. She said that she ‘will never forget any of it’!

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