A TV screen at The Grand Cafe and Rooms in Plettenberg Bay that lost its picture just as MasterChef SA started was an exciting start to episode 9 last night, but the problem was quickly fixed when I was moved to another room.  The Finalists were sent around the world in the dishes that they had to create, sending four of the eleven Finalists to the ‘Pressure Test’, and leading to gorgeous Guy Clark being eliminated.

Each Finalist chose a country and with it a method of preparation, having 90 minutes to prepare their dish.  Not all Finalists were visible in this episode, and only some of the Finalists were interviewed and their dishes shown.  Sarel Loots chose Brazil, and decided to make a chocolate dessert, with custard, and mango, all elements steamed. His dish got raised eyebrows from Chef Benny Masekwameng. He was berated for not making something ‘more MasterChef’, to show his technique. The dish was said to be ‘not good enough’.  Thys Hattingh chose Morocco, and decided to make a pear dessert poached in a Nederburg wine, to criticism of Chef Pete Goffe-Wood, given that Morocco is a Muslim country.  With this he prepared a sweet couscous and cinnamon custard.  He said he has ‘dessert in his genes’, influenced by his mom.  He received the highest praise from Chef Pete, saying that it was ‘visually beautiful’, and that he would ‘pay a lot of money in a top restaurant for that’.  Chef Bennie liked the custard, calling it a ‘lovely dish’.   Samantha Nolan was proudly South African, and chose to make vetkoek and mince, with a peach chutney.  Chef Benny was critical of her spice choice for the mince, which included cardamom, chilli, cumin, ginger, garlic, and tumeric.  Her vetkoek was praised by him for its light golden brown colour and for being ‘perfectly made’, but her mince ‘let you down in having too many spices’.

Manisha Naidu chose to make an Italian grilled chicken with a basil cream sauce and a Parma ham-wrapped tomato. Her plating was praised, representing ‘Italy on a plate’.  Guy Clark chose the United Kingdom, and decided to make ‘pub food’, using a beer batter for the fish, and poaching all the elements of the dish, saying it was ‘worth the risk’. Chef Pete said that he could taste the beer in the batter and that the fish was perfectly poached. However the peas were ‘too mushy’, and the mash ‘lumpy’. Lungile Nhlanhla represented China, and had made deep fried tempura vegetables and stirfry, served with crispy duck.  Chef Andrew Atkinson said that the flavour was ‘absolutely fantastic’. Jade de Waal made mini bite size hamburgers, with fries and a home-made tomato sauce, adding a guacamole topping after one of the chef judges asked her about it. Chef Pete was very critical of the hamburger bun, saying it was ‘too dense and chewy’, but praised her ketchup, saying it was ‘superb’ and ‘the hero’ of the dish, but that the hamburger was not. Khaya Silingile wanted to show the versatility of flavour and technique, making a French inspired chicken ballotine with turned vegetables, ‘with loads of butter’ in her mash, making Chef Pete smile.  When he tasted the dish, Chef Pete said that it was ‘perfect mash’, and Chef Benny said it was a ‘lovely dish’.  She was praised for its ‘taste of Paris’.  Khaya was so excited that she said that she felt ‘tres magnifique’.  Deena Naidoo had prepared Asian baked fish with tempura prawns; Sue-Ann Allen a Spanish deconstructed paella with an avocado, corn and red onion salsa; and Ilse Fourie made a Mexican chicken and chilly pocket with guacamole, salsa,  and a spicy red pepper sauce.

The eleven Finalists were praised by Chef Benny, saying that the judges were blown away by their international dishes, and that they should be proud of what they had presented. They announced Khaya as the winner of this challenge, to which she responded in saying that she had reached ‘culinary heaven’, with Thys in second place, happy about the ‘pat on the back’ which he had received.  Their ‘prize’ was a Masterclass just for the two of them, by Chef Andrew with assistance from Chef Benny. Chef Andrew taught them to make Tagliatelle pasta, and a Putanesca sauce containing garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and peppers.

Samantha, Sarel, Guy, and Jade were sent into the Pressure Test, for their errors in making the international dishes. One of the Finalists would be sent home as a result of it, they were told. It was to be the ‘toughest and most complicated dish to be prepared so far’. They had to recreate Chef Andrew’s dish, being a Twice Baked Three Cheese Soufflé with a Waldorf salad, Onion Braise, and a Gruyère tuile, in 80 minutes.  They were told that a soufflé is difficult to make well, Chef Andrew saying that the ingredients, grammage, and oven temperature are crucial to its success.  One has to be gentle with a soufflé, in folding in the egg white. Guy started with the beetroot, then made the soufflé, the onions, and finished off in making the tuille.  He seemed to panic, and his colleagues watching from upstairs encouraged him to start from scratch. Chef Andrew said that Guy was ‘too heavy handed’ in making his soufflé, saying that it needs air when one folds in the egg white.  Chef Pete said that Guy had left out the apple and celery from the salad, and that the bacon had not been cooked properly.  Chef Benny added that Guy had not followed the recipe properly. Guy commented that one needs science to be a MasterChef, and that he had last had science at school!  Jade said that she could not faff around, saying that she would start with the onions, then moving onto the soufflé, ‘giving it my all’.  She got her ramekins in the oven too late, running out of the 20 minutes baking time required.  She admitted that she was ‘not up to scratch’, had ‘gone through the wall’, and just had too little time. She served her soufflé in the ramekins, to the surprise of the judges, saying that she ran out of time. When he removed it from the ramekin and cut it, Chef Andrew said that it had ‘not cooked through’. Chef Pete was very direct when he told Jade that she is still young, and that she still ‘has a lot more to learn’. Samantha said that a soufflé requires ‘precision work’, starting with her onions, putting her beetroot in the oven,  and then making the soufflé, which if one is not gentle with it could become a ‘flat-fle’!  She did not make the Gruyère tuile, having run out of time.  Her soufflé was praised for its presentation, looking very similar to that of Chef Andrew, but Chef Pete said that it was not ‘souffle  light’, and tasted more ‘cakey’.  Chef Andrew praised her Waldorf salad, saying that he thoroughly enjoyed it’.

Sarel immediately commented that he would have a time problem, in the recipe being three pages long.  He said this challenge was a ‘tough one’, and he didn’t make a cheese sauce, as he ran out of time.  Chef Benny said that the salad was very crispy, but that the walnuts had been ground, and not sliced as in the dish they had to replicate. Chef Andrew said that Sarel must have made many soufflés before, saying that his seasoning was right, and that he was happy with Sarel’s interpretation. The judges had observed the four Finalists at work, and commented that they were not starting with the soufflé, which worried them. All four of them ran out of time, and had to leave out an element of the dish. The four Finalists were praised for tackling the challenge head on. Guy was selected by the judges to leave MasterChef SA, and he was praised for his spirit and effort, and that he had showed glimpses of not giving up. Guy replied that MasterChef SA had given him a ‘doorway’ to his dreams. The remaining Top 10 MasterChef SA finalists were congratulated for having made it so far, and were told to ‘keep believing in yourself’.  Finalist Deena Naidoo said that they had been simmering up to now, but that they had now reached the ‘reduction stage’. Deena is the only MasterChef SA finalist to not have been in a ‘pressure test’.

For a second week running, the judges choice for elimination was questioned on Twitter, Jade’s soufflé flop having deserved elimination, it was felt.  It annoyed many Tweeters, and many threatened to no longer watch the show, given its loss of credibility.

POSTSCRIPT 19/5: Guy Clark’s ‘doorway’ to his dream to become a chef has come true.  He has been appointed as a Chef at the Madame Zingara group of restaurants, starting on Monday.

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