On a day made for relaxing at the beach with a cocktail in hand, a line of hopeful contestants instead queued outside Cape Town’s Cullinan hotel with cooler boxes of all sizes, assessing each other nervously. MasterChef SA held auditions for its second season in the Mother City, Durban and Johannesburg and, if last week’s Cape Town auditions are anything to go by, this time viewers can expect even more passion, drama and culinary expertise.
“This show broke new ground for food and TV in South Africa,” returning judge Pete Goffe-Wood says of series one, which had the fifth highest viewership on M-Net. “It’s a fact that South Africans make for good TV.” The British MasterChef took the world by storm in 1990, but it was the Australian version, upon which our edition is based, that really made it a success. The contest became a reality show, and entrants are now expected to have gastronomic know-how as well as a personality with which viewers can identify.
A recipe for disaster … or success?
Cape Town’s hopefuls first entered the plating room, eight at a time, and it was here that the anxiety was almost palpable. They were expected to arrive with a dish that had been prepared beforehand and that was, for health and safety reasons, less than 12 degrees Celsius. Shaking hands frantically unpacked containers while MasterChef culinary producer Arnold Tanzer calmly looked on.
“The contestants get five minutes to plate up, but as long as they’re not actually still cooking at this point, that time limit is fairly flexible,” he explained. Some of the dishes, such as the rooibos tea-smoked ostrich carpaccio, looked spectacular, while others sounded downright bizarre: bacon-and-egg-flavoured ice cream, anyone? The allotted time passed quickly – too quickly for some, judging from the colourful words that slipped out! Calmer cooks posed with their completed dishes while loved ones took photos before heading back outside. The contestants had to move onto the next phase on their own.
From the plating room, they moved to the judging area, where the friendly judges, who were all selected from the South African Chefs Association (SACA), strived to put everyone at ease. That doesn’t mean it was a piece of cake, though. They knew which questions to ask and a few of the contestants were already flailing. One of the judges, executive chef Jeff Schueremans, expressed the importance of having basic culinary knowledge after one hopeful didn’t know the origin of sirloin, despite it being his favourite meat. He went on to explain that while culinary knowledge is not the be-all and end-all at this stage, it is an indication of how much passion an entrant has. Jeff also said that while he was thrilled with the quality of the dishes this year, he was disappointed that many aspiring chefs still failed to taste their food. “Over-seasoning is one of the biggest mistakes people make.”
The lucky ones whose dishes did impress breathed a sigh of relief when they finally heard the words they had been waiting for all day: “You’re through to the next phase”.
Pete explained that the difficult part would only start now. Those fortunate amateurs who could tell the difference between a salmon mousse and a tuna pâté now had to show off their star quality. The competitors went through two interview processes. The first gave them a chance to demonstrate their knowledge, while the second was filmed to determine how their personalities could relate on camera.
After a long day, contestants are now waiting for the phone call that could change their lives forever. Who will get the opportunity to show off their chopping skills and who won’t make the cut?
The second season of MasterChef SA will be aired on M-Net (DStv channel 101) every Tuesday and Wednesday at 19h30, starting from April 02.
By Lauren Goldman