Who will be our 2nd MasterChef? – Debashine Thangevelo

IOL Masterchef guys

 Having crossed the celebrity threshold with M-Net’s first season of MasterChef SA, Andrew Atkinson, Benny Masekwameng and Pete Goffe-Wood – seasoned chefs each with success stories of their own – return to their judges’ seats for the second installment, which starts on Tuesday June 11.

Here, they dish the dirt. on the secrets of the MasterChef kitchen…

ANDREW ATKINSON

Dont  be fooled by the disarmingly quirky-looking Atkinson – he cuts straight to the point with the hopefuls in season two of MasterChef SA.

When it comes to critiquing the food, he means business. Having cooked for former president Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles, former US president Bill Clinton (not that it is something he brags about, such is his professionalism), he has earned his judge’s seat and then some.

He does have his bursts of wittiness, which surfaced during our tête-à-tête, but did so without reneging on the confidentiality clauses he had signed.

Of his fellow judges, he says: “Look, myself, Benny and Pete get along very well on and off the show. We are totally different personalities. But that is the great thing about it and a great angle for the series.”

Unlike season one of MasterChef, where people who thought frying an egg was a skill arrived at the auditions, the “chancers” remained at bay for the second instalment.

Atkinson laughs: “All the non-foodies were weeded out. This season, we saw a lot more foodies coming through. Having watched the show, they realised what was expected.”

Given that most people arrive harbouring a dream and a love for cooking, he says: “I’ve always adopted the approach to give them their due credit. They are amateurs and it doesn’t hurt to give them a tip. If they were professionals, I’d judge them on different criteria. I always assess what their capabilities are and give them encouragement and show them how to do things if they are wrong and give them points on or off screen.”

As for whether there was a dish that was on the unforgettable side, he reveals: “Nothing that really grabbed me. But I will say they are passionate about their food and showed a lot of commitment. All were hungry to learn and experiment with food. They were a good bunch of contestants.”

Although the format is true to the MasterChef blueprint, with basic skills tests, invention tests, challenges, guest appearance by acclaimed chefs – some from the international gastronomic playground – the set has been given an overhaul to give the new season its own identity.

What’s his most important criterion when tasting?

“The bottom line is, good food is good food,” he maintains.

“Viewers will see the authentic South African in MasterChef 2. We are trying to breed our local culture of food and show the diversity, expertise and passion that makes it homegrown. So we are not trying to be over-clever.”

Atkinson explains how the senses work in unison for them in the kitchen.

“First, you would hear the food… the sizzle or crackling. Then you see it and the different dimensions, colours and textures. Your mind starts unconsciously picking up on the flavours. Then you smell it. When it comes to the taste – if you get all those things I mentioned right – then that is what I’m looking for.”

BENNY MASEKWAMENG

His childhood, with his mother’s modest catering business, often sees Masekwameng identifying with the yearnings of the MasterChef hopefuls.

This happy-go-lucky judge – a bit of a big teddy bear to those who know him – brings his own set of skills to the table.

The executive chef at Tsogo Sun, sporting a leaner physique, laughs: “It’s the diet. It’s something I got out of seeing Pete look all nice and trim. So I started a similar diet.”

Looking back on his journey with MasterChef, which introduced him to the medium of TV and what that entailed, he shares: “Everyone who was involved in season one, from production to the judges and the contestants, was learning. All on a different journey. I could identify with the contestants. I was also on that journey, discovering this side of me. I didn’t know how it would come across on TV. Everybody said: ‘Forget about the camera and be yourself’.I guess that came through.

“Growing up in Alexandra and having made it and getting so far in my career has made me relate to the humble beginnings of the contestants.”

While he navigates the trial and error phase of his TV exposure rather well, his propensity for perfection – more so after watching himself in season one – meant Masekwameng made a mental note of things he wanted to change and improve on.

Big on starter and main dishes, he confesses to not having the biggest sweet tooth.

Compared to last season, he says, with unmistakable confidence, the bar has been raised.

“In terms of the ingredients, presentations and texture, they (the contestants) learnt (from season one) and were well informed and the standard was raised, which was a pleasure. We saw creative dishes,” he shares.

But while 50 got the apron, it remains to be seen, once boot camp is over, how many will make the cut.

He does note that “understanding someone’s background” plays a role when critiquing their dish: “You will know their exposure and limits and where you will be able to help them improve their craft,” he explains.

“You might have a seafood challenge and someone from the township won’t have as vast a knowledge as someone who has grown up on seafood. So you give them feedback that will build and benefit them.”

From past observations, Masekwameng says common mistakes are contestants choosing the wrong cuts and cooking methods.

He also cautions: “Know who you are cooking for and what they want – not with your own preference.

“There is this preconception that African people like their meat well-done. That’s not true. Just knowing the right cuts and cooking methods will set you apart from any other chef.”

As for what will impress him, Masekwameng reveals: “I’m drumming this all the time in season two – know your ingredients and cooking methods. It will give you the tools to present food in the best way possible. Presentation plays a big part, but not in my books. I would say it is flavours and textures (85 percent) and presentation (15 percent).”

He confirms a nice bonus for viewers would be the educational element for lovers of food at home.

“MasterChef helps create a culture of cooking. Season two is for everyday folk. All the challenges and dishes are designed so anyone at home can cook them. And we use local ingredients found anywhere in South Africa – so you don’t have to import anything. You can get it at a local butchery, fishmonger or fresh produce store,” he points out.

PETE GOFFE-WOOD

I managed to nab Goffe-Wood a day before he jetted off to Europe. While he won’t be here when the first episode airs, the memory of this season’s shoot remains fresh in his mind.

This author of Kitchen Cowboys and Blues Restaurant – the Essence of Cape Town is renowned for his unusual take on dishes and is sought out for comment by popular lifestyle and food magazines.

A greenhorn in front of the camera, not that it ever showed, Goffe-Wood says: “My ‘television’ experiences had been mostly doing demos. So the experience (on MasterChef) was fantastic and a unique learning curve.”

He says enthusiasm is a great foundation: “You can teach them the process, but not the enthusiasm. People, you find, have a natural taste. If they can balance seasoning with taste, that is a talent. You either have it or you don’t. It also helps when you see someone who could potentially go very far.”

As for what sparks his interest as a judge, Goffe-Wood offers: “I am probably more about flavours, cooking skills and attention to detail.”

Although his two other “tasters” don’t always agree with his palate’s assessment.

“That is the beauty of having three judges. All of us have different backgrounds, which is good. We approach it differently. We are looking for different things in food. There is a balance. While everybody can’t like everything, we have a mutual respect for each other’s decisions. And we have become really good friends. And we can live with a two-to-one vote. We are certainly not going to throw our toys out the cot like Gordon Ramsay,” he says.

“We have had dishes where the chilli is unpalatable (to one), while another might find it perfect. So where do you split hairs on this?”

Goffe-Wood was in agreement with Atkinson on the standard being “significantly higher this year”.

“There are great people who are passionate about food – that is the common thread no matter the background.”

What’s the entertainment menu looking like then?

“We took cognisance of not making it look and sound the same from a décor perspective. So it doesn’t look like we carry on from where we left off. There was a conscious decision to take it to the next level.”

With two episodes a week (Tuesday and Wednesday), viewers will unquestionably be left salivating over the dishes while devouring the drama, tension and high-strung emotions that will surely boil over.

* MasterChef South Africa 2 starts on Tuesday June 11 on M-Net (DStv channel 101) at 7.30pm.

* The prize is R400 000 from Robertson’s, R100 000 for the runner-up; a VW Golf 7; a five-night stay at Maia Luxury Resort & Spa in the Seychelles (winner and a partner), with business class airfares and spending money, courtesy of Tsogo Sun; a year’s free shopping at Woolworths valued at R100 000, and a year’s supply of wine and a full sommelier course from Nederburg. – Tonight

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