WARNING: Spoiler alert
This week the MasterChef South Africa Top 7 found themselves on the tropical island of Mauritius, where they were met at the exotic food market in the capital, Port Louis, by 2012 MasterChef UK winner Shelina Permalloo – the first female winner of British MasterChef in seven years.
Mauritian-born Shelina introduced the contestants to typical Mauritian fare and explained that Mauritian cuisine is influenced by many cultures. “Because we’ve got French, we’ve got Chinese and we’ve got African influence, and you have India,” she explained, “and it would be absolutely typical to have a meal which has all of those inspirations in one meal.”
After their visit to the market Shelina invited the Top 7 to lunch, where she served them typically Mauritian dishes from her own cookbook, “Sunshine On a Plate”. The contestants were fascinated with Shelina’s experience on MasterChef UK as she could empathise with what they were each going through right now.
Shelina assured the contestants that now they that they’ve reached the Top 7, their lives have already irrevocably changed. “You’ll never go back to what it was before – you’ll always stay in food,” she said. “Automatically a few of us got a tear in our eye because it seemed a dream that was kind of out of reach and now it’s so close,” Vaalwater lodge manager Mel (25) admitted.
But the lunch also served another purpose, as Shelina was to be the guest judge the next day when the Top 7 faced their Mauritian challenge at the glamorous 5 star Long Beach hotel. Long Beach, a luxurious eco-resort, is headed up by General Manager Vladimir Scanu who also happens to be a Michelin-starred chef! With this level of expertise – as well as incredible natural beauty – Long Beach was the perfect setting for what lay ahead.
Gathered on the rolling lawns with the crystal clear ocean right behind them, Chef Reuben Riffel announced that the day’s challenge would be an Invention Test. “You’re going to cook a dish to honour this incredible place.” And Benny Masekwameng explained that the two least successful cooks would face off in an Elimination Challenge.
The contestants had free access to a beautiful open-air pantry set up for them on the beach and filled to the brim with lovely fresh Mauritian produce, and Mel and Durban train driver Roxi (26) immediately rushed for the limited stock of fresh prawns. Sipho decided to rather make her famous chicken biryani instead, and dental technician Abigail (38) also decided on a chicken curry, accompanied by Mauritian vegetables.
Penny felt that she had extra pressure on her because her family heritage is Mauritian. “So today I didn’t want to make anything that I’ve already made before, I wanted to kind of push the boat out a little bit,” she said, and she informed Benny and Shelina that she was planning to make a light octopus curry served with crépes.
Johannesburg life skills lecturer Philippa (48) was first up to present her dish at the end of the challenge, and she served a dessert of poached tomato with mascarpone mousse in syrup, with fresh and grilled fruits, which she said was inspired by the coral reef that hugs the Mauritian coastline.
Abigail’s dish was a chicken curry with deep-fried dahl puri, but she had problems with the puri and they didn’t puff up the way she had envisioned. Chef Reuben also complained that the curry was a bit dry, and not spicy enough.
Ian (49), the advertising consultant from Cape Town, served squid and octopus curry with roti and raita, and Shelina was impressed that he managed to cook the octopus perfectly in only sixty minutes.
Unfortunately the same could not be said of Penny’s octopus curry with crépes, which Pete said was like eating “curry-flavoured chewing gum.”
Roxi served a Prawn Rougaille with roti and spicy mazzavaroo and cucumber pickle, which Shelina loved, except that she thought the rougaille could have been reduced a bit more to intensify the flavours.
And last to present her dish was Sipho, who served chicken biryani with pe-tsai and carrot and coriander sambals. “I’m disappointed,” Shelina declared. “I wish you could serve me the whole pot that you cooked it in, because I want to eat all of it! It’s delicious!”
Sipho deservedly walked off with the Dish of the Day accolade. “I won something, on my own! I’m proud of myself!” she exclaimed. “In my mind after today there’s no doubt about it – I’m positive that I’m going to take it. I’m going to be the MasterChef winner 2014 South Africa!” she declared. “Hopefully!”
But unfortunately for two of her fellow contestants the day was less of the triumph, as the two Durbanites and best friends Roxi and Penny now have to face off in an Elimination Challenge.
“I think for both of us, if it were the one to send the other home, I think it would be fair,” Penny noted philosophically. “If anyone were to send me home it would be Roxi.”
MasterChef SA is broadcast on Thursday nights at 19:30 from 21 August on M-Net Channel 101. See the repeat on Fridays at 08:30, Saturdays at 14:30 or on Sundays at 12:00 on M-Net.