Pretoria - Not many of us will get the chance to try SAA’s business class menu devised by Chef Benny Masekwameng, better known as one of the MasterChef judges. In the terrestrial world he is executive chef at Southern Sun’s Mondo-Vino Restaurant.
When flying Air India for example or on Turkey’s national carrier, it’s their food I want to taste. What I don’t want is their version of European cooking. Hopefully this is the start of our national carrier proudly serving local cuisine.
That’s why I agreed (as part of a group of journalists) to try Benny’s menu and to check out his vision for SAA. Arguably the most popular local MasterChef judge, he is the one who seemed to best adapt to his new role.
There’s always that enormous smile and a bear hug. And, while he might not know your name, he certainly recognises familiar faces. He makes mental notes and engages with people, which in this fickle celebrity world is special.
Talking menu and food, Benny paid tribute to his mom, the one who most influenced his food. She dominates his food dreams and the journey that has brought him to where he is cooking up a storm today.
What does one serve up in the sky? “First one has a look at what’s available,” explains Benny. He’s kept it simple which is what shines brightest in the food we were served. With one of his main dishes, the fillet which he admits is not his favourite cut, but best to serve on this occasion, he included my favourite, braised spinach.
That’s also a mom special and he was happy to share the recipe, which is quite unusual in a world where secrets are often not shared.
It’s a mix of crushed cashew nuts, spinach and a spoonful of peanutbutter for extra creaminess as well as a touch of cream and a bite of chilli.
It’s flavoursome, has a local edge and can easily be recreated at home. Benny pays homage to his mother but also says it’s his version of creamed spinach. Add his mealie pap and corn cake topped with chakalaka on which the fillet is placed.
“There’s a little of the township steak and pap going,” says Benny, always chuffed to give a nod to his comfort food.
Speaking of that, he shares another secret. Late at night when he has finished in the kitchen, he’s off to a famous chicken outlet where he loads up on some greasy chicken.
“If any local chef denies that he packs in the unhealthy food, he’s lying,” says our confidant.
But at 37, fresh in this famous game, he’s still willing to share and talk about his best and worst food stories. A flash of that famous Benny smile, and he gets away with almost anything. “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t drink,” he says. “we might be friends, but we won’t be tight.” It’s as simple as that for this uncomplicated man.
My other favourites on the menu were the sashimi tuna salad with a refreshing lime and avo oil dressing, the beautifully prepared kingklip teamed with a warm deconstructed tribute to a salad Nicoise and his gorgeous desserts, an orange pecan nut pie, almost wholesome and very comfy and the lightest, smoothly textured, not too sweet, coffee cream mousse.
That’s actually all of it, the whole shebang, but that’s what’s good about the menu. He’s kept it uncomplicated with just enough tweaks to make it local and lekker!
And what would you ask Benny to make you as a snack surprise? A lamb curry toasted sandwich, say all those in the know.
Another secret he shares is that cheese is a relatively new ingredient for him.
“If you park a van with bright yellow cheese in Alex (where he grew up), it will be gone in seconds.”
But, if you did a similar thing with blue cheese, now one of his favourites, it would stand there for weeks! It has become staple for him and he has used it in his canapés which start the sky meal.
Johannesburg to London - Business class dinner menu
Selection of canapés
A choice of two appetisers to be enjoyed as a light meal or a starter.
Tangy chicken salad with mustard dressing, micro greens and Spanish cocktail tomato
Soup of the day
Seasonal salad offered with a choice of classic Italian vinaigrette and creamy yoghurt & herb dressing
Pan-fried beef fillet
Served with grilled mealie pap & corn cake, braised spinach with crushed nuts and butternut
Grilled chicken supreme
Accompanied by sautéed wild mushrooms, blanched butternut & broccoli florets and creamy sauce
Served with a warm salad of baby potatoes, green beans, cherry tomatoes and olives with a sour cream and dill sauce
Served with fried onion
Orange moist cake
Coffee cream mousse
A selection of fine South African cheese and crackers, served with South African port wine
Chevin, Blue Tower and Forest Hill cheese. - Pretoria News