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Chef takes African culinary safari

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A TRULY AFRICAN EXPERIENCE: Reza Mahammads travels across the African continent left him marvelling at the ingenious ways people use their surroundings and produce to create the most tantalising dishes, in his Food Network show, Rezas African Kitchen. Picture: �Food Network

Reza Mahammad, better known as the Spice Prince of India, gets a taste of Africa in his new show, Reza’s African Kitchen, on Food Network. Debashine Thangevelo enjoyed a tête-à-tête with the flamboyant celebrity chef, who spoke about stepping out of his regal comfort zone this time around…

FOOD Network’s celebrity chef, Reza Mahammad, is a frequent visitor to our shores. In fact, he has been seen many a time at the various annual Good Food & Wine Shows around the country.

Some might say it was predestined that he would shoot his next cooking series after Reza, Spice Prince of India, in Africa.

“I have gone to extraordinary countries and have seen things for the first time. The first show was about food and travel, which I love doing. Because I have such an extraordinary relationship with South Africa, it seemed the obvious route to also explore the neighbouring countries,” he smiles.

Having arrived on Monday to launch Reza’s African Kitchen, the colourful chef exuded a surprisingly energised disposition. Then again, it is this infectious and bubbly behaviour that has endeared him to hordes of fans around the globe.

For his latest show, he visits the Western Cape’s West Coast, the Karoo, Durban, Joburg’s inner city, Botswana, Zanzibar, Zambia and Namibia.

On the feel they were aiming for with Reza’s African Kitchen, he says: “The Indian culture here has a very rich legacy with food. It was interesting to see how they make their curries. They use a lot of spices which have been ground as well as various concoctions. I’m more used to using whole spices. And we (back in the UK) don’t have such intense flavours as we use a few ingredients.

“Overall, it was fascinating to learn about different cultures and cuisines.”

He continues: “The format involved travel, visiting different areas where people made some fascinating dishes. For example, when I was in Botswana I was amazed to see these wonderful girls cook in an anthill – making pizza – which is quite an ingenious way of using the local surroundings and produce and making the most of it.

“In Zambia, the use of water lilies and reeds from the river to prepare seafood in a potjie was remarkable.”

Although Mahammad has a wealth of experience in the kitchen, he also picked up a few tricks of the culinary trade with this series.

“I did learn some things, like with the water lilies – I didn’t know you could eat that. It looked like poppy seeds,” he marvels.

In gaining a better understanding and insight of African cuisine, Mahammad added his own twists to things.

His travels to Zambia led to him making an Indian-spiced fish pie in response to sous chef Anuj Ovalekar’s Indian-influenced lamb dish.

The loquacious chef says: “When I was in Zanzibar, which is a spice island, they were fasting for Ramadaan. I tasted this squid dish with coconut and lime, which is very, very simple, but delicious. I then made a calamari salad – using the core ingredient of squid – with mint and coriander.”

Interestingly, he crossed paths with last year’s MasterChef SA winner, Deena Naidoo, who also doubled as his guide in Durban.

Mahammad recalls: “We were supposed to make the sardine run. Well, as we learnt, nature doesn’t work with the shooting schedule. We did see about 2 000 sardines. I think it may have been that we were there either at the beginning or the end of the run. So we cooked sardines with Deena on the beach. I did a take of what he did and served it with a peach and radish salad. Even with the bunny chow I put a spin on it with a brioche duck bunny chow.”

Aside from including nuggets of history in the series, there were several occasions when he whetted his appetite with uniquely South African dishes. He shares one of his unforgettable experiences.

“I met up with Xoliswa Ndoyiya, who is Nelson Mandela’s personal chef. Her story was amazing. And the food she prepares is always with so much love. I remember eating her samp and beans, which I’m told is his favourite dish. It was quite extraordinary. And it inspired me. I think she used lots of butter, as it was very creamy. I don’t think we have that in the UK, so I used borlotti beans and chick peas. And I added a few spices to it and it worked. She also made a very simple chicken dish with mayonnaise. It came out like a hot coronation chicken – one of those colonial dishes in the UK.”

Unlike his regal exploits in his first series, Mahammad got his hands dirty and truly stepped out of his comfort zone this time around.

He laughs: “The previous show was more luxurious. This one is more down to earth. In being taken out of my comfort zone, I discovered the full spectrum of what I’m able to do and the joys of using pomegranate molasses.”

In a nutshell, the Spice Prince soaks up the diverse African cultures and cuisines before adding his own flavour to ensure Reza’s African Kitchen whets the home-grown appetite.

• Reza’s African Kitchen will air on Food Network (DStv channel 185) on weekdays from March 25 at 11.50am and 5.15pm.

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