The knives are sharpened and our home-grown chefs are ready to show each other up in Food Network’s premiere of Chopped South Africa. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with the contestants at the first battle of the sexes episode…
THE INTERNATIONALLY acclaimed Chopped series has proved so popular in South Africa that the Food Network has commissioned a local format with celebrity chefs Jenny Morris, David Van Staden and Siba Mtongana as the three judges.
The irrepressibly funny Morris and stylish Mtongana are already household names on the channel with their respective shows, Jenny Morris Cooks the Riviera and Siba’s Table, so they are an easy fit for Chopped with Denvor Phokaners signed on as the presenter and Lindsay Venn and Rebecca Hurst as the guest judges.
The 10-part inaugural season opens with Leanne Galloway, Malebo Pila, Elze Roome and Ayanda Khumalo in a battle of the sexes challenge. Their skills are tested against the clock as they unpack their mystery basket to plate a three-course meal. However, each round sees someone’s head on the chopping block.
Galloway says she has wanted to be in the hospitality industry ever since she can remember.
She recalls: “We used to have family lunches every Sunday and, as soon as I could, I got into the kitchen and helped my granny whip up lunch. I used to love to help with family celebrations like birthdays and Christmas, setting the table and doing the décor.”
Galloway fulfilled her dream by studying hospitality management at Wits Tech and, after envying the full-time students, decided to further her studies with a diploma in professional cooking and baking at The Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch.
Currently in the employ of SilvaSale Events and Catering as an executive chef, she explains how she felt when she was approached for Chopped South Africa.
“My hubby and I always watch and enjoy Chopped. I was shocked and totally excited when I was asked. At first, I didn’t want to make a fool of myself on international TV, but my God, Mum was an inspiration and told me that we only live once and I should go for it. That gave me the confidence to say: ‘Hell yes, let’s do it.’”
She says she certainly felt the heat from fellow competitor, Pila.
She recalls: “I had these younger up-and- coming chefs rocking it around me. I was amazed at the energy I could see in them and was genuinely worried that they would kick my butt, especially Malebo. Wow, he was such a machine.”
Obviously, the kitchen is transformed into a pressure cooker environment, and, for Galloway, she learnt two things.
“I will never look at 20 minutes in the same way again and the whole mebos thing proved to be a real challenge for me – and I thought I had a good culinary background, especially with the traditional South African produce.”
That said, she managed to plate up chokka (squid) stuffed with crab and mebos.
On the judges’ response to her dish, she recalls: “The second dish was a bit challenging. I knew I had to soften up the shitake mushrooms and use that flavour to my advantage.
“I also wanted to do a simple dish and showcase the produce and local flavours in a fusion. But when chef David told me I could have shown more skill and effort, I will admit that stung and I wanted to prove to him I could do better in the next round if I got through.”
Meanwhile, Pila walked into the kitchen with the passion he has always harnessed.
Armed with a sense of humour, the former employee of SilvaSale Events and Catering says he was über excited to have the oppor- tunity to showcase his skills on the locally formatted show.
He notes: “It was always my wish to show the world what I’m good at.
“You know, it got a little hot in the kitchen, but I was enjoying myself as it is my passion. So I never really felt any pressure.
“Being on the show was a true test at speed. But, coming from that catering background, time management was a strong point. I always made the deadline,” he maintains.
At the end of the day, he managed to leave the judges smiling… of course, you have to tune in to find out for how long.
While Roome couldn’t be reached for comment, Khumalo, the executive chef at Emoyeni Conference Centre, reveals that he has a good 16 years of experience under his belt.
A fan of the series, he shares: “It felt good to be approached. I was like: ‘Wow, they chose me out of all the chefs around.’ It was a dream to be there.”
On going up against three formidable talents, he laughs: “I felt like I was in direct fire. However, it got me motivated.”
As for his learning curves in the Chopped kitchen, he notes: “I thought it would be much easier… but it was not with the time frame and the ingredients, some of which I was not familiar with as I spent so much time abroad.
“That was probably the main challenge for me.”
For his main course, Khumalo prepared a duo of pork and beef on putu pap, red wine jus and seasonal vegetables.
While each chef brought their skill and creativity to the table, their passion only got them through the door. The battle was to keep from getting chopped. And while the girls took on the guys, only one of them could take home the title and R40 000. But mum is the word until the local series debuts.
• Chopped South Africa airs on Food Network (DStv channel 175) on Wednesday at 9pm.