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‘This was only the beginning,” says the youngest contestant in this year MasterChef South Africa Khumo Twala.
Her spunk and determination was quickly spotted and kept her popular in the series. She made the final 10, only to be ousted three weeks ago.
She still has to pinch herself to check whether it was all a dream. She entered on a whim, mainly because she was waiting before she put her plans into action. She was becoming a pilot, is what the 19-year-old was thinking. That was until she started cooking– seriously.
Most of her early years were spent with her grandparents in Atteridgeville where her grandmother was the cook of the extended family.
“I spent a lot of time sitting with her in the kitchen,” says Khumo. Her high school years were spent with her mom (a nurse) in Abu Dhabi and it’s here that she got to taste the cuisines of the world. “I had friends from every continent so visiting their homes I was fed their food,” she says about her adventurous palate.
But following her schooling, she took a gap year to look after her grandparents who were both ailing at the time and this is when she decided to take a chance on MasterChef – and got in.
“Every time I went a step further, it was a huge surprise,” she said. But she was also willing to take it on even if she felt unsure about her cooking. That was her weakness, she believes. “I’m not sure about my style of cooking and what I want,” she says. That’s what she set out to discover when she was participating in the cook-offs.
Perhaps not the ideal time to do it, but it did send her scuttling into the professional kitchens as soon as she left the show earlier this year when shooting finished. “I knew I’d better get some training,” she says, and found a cooking school in Pretoria willing to take her on even if she was late.
Part of the course is to spend some time in a professional kitchen and this is when Khumo approached DW-Eleven-13 in Dunkeld.
The chef, rated one of the best in the country, Marthinus Ferreira, didn’t know who Khumo was as the series hadn’t started broadcasts yet and he discovered her sudden chef celebrity on TV. “I wasn’t allowed to disclose anything so he was surprised every week as I sailed through,” she says. That’s the kind of girl she is. She wants to get things done on her own, and with her quiet confidence she does just that.
“It’s been a huge adventure,” she says. She is thrilled that her current kitchen experience has been such a good one. “He really empowers his young student chefs,” she says and she’s pleased to be learning about food pairing, something she didn’t know much about. She also knows that she’s learning and becoming a better chef every day. Again, it’s the kind of chef she wants to be that raises its head and will keep her searching for the time being.
Her interest is in South African cuisine and bringing it to the world. “We haven’t got it right yet,” she says. She acknowledges that many are trying.
Her penchant is for contemporary South African food. That’s the area she wants to explore in her food future. She wants to show tourists we have food that can move the world.
“It deserves to be recognised on the world stage,” she believes.
Back to her roots, she reminisces about her gran (who sadly died just before she could witness her granddaughter’s cuisine climb) who was someone who would always have a plate of food ready whether you travelled from Polokwane or town.
Khumo learnt from her that cooking wasn’t a chore. “It offers comfort and makes people happy.
”It’s not an age thing,” she says about being young, “it’s about pushing yourself and daring to to take it on.”
They test you, she explains. It’s that challenge that gets the mind going that she enjoyed. “It’s being creative all the time,” that’s what she loved.
And the people. “We were all very close,” she says. That last day, as they walked into the kitchen, Karen (Els) just took her hand, there was no reason, it was just a mothering gesture and is what Khumo remembers. She cried when Sanet (Labuschagne) left and while she and Amanda (Beck), who shared kitchen roster duty in the house, fought like crazy when working together, it was because they were so comfortable with one another. “She was like a sister,” she says.
A shy one, Khumo relished the warmth that existed between the contestants. She met the two sisters when they auditioned for their cold dishes and she can’t believe that they all made it so far together.
The judges all get a thumbs up but she feels she learnt the most from Pete Goffe-Wood because his criticism was so valid.
“He was so right with the things he said,” she says. But with all the judges, it doesn’t matter how much they growl, there’s a soft centre. “They suffered along with us,” she says, “they’re not at all the mean and angry men they seem.”
For the moment, Khumo is living her dream. She grew up in her Gran’s kitchen and knows that for young and old, food brings people together. “It makes us all happy,” she says.
A year ago she didn’t know who she was, but it has taken the contest to set her free and to find her feet – cooking. That, she knows, is her future. “Give me another four or five years to get there. This was only the beginning.”
I believe her.