Cape Town-120806-Martha Williams and Reza Mahammad cook a traditional Cape Town Babootie dish at the Hohenhort Hotel in Constancia-Reporter-Esther Lewis-Photographer-Tracey Adams

Cape Town - SA’s culinary delights may be tongue-twisters when it comes to Spice Prince Reza Mahammad’s pronunciation of their names, but he has enjoyed the taste they’ve left on his tongue.

Laughter, cheek pinching, adventure and glorious food have marked his journey through southern Africa.

UK-based Mahammad is filming Reza’s African Kitchen for the Food Network. The show will air on DStv.

He has filmed in Cape Town, Joburg, Durban, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia. His next stop is Mozambique.

If there is one thing Mahammad’s learnt, it’s that South Africans are a nation of food lovers.

“Food is what binds us together. It breaks down barriers,” he says.

The flamboyant celebrity chef spent a morning filming in the Bo-Kaap, before being schooled in the art of Cape Malay dishes at Cellars-Hohenort Hotel in Constantia. Head chef Martha Williams showed Mahammad how to make bobotie and smoorsnoek, and while he was a fast learner when it came to making the recipes, he was unable to master the pronunciation of the dishes’ names.

Mahammad pinched Williams’s cheeks and had her in stitches. Having fun and keeping the atmosphere light is important to Mahammad.

“We’ve had laughter every day of shooting,” he says

As with his other shows, he will put his own spin on the traditionally southern African dishes.

Mahammad, who has enough energy to power Eskom, says his head is full of ideas on how he will add his personal touch to the dishes he has tasted.

He started his African journey in the Karoo, where he was taught to make the local speciality, Karoo lamb. He then moved on to a farm near Oudtshoorn where he ate ostrich-neck casserole and samp, and likened the flavour to oxtail – pronouncing it a standout dish.

While in Durban, he cooked a vegetarian dish with Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi.

Mahammad says he met Durban-based MasterChef SA winner Deena Naidoo on an earlier trip to SA several years ago, when Naidoo was a contestant on the Spekko Rice Cook Idols. Naidoo took second place. “I told him to simplify his dishes,” says Mahammad.

Last year, Naidoo entered again and won first prize. Mahammad told him: “You know what, you’re going places.” When Naidoo entered MasterChef SA, Mahammad knew he would win.

In Joburg, he cooked with Xoliswa Ndoyiya, Nelson Mandela’s personal chef and although he wouldn’t give too much away, Mahammad says they prepared Madiba’s favourite dishes.

He describes Ndoyiya as an “extraordinary” person, whose life experience was one of many amazing stories he encountered.

Mahammad made his way to the Okavango Delta in Botswana where he was fascinated by the cooking methods, including making pizza in an anthill.

He says Zambia is lovely. There the chef cooked lamb dishes on the Royal Livingstone Express train.

It was while on the Zambezi River that he truly felt he was in Africa.

“We were gliding like we were moving through silk, it was mesmerising. The sunset in Africa is one of the best in the world. The twilight goes on for long, the lights and colours are unbelievable. You got moved, found a heightened sense of being,” he says.

Once he reached Lüderitz, Mahammad says it was like being on a lunar landscape. “When you see the sky and landscape, it’s like we’re on the edge of the earth.”

Among his highlights were diving for crayfish and oysters. And he ate traditional potjie dishes served with home-baked bread.

“It was wonderful to see bread being baked in the pit. I love that concept of burying your bread. The bread looked fabulous when it came out,” he says.

But the trip was not without its blunders. When packing his outfit for Lüderitz, he envisioned summery beach weather. So he wore a white linen shirt paired with white shorts, and didn’t take into account that he would be filming next to the icy Atlantic Ocean.

“It was freezing! I had to pretend it was a lovely summer’s day.”

With his trip almost at an end, the Spice Prince describes southern African food as rustic. “Food that looked awful actually tasted good. I was pleasantly surprised.”

Once the filming of Reza’s African Kitchen is complete, he plans to take a break for a year to create new recipes and ideas.

The show will air in the UK in November and is the first locally produced series commissioned by the Food Network.

It is being is produced by Rapid Blue, the company behind SA’s Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing and The Weakest Link, and is expected to air in SA early next year. - Cape Argus