In a fierce culinary finale, 12-year-old Elissa Knighton-Fitt scooped the coveted title of Pavilion Junior Chef 2019 and claimed the prize package valued at over R100 000, beating hundreds of hopefuls who auditioned for the digital reality cooking show held at the Pavilion Shopping Centre this year.
Nine young chefs were selected by a panel of judges to go head to head in three cook-offs.
The winners of each of these showdowns then competed for the grand prize.
This year's finalists were Knighton-Fitt, Jessica Henderson and Riya Marimuthu.
The judges in the finale comprised The Pavilion General Manager, Nisha Kemraj, East Coast Radio Breakfast anchor, Darren Maule, SAFTA winning Uzalo and Lockdown star, Dawn Thandeka King, and multi-award winning television and film star, Leeanda Reddy.
Jessica cooked a lamb fillet wrapped in Parma ham and puff pastry and served with broccoli and green beans. In a “naughty” move, she also secretly made a chocolate fondant, which she hoped would get the judges attention and it did.
“This lamb is perfect cooked and the Parma ham seals in its moisture,” raved Maule about Knighton-Fitt's dish. “I really didn’t expect such a sophisticated dish from an 11-year-old. Your future is very bright.
“I love meat so this was a real treat for me,” gushed King. “I have to say, even I can’t cook as well as this.”
Riya opted to cook a vegetarian dish and hold true to her religious fast for the Hindu month of Purtassi. She cooked a vegetable breyani with dhall and a cooling raita.
“I cannot believe how much flavor you managed to pack into this dish,” said Reddy. “I’m not a huge fan of vegetables but I can eat all of this happily!”
“I love the fact that you held true to your religious convictions and kept your fast,” Kemraj commended the 12-year-old chef.
“It shows you have integrity and I love that. I also happen to love your dish – a lot!”
But in the end it was young Elissa who walked away with the title with her Moroccan lamb shank served with cous cous and grilled vegetables.
“I love lamb; its my favourite meat,” gushed Reddy, “and this lamb shank is cooked to perfection. It’s literally falling off the bone – it’s so tender and full of flavor.”
“I’m not really a fan of sweet things in a savoury dish, but the apricots and other condiments that you added to this dish really work,” said Maule.
“You showed a skill that belies your age. I expect a dish like this to be served in a Moroccan restaurant, not prepared by a 12 year-old.
Elissa walked away with a prize package valued at over R100 000 and includes a 7-night holiday for four in Mauritius, and a gas-electric stove and extractor.
The talented young chef said that her passion for cooking was ignited at an early age when her father gave her small cooking tasks in the kitchen
“When I was still very small my dad asked me to help him cut up some strawberries and that's when the cooking bug bit,” said Elissa.
“Since then I take any opportunity to be in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking just as much as I enjoy watching people cook and we love to cook as a family.”
Elissa says she’s inspired by chefs like Nataniel and Gordon Ramsay, but it’s her dad who is her personal food hero. It was him who taught her how to make the sophisticated dishes for both her victories in the competition.