On the eve of the opening match of the FIFA World Cup, I attended a private screening of the Russia vs. Saudi Arabia match hosted by DStv in Sandhurst, Johannesburg.
Chef Lentswe, host of the popular Africa on a Plate TV series, was commissioned to curate a dining experience for the evening’s guests, which included celebrities Nomzamo Mbatha, Kwesta and Somizi.
I had a chat with him in the kitchen as him and his team went about preparing an explosive culinary experience for guests.
“So today I was asked to do a menu that celebrates not only South Africa, but also Russia because obviously the World Cup is in Russia. So we have a menu of two select items that are Russian, and the main one I want to talk about is the borscht soup. When I was doing my research I found that if you want to call one thing authentically Russian, borscht soup is really out there. It’s a soup of loads of beetroots cooked with loads of vegetables. We’ve just tweaked it a little bit by adding some beef to it that‘ll add some nyama (meat) factor to it.”
One of the South African dishes on the menu he’s very proud of is the samp. “How we normally cook it is you boil the hell out of it and you add some roasted bones later on to get that sauciness. I think with my being a professional chef, there needs to be a level of ‘what am I doing to uplift the meal?’. The best way I thought about doing how do I uplift it is comparing it to risotto - I love risotto.”
“I love that it’s so simple and you can get it wrong. And I love the fact that you finish it off with loads of butter and loads of parmesan cheese. We also add some wild mushrooms in there, loads of parmesan cheese and butter. I hope it’s gonna be a winner.”
One may perceive having to integrate the Russian theme with our unique South African flavours as being quite challenging. But Chef Lentswe didn’t see it that way.
“It wasn’t really that hard. My budget allowed for me to be imaginative. Caviar and vodka -- everyone knows that about Russia, but that’s simply paying a lot of money for a high commodity item. I wanted to test myself and my skills.”
The Russian fans that presenter Minnie Dlamini brought back with her following from Moscow to enjoy the WC in South Africa entered the kitchen as Lentswe was preparing the soup.
After tasting the soup, they offered their take on it and approved of the direction he was on. I then asked him how much trial and error has been part of his preparation in trying to perfect this particular dish.
“It’s my first time making this borscht soup. I just trust that I can follow a recipe and also I’ve been reading people’s comments about it and with all those little titbits I know how to rectify when I’m making it.”
The chef and his team went on to do food demos during the evening as part of the entertainment. They also served tripe pops, local cold meats and cheeses and the delicious main of wild mushroom samp risotto. All of it was absolutely divine.