by Thinus Ferreira
The 20 contestants for the 4th season of MasterChef SA from across South Africa range from 19 to 49 in age, including a single mom, a marine biologist, a classical singer, an art auctioneer, a chartered accountant, a dentist from Durban and a "hamburgersmith".
The Covid-19 pandemic upended several of the MasterChef SA contestants lives. Some had to take time off to care for parents who got Covid, some had to change jobs, some lost jobs, and one lost her mom to the coronavirus.
Under the 20 contestants are a Muslim mom whose child is battling a rare disease, someone who taught English in China, another who worked as a marine navigational officer in China, an ad exec, a food blogger and even a software engineer.
Several list their grandmothers as their introduction and inspiration to making food and one even says her vintage Kenwood mixer is her best friend in the kitchen.
DStv subscribers will see them battling it out behind state-of-the-art kitchen counters at Makers Landing at the V&A Waterfront from 28 February at 18:00 in daily episodes from Mondays to Thursdays when the 4th season, produced by Homebrew Films, starts on M-Net (DStv 101).
Facing the culinary criticism of the new set of judges - local chef Zola Nene, international chef Gregory Czarnecki and food editor Justine Drake - the 20 will whip together the ingredients from mystery boxes and other challenges, work with imported as well as the best local ingredients, and try to beat not just the overhanging MasterChef SA clock ticking down the time, but each other.
The 20 new MasterChef South Africa contestants on M-Net are:
Signature dishes: Egg yolk and corn ravioli in a burnt butter and chili sauce with crispy basil leaves. Slow-cooked lamb ragu with butternut and goat's cheese stuffed gnocchi.
Favourite heritage food: Garlicky West Coast mussels with crusty bread. Karoo lamb chops on the braai with tomato salad and garlic bread.
A bit about: The quintessential foodie, Alicia has two passions in life: food and design. She's a self-taught cook who pursues food knowledge through every avenue from culinary short courses to devouring YouTube videos. Her main cooking style is modern Mediterranean.
A gifted food storyteller, Alicia enjoys the scientific side of food, researching techniques and creating food content. Watching her mother cook Greek fare and her grandmother bake has influenced her warm relationship with food. She believes that food and the effort you put into its preparation is love made tangible.
Andriette De la Harpe (33), entrepreneur, Cape Town
Signature dish: Carrot cake.
Favourite heritage food: Velvet pudding (fluweelpoeding), green beans mashed with potato.
A bit about: Charming and with an effervescent personality, Andriette is a classically trained singer who worked in the high-paced world of events. After her retrenchment in 2021, she turned to baking speciality cakes for a livelihood. Her grandmother's vintage Kenwood Mixer is her best friend in the kitchen and, having cooked since childhood, she loves being in the kitchen with her dad.
Italian food is her favourite and she enjoys experimenting with curries. A performer before the pandemic clipped her wings, the bubbly Andriette loves entertaining people and her motto in life is to bring joy to the table.
Charmaine Govender-Koen (39), self-employed, Cape Town
Signature dish: Lamb breyani – slow-cooked lamb, with garlic and ginger, turmeric, loads of whole spices layered in basmati rice.
Favourite heritage food: Sausage chutney, lamb breyani.
A bit about: With an infectious smile and strong personality, Charmaine is a self-taught cook who comes from a big Indian family in Durban. Cooking has always been an important part of her life, and after she married her Afrikaans husband Frikkie, she's been blending her Durban Indian food traditions with his.
She worked in food and beverage management, but lost her job due to lockdown. She has since started a business delivering her homecooked meals, a show of her sheer grit and determination. Referring to herself as an alchemist cook, she has a special knack for bringing a fresh, contemporary twist and some Asian flavours to the plate.
Dedre 'Didi' Stols (30), art auctioneer, Langebaan
Signature dish: Fish sauce caramel pumpkin puffs, soft Polish pierogi with sticky duck filling.
Favourite heritage foods: Waterblommetjiebredie, lamb curry bunny chow.
A bit about: As much as she loved being an art auctioneer and gallery manager on cruise ships, the pandemic meant Didi has had more time to indulge her first love – food. Her cooking style is bold – it's as complimentary as it is a juxtaposition of flavours.
A a child, she took out cookbooks from the library and while her free-spirited mother didn't cook, so the adventurous and creative Didi started cooking for the family aged just 8.
She is drawn to the various curries of Asia, the picante combinations of Mexico, the comfort of South African food, the techniques of Europe and the aromas of the Middle East. She is ready to make food her life. Her dream is to teach others to cook.
Signature dish: American-style smash burgers, infusing rooibos and fynbos flavours in his dishes.
Favourite heritage food: All things pap, for its versatility and that it is loved by diverse food cultures.
A bit about: Rebellious and light-hearted, James is this season's youngest contestant. Cooking since age 7, he attended culinary classes at Silwood Culinary School aged just 13. Inspired by South Africa's rich and diverse heritage, he loves open-flame cooking and describes his style as street food from different cultures.
Known for pushing boundaries, James is this season's lovable wild child. He dropped out of Stellenbosch University to pursue his culinary passion. James wants to use his privilege as a white South African to create opportunities for others.
Signature dishes: Cape Malay chicken curry, crumbed mushrooms.
Favourite heritage food: Chokka curry, boeber.
A bit about: As an HR consultant, Lisa loves working with people, and especially people happy with food. She wants to elevate Cape Malay cooking, adapted to the professional table and merged with what she knows and loves.
With positive energy and quite the orator, she started cooking at the age of 10, cooking alongside her grandmothers and her mother. The kitchen is her happy and safe space – she coped with depression and childhood bullying with her love of cooking.
A freestyle creative, she prefers to cook with what's at hand on the day, as her secret weapon is the ability to visualise and build a flavour profile in her head. Lisa has a love for fishing: she spends a lot of time on the rocks in her own special place, catching squid in the summer months.
Signature dishes: Spiced rooibos malva pudding with homemade gelato and crème anglaise, braised ox tongue.
Favourite heritage food: Umleqwa (hard body chicken).
A bit about: With almost 120 000 Instagram followers, Luyanda is a food influencer who sees creative plating and flavour development as her strengths. She cooks everything from African and Italian, to modern cuisines from around the world.
Cooking since age 7, the outspoken and independent Luyanda's real love for food was ignited by the sad loss of her beloved grandmother – cooking made her feel more connected to her late gran. Making food that is evocative and has heart, there is never a dull moment when she's on screen.
She previously made it to the semi-finals of My Kitchen Rules SA, and her greatest influence is Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, the first Michelin star chef who has put South African cuisine on the world stage.
Signature dishes: Chicken pesto pasta, his Pink Panther burger.
Favourite heritage food: Mogodu and Skop (afval/ sheep's or cow's head).
A bit about: Introverted and sincere, Masedi loves street food, saucy food and loaded burgers. He loves burgers so much, he started his own burger joint, Bun2Belly. He doesn't have a specific cooking style, and an aviator and gastronomer at heart.
Guided by a strong moral compass and with traditional values, he wants to fuse the African cuisine he grew up with with other cuisines. His greatest influences are chef and restaurateur Wandile Mabaso, entrepreneur and cook Tebello "Tibz" Motsoane, the late Lesego Semenya and Sven Ritz Mann.
Matthew Arnott (25), freelancer and former teacher, Cape Town
Signature dishes: Apple and pork belly risotto, lamb shank with gnocchi.
Favourite heritage food: waterblommetjiebredie, malva pudding with custard, brandy snaps.
A bit about: Cooking since age 5, Matthew combines his interest in other food cultures with comforting classics. Quiet but definitely not a wallflower, his cooking styles are mainly Greek and Italian, with some Middle Eastern and French influence.
Matthew began experimenting with different cultural flavours and cuisines as a teenager, but it's his recent experience teaching English in China that stepped up his game, as he learned to cook from the locals.
Known for preparing meals with thoughtfulness and care for his family and friends, his passion for cooking was reignited when he took a year off to care for his mother when she contracted Covid-19. It was she who motivated him to enter MasterChef South Africa.
Signature dishes: Coconut Panna Cotta, mango caviar, lychee sorbet and crumble, as well as pistachio crusted lamb, pea purée, fondant potato's and pan sauce.
Favourite heritage food: Savoury smoked butter chicken; Traditional milk tart.
A bit about: With his persona of "The Suited Chef", this suave gastronome is a self-taught cook who combines French techniques with flavours from around the world to create his unique dishes. Coming from an Indian male-dominated society that typically reserves the kitchen for women, Mohammed would like to smash the stigma.
Seemingly mild-mannered, he's an extremely driven perfectionist with a unique culinary persona. At age 8, Mohammed decided to secretly experiment and bake biscuits for the very first time, all on his own, in his bedroom with his little sister keeping watch. He credits his family as his number one culinary influence.
Signature dishes: Asian steamed pork dumplings, pan-fried chicken gyoza.
Favourite heritage food: Umvubo, imfino.
A bit about: Having worked as a marine navigational officer in China, the shy and reserved Onezwa is well-travelled, knowledgeable and wholesome. She moved back to Willowvale in 2020 to follow her dream of growing her own food, a passion that shines through on MasterChef South Africa and on her Instagram page, the Green Thumbed Fairy.
While working in China, she became quite the dumpling connoisseur, and she now excels at her own homemade Asian dumplings. A dedicated mother, Onezwa was inspired by her own late mother to fall in love with cooking, and she uses that skill and gift to reconnect with her mother’s memory and pass down the heritage to her young son.
Ontiretse ‘Onti’ Molloyi (32), digital marketing & communications specialist, Mahikeng
Signature dish: Five-spiced flavoured pork belly with parsnip puree and chips, pickled apple, fennel and cucumber.
Favourite heritage food: mogodu, samp (which she enjoys with pulled beef).
A bit about: Stylish and very lovable, Onti is a devoted mother of two who was encouraged by her children to enter. Her background in catering exercised her creative muscles, however, due to Covid she's back to a corporate job. As a mom who has to prep healthy and delicious suppers for her family, Onti is inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi's creative treatment of vegetables.
Her earliest memories are of being in the kitchen at age 10, helping her mom bake and that’s why baking is her first love. Influenced by French cuisine, her own vibe is more comforting Italian style. Although she now back in the demanding corporate world, Onti still finds time to offer weeknight online ‘cook-along’ sessions from her kitchen.
Signature dish: Asian-style mussels cooked over monster heat in his fragrant broth and served with crispy fried onion and heaps of parsley.
Favourite heritage food: Smoorsnoek, bobotie.
A bit about: Passionate, driven and one who thrives under pressure, Shawn has been cooking since childhood. As his mom was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, he and his siblings had to help with chores around the house, and he gravitated towards the kitchen. His food fuses Middle Eastern and Asian styles, pushing the boundaries of the ingredients.
A proud family man, Shawn cooks for his family and friends daily, and he shows tenacity and hard work in the competition. Well-rounded and balanced, Jamie Oliver is his greatest food influence.
Signature dishes: Beef lasagne from scratch, making his own patties and brioche buns for burgers.
Favourite heritage food: Pap, lamb stew with spinach or cabbage.
A bit about: Previously working as an activations manager and now a content creator, Sli is the soft-spoken gentle giant loved by everyone. A fan of MasterChef Junior and British TV chef Gordon Ramsay, he entered the competition to prove to himself that he can take on challenges and learn from different experiences.
The shy Sli's style of cooking varies between African, Italian and American.
Sli's memory of food and cooking goes back to chopping vegetables for his mother in early high school – it went from being a chore to something that he really loved doing. Winning MasterChef SA would put a stamp on his passion for cooking: he wants to travel the world to explore different cuisines and grow his palate.
Signature dish: Homemade ravioli filled with pumpkin and pork mince (created with his Gogo's secret spice mix).
Favourite heritage food: Samp and beans.
A bit about: A morning person known for his love of baking, Sims entered MasterChef South Africa to convince himself and his family that he should pursue an education in culinary arts should he make it to the Top 5.
Inspired from childhood by his grandmother's cooking and baking, his Gogo enrolled him in a baking class at church where he was the only male to attend. But rather than open up the bakery of his boyhood dreams, he bottled up his love for the kitchen and studied mathematical statistics. His high energy and good vibes are infectious, and he keeps his ready smile throughout the highs and lows of the competition.
Signature dishes: Greek lamb with skordalia, fresh hake with rustic mash and green beans in anchovy butter.
Favourite heritage food: Vetkoek with butter, apricot jam and boerewors; krummelpap with a smoorsous.
A bit about: The self-confessed cavalier cook previously worked as a food stylist and her goal is to let food taste as good as it looks. Sylvie sees herself as a food version of a musician playing by ear – she can cook by taste. Her default is Mediterranean and French cooking.
Describing her food style as "gonzo", cooking has always represented freedom and self-sufficiency for Sylvie. Growing up, she used to come home from school and cook things up for herself. Her heroes include Anthony Bourdain, British chef and restaurateur Marco Pierre White and South African chef and restaurateur Karen Dudley.
Signature dish: Harissa lamb ribs, peanut butter and banana profiteroles.
Favourite heritage food and flavours: Rooibos for its versatility, traditional chicken stew with amandombolo.
A bit about: A researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council, the adventurous and bright – yet zen – Tarryn is happiest when she's feeding people. Although she's a self-confessed messy cook, being methodical and detailed helps her remain calm under pressure. Tarryn is a self-taught cook with a rustic style of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine mixed with South African.
Her food heroes are French chef and restaurateur Alain Passard and the late chefs and authors Lesego Semenya and Anthony Bourdain. An introverted academic, she is an engaging storyteller, especially on food’s connecting power. She has a tattoo of ramen on her arm.
Signature dishes: Liquorice Sojee – a dish that involves turning a classic Indian sweet dish into a new creation using deactivated charcoal and liquorice for flavouring.
Favourite heritage food: Baked beans bunny chow and Gatsby.
A bit about: Kind, and with a very touching story and interesting approach to her heritage cooking, Tasnim describes her cooking style as Indian-fusion home cooking. Her strength in the kitchen is her ability to balance spicing and creativity when it comes to creating fusion dishes.
Having lost very close family members to Covid, including her mom, she entered MasterChef SA as a way to honour her mom. As very observant in her Muslim faith, she contributed to the Halaal guidelines for the MasterChef SA pantry. She found comfort in cooking and baking after her eldest daughter was diagnosed with the rare disease, Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
Signature dish: Wild mushroom Samp risotto with beef medallion, balsamic reduction and lemon juice dressed microgreens.
Favourite heritage food: Umphokoqo with amasi, amanqina enukhu (chicken feet).
A bit about: Multifaceted, intelligent and inquisitive, Tembisa is as passionate about people-centric biodiversity conservation and transformation, as she is about being in the kitchen.
Cooking since age 10, the tenacious nonconformist who grew up in Dobsonville and in Eastern Cape, has fond memories of her beloved late grandmother through food. With a rustic cooking style and using only seasonal ingredients, Tembisa enjoys cooking African, Italian and Asian food, and has great respect for the ingredients just like her inspiration, TV Chef Jamie Oliver. She prepares home-cooked meals and shares them on her Instagram page, tembisa_cooks.
Besides being a scientist and a foodie, Tembisa is also a filmmaker and she recently won second runner-up in the Yale University Environment 360 Video Contest for her multi-award-winning short documentary film titled Ulwandle Lushile. She holds a master's degree in marine biology from Rhodes University.
Signature dish: Butter chicken ravioli.
Favourite heritage food: Curry with dhal and rice; hot, freshly made chilli bites with a cup of tea.
A bit about: Sociable, convivial and every contestant's best friend, Dr Harri loves his job and especially its social aspect. Easy-going and with a sense of humour, his fun nature doesn't take away from the fact that he's very serious about his cooking. For him, cooking is a welcome relief after a demanding work day.
Very confident in his skills, Dr Harri’s style is true to his South African Indian roots. He also enjoys the Italian way of cooking, with its fresh flavours and ingredients well suited to his own approach that "the less fuss, the better the food will taste".