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From invitation to victory: Essential Flavours’ Masterchef triumph

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By Milou Staub

When the Essential Flavours team received an invitation to a Masterclass Media Event, our excitement was off the charts. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to be part of the coolest TV cooking show ever?

In case you missed it, Season 5 of MasterChef South Africa premieres on SABC’s S3 from the 13th July, 2024. It’s a celebration of South Africa’s diverse flavours, powered by fresh ingredients from Pick n Pay. As the show’s sponsor, they’ve assembled 20 contestants from diverse backgrounds to showcase their culinary skills to judges like Justine Drake, Katlego Mlambo, and Zola Nene. Sustainability is key, too; leftover food is donated to charity, reflecting Pick n Pay’s commitment to reducing waste and supporting local communities.

Let me take you behind the scenes of this unforgettable experience. Twenty of us, from media, influencers, and the food industry, were selected to compete in this epic cook-off.

As the big day approached, nerves and excitement filled the air. I had recipes swirling in my head, preparing for whatever challenge lay ahead. Then came the twist; we weren’t cooking our specialities; instead, we faced a mystery box challenge!

Stepping into the actual MasterChef studio felt like entering a fairy tale castle. The meticulously arranged cooking stations, fully equipped with ovens and a well-stocked pantry, were nothing short of a dream. Behind the scenes, a dedicated team of 83 ensured everything ran seamlessly.

The mystery box challenge added an extra thrill. Opening mine revealed just two ingredients; a piece of steak and a bottle of wine. The task? Create a dish that pairs well with the wine’s tasting notes. I got the Durbanville Hills Chenin Blanc and opted for Asian flavours, a homemade sweet chilli sauce paired with a baby spinach salad dressed in soy and sesame oil. Delicious!

When the timer started, so did the chaos, but in the best possible way! Racing against time with judges closely observing was exhilarating. And let me tell you, five minutes in the pantry flew by like two seconds!

All the excitement and preparation paid off. Leveraging my experience with recipes and wine pairings from Essential Flavours magazine, I managed to make a winning dish. Yes, I actually clinched the top spot! It was undeniably one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Cooking for esteemed judges like Justine, Zola, and Katlego, and for Durbanville’s Hill Cellar Master Pieter-Niel Rossouw was surreal. Mark your calendars for the 13th of July; the first episode promises to be nothing short of epic!

And let’s not forget the unforgettable after-party. Pick n Pay sure knows how to throw a bash; mouthwatering appetizers, irresistible cocktails, and an electric atmosphere made it a night to remember.

Having stepped into the MasterChef kitchen firsthand, I now have immense respect for the contestants who brave the challenges of this reality TV cooking show. The pressure of the mystery box challenge, the intensity of the ticking clock, and the meticulous execution required to impress seasoned judges; it’s so much more real and demanding than it looks on-screen. The experience has deepened my admiration for those who compete, showcasing not only their culinary skills but also their ability to stay calm under pressure and deliver exceptional dishes. It’s a testament to their passion and dedication to the craft, and I now understand firsthand why MasterChef contestants are celebrated for their talent and resilience!

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