MasterChef was ‘life-changing’

2013-08-26 00:00

LIFE for MasterChef South Africa contestant Joani Mitchell has changed out of all recognition since she departed from the show.

Not only has she started a range of cooking classes, but she’s also catering for private dinner parties and has put together a range of food-related corporate gifts, which includes biscuits, vinaigrette, olive oil, fudge and nougat.

“It’s been crazy,” Mitchell, who lives in Woodbury Avenue, La Lucia, said. “I’ve been doing cook-offs, cooking demos and I’ve just been offered a book deal, which I am so excited about. They’ve given me carte blanche and I have a really nice budget for it.”

Mitchell is also looking forward to having the chance to cook with her food hero, Jackie Cameron, the head chef at Hartford House in Mooi River, at the Oyster Box on August 28.

She met the dynamic young Midlands chef on her final day in the MasterChef SA kitchen when Tiron Eloff went head-to-head with her in a cook-off to win the cooking show’s coveted immunity pin.

“She stands for everything I would like to achieve,” Mitchell said of Cameron. “She’s young, dynamic, has achieved so much, uses local produce and is so humble. Can you believe she sends me messages every few weeks!”

Mitchell was born in Mozambique, but the revolution in that country forced her parents to send her to school in South Africa. Later the family moved to Pretoria and then, when Mitchell was 11, they headed to Durban.

She attended Northlands Girls High School, matriculating in 1983, and then went on to study fashion design at the Durban University of Technology. After doing her honours she worked in the industry and also lectured at her alma mater for seven years.

Right now, however, it’s her love of food that is taking top priority.

Mitchell said: “I grew up in the kitchen. My mom is a phenomenal cook and I think my love of cooking comes from her. I think she is an untrained chef of world calibre. I remember being about four and sitting on the floor mixing some concoction that she asked me to mix.”

Another strong food memory is being at a boarding school at a convent in Nel­spruit. “The nuns were horrendous and the food was so bad,” she said. “We would get beaten with a cane if we didn’t eat the food, so I would keep the food in my cheeks and then spit it out later. I was there for about three years from the ages of five to eight and even though I was very young, I remember thinking that I knew what I didn’t want to eat.”

Married for 27 years to husband Rory, who works in construction, she is a mother to two boys, Kyle and Bruce, and surrogate mom to Sharks U19 Academy players Stefan Ungerer, from Pietermaritzburg, Bart le Roux, Jean-Luc du Plessis (son of the legendary Springbok Carel), Neil Maritz and Gideon Koegelenberg.

“I had a guest house for 19 years and in the final year that I owned it I got a contract with the Sharks Academy to house its young players … I am in charge of their wellbeing and nutrition,” she explained. “After we built our home in La Lucia, I opened it to players from the Sharks again. It’s a permanent feeding system, so thank goodness I enjoy it.”

Mitchell had to hand in her apron after the bobotie she made in her elimination challenge failed to meet the expectations of judges Pete Goffe-Wood, Andrew Atkinson and Benny Masekwameng.

Asked to reflect on her MasterChef South Africa journey, Mitchell says a key ingredient to succeeding on the show is emotional strength.

“I think it’s even more important than cooking ability. We were all good cooks. While I was on the show I was scared the whole time. I really lacked self-belief. You wake up in the morning and think: ‘What are they going to throw at me today? It’s scary, that whole uncertainty. Even when we were doing the challenges they would change ingredients in the pantry, so you couldn’t really plan ahead for the five-minute pantry runs.”

Asked if she had any regrets, Mitchell admits she would have loved to have gone to Ethiopia — they left the day after she was eliminated — and that she had been more confident in her own abilities.

“I wish I had had more fun … I took it all way to seriously, so I missed that side of the journey. Watching it now I wish I had backed myself more. I’m very self-critical, but looking back I can see that I am very able,” Mitchell said.

“That said, it has been an amazing ride. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m really passionate about food and am happiest when I’m in the kitchen cooking. I love cooking, baking and feeding people. It’s such an ego boost when people tell you that they love your food.”

• MasterChef SA is broadcast on

M-Net at 7.30 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

• Catch up with Joani Mitchell through the Facebook page MCSA.JoaniMitchell or check out her food blog — www.joanismeza.wordpress.com

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