Newsmaker – Kamini Pather: Trust the skinny chef

2013-09-16 10:00

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MasterChef SA winner says out with imports and in with veggies, local food

Forward with the food revolution is Kamini Pather’s battle cry.

We meet the day after her win, but not really. The 30-year-old has known since February – when the show wrapped – that she was MasterChef SA’s season two winner.

But nothing could have prepared her for the reaction she has received since Wednesday night’s final on TV.

“It was a great secret I kept. Last night, my phone was crazy and my friends were surprised to see me win and they never knew because I couldn’t tell them,” she said.

“I’m surprised by the vast enormity of the reaction on Twitter and Facebook. Amazing. It’s been a great experience. While I have known of my win for a couple of months, it’s only real now.”

Pather made a lobster tagliatelle with a creamy fennel sauce for the mystery-box challenge; a chicken terrine with chicken liver mousse and crispy chicken shards for the invention test; and a choux pastry éclair filled with peanut butter ice cream and topped with glossy pomegranate glaze, an orange reduction, warm pomegranate jellies, a pliable chocolate rope and candied orange peel for the pressure test.

She scored 89 points and her runner-up, Leandri van der Wat from Mahikeng in North West, earned 83 points.

But it was Pather’s decision to make pasta using self-raising flour that had furious foodies gasping in shock over social networks.

She explains: “The issue with self-raising flour and pasta is that it’s a raising agent. If it’s not rolled out thin enough when you put it in the water, it could expand – you could end up with little sausages of pasta. I knew that.

“So I rolled out the pasta super thin and it worked out fine. Yes, I’d do it again. It goes against all traditional methodology, but that’s all I had. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

An unfortunate expression for a cook.

Pather says she wants to use the platform she earned on the show to change the way we eat: Out with imported fare and in with seasonal veggies and local produce.

It struck her once while making Beef Wellington, Yorkshire pudding and eggnog that her menu was at odds with South African conditions.

“We’re in Africa, that’s not our Christmas,” she says. “It’s healthier to eat food that is in season. And there is a lower carbon footprint if you get them locally and not through imports.”

Pather’s food dream doesn’t involve owning a restaurant – like last year’s winner Deena Naidoo – or writing a cook book. Instead, she wants to rewrite the rules and get people to trust the skinny chef.

“The skill set I have can’t be used in a restaurant. I have a product idea that will get people back in the kitchen and I think that will work with a blog or some kind of online presence and perhaps a TV show,” she says.

“I know I’m being vague but it’s all these ideas that are up in the air. We’ve had chats, but nothing is set in stone.”

Pather, a BCom graduate, an avid jogger and a yoga practitioner, wants to remain in Cape Town, where she moved from Durban eight years ago.

“The food world is based in Cape Town,” she says. “I waltzed through the streets, got my ear pierced on Long Street and just knew I needed to be there.”

Her favourite dinner party menu features spatchcock chicken, because it cooks quickly and evenly and allows her to be the life of the party in the dining room.

“You lift the skin and put in ricotta, fresh thyme, garlic and some lemon underneath. It’s amazing and super easy.”

Pather swears by cardamom, a spice she uses in savoury and sweet dishes. Salted caramel and peanut butter are her guilty pleasures.

No fan of fattening carbohydrates, she regards starch as the enemy on our plates.

The only thing she doesn’t eat is sun-dried tomatoes. Being served some leathery ones in the past have kept her away.

Pather, a freelance food writer and photographer whose work has been published in City Press’s iMag, counts Cape Town eateries El Burro and Jason’s Bakery among her favourites. Joburg’s The Attic and Salvation Cafe and Durban’s The Corner Cafe and Freedom Cafe are up there too.

She will be able to eat out more often after winning MasterChef’s R400 000 cash prize and a speedy VW Golf 7.

She jokes that she’s auditioning for partners for the five-star Seychelles holiday she won. No fatties allowed.

“A six-pack is essential,” she winks.

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