MasterChef | The very best of SA and R18 000 worth of perlemoen! Behind-the-scenes secrets from S4

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The iconic clock on the new MasterChef SA set.
The iconic clock on the new MasterChef SA set.
Photo: Supplied/M-Net
  • MasterChef South Africa season four will begin in 28 February on M-Net (DStv 101).
  • "Dis baie lekker vir ons," says Producer Paul Venter of the new season that will showcase the very best in South African cuisine.
  • Here, we share what to expect from season four, as Channel24's Bashiera Parker visits the MasterChef SA set.

MasterChef South Africa returns on 28 February – and boy, are we in for a treat.

With new judges Zola Nene, Gregory Czarnecki and Justine Drake, and a particularly South African flair, producer Paul Venter tells me: "Dis baie lekker vir ons," as he shares a few secrets ahead of season four.

While on a set visit – we got to see the contestants cooking with perlemoen (that's secret number one, for you) – myself and a group of journos explored the new set at Makers Landing at the V&A Waterfront, before finding out more about what to expect as MasterChef SA makes its triumphant return after five years.

Here are five things we learnt during our chat with Paul Venter, new judge and chef, Gregory Czarnecki, and Content Producer Errieda du Toit.

The selection process and Covid-19

Paul Venter says: "We've got an exceptional group of contestants," as he tells me about the selection process this time around.

Around 1 200 people entered, questionnaires were given out, and after cutting the number down to 350, a Zoom interview was conducted with each and every one.

The interview, or rather, audition, required potential contestants to do a knife skill test, and from there, 40 were flown down to Maker's Landing in Cape Town for a warm kitchen audition with them in the kitchens there at the back. From those 40, a final 20 were selected.

When we visited the set, only 10 contestants were left standing. "They've been away from home now for two weeks. So if you say 'mother' or 'father' or 'child', they cry," Paul says, joking: "So it's a very good TV for us. But it's also an incredible experience for them."

So they had a fine dining takeaway box challenge, and then we got the nursing staff and the healthcare workers from New Somerset Hospital, and we gave them the feast of the takeaways to say thank you for the role they played during Covid. So it's a very feel-good South African, local [show], celebrating our local food culture in a huge way.
-- Paul Venter explains how MasterChef SA said a special thanks to healthcare workers amid the global pandemic

He says, initially, the contestants were in a "Covid bubble" with the crew, so to prepare them, they did many a masterclass, visited places like Jan's studio and Babylonstoren, before getting into the nitty-gritty.

Errieda would go on to speak about the contestants' very first challenge – the "blood against the wall" episode – but first, more on the contestants themselves.

Diversity

It wouldn't be MasterChef SA, of course, without the most diverse selection of contestants.

"From a marine scientist to a dentist, an art auctioneer, to Tasneem," Paul says of the contestants you can expect to see on the show.

"Tasneem is a fantastic candidate. She's got a heartbreaking story which we'll share on-screen with you. But she's from a very conservative Muslim family. So, fortunately, we are from Cape Town, we know the culture, and we made it a halaal kitchen for her – we had separate halaal fridges for her, and it was just amazing."

On making special provisions for this particular contestant, he says: "It was such an incredible learning experience for us, for the crew, for everyone involved. And it's fantastic to see it become natural."

You know, over the last two weeks, we've also learned to get to know the contestants, not just personally, but also like their style of cooking and what's their strength, what's their weakness. And funny enough, as much as we have the challenges and we know what's coming ahead, and we kind of see that this one is going to do well or this one is not, sometimes it's a complete surprise. It's just amazing to see how much they grew or how much they grow on every single episode; how they've become confident to get out of their comfort zone. It's always very exciting. Every day is like a new thing for us.
-- Gregory Czarnecki on judging season 4 of MasterChef SA
Gregory Czarnecki
Gregory Czarnecki on the set of MasterChef SA season 4.

Authentically South African

Again, this is MasterChef SA, so the challenges are very much focused on South African cuisine.

"We have to be unique. It doesn't help if we're here trying to do eggs benedict and pastas and pizzas," Paul explains.

I watched the contestants as they cooked with perlemoen
  • Paul Venter reassures the abalone was responsibly sourced from Hermanus.
  • One tin that stands in the pantry is R1600.
  • Each contestant got six abalones in total.
  • The total amount for the abalone used on set that day amounted to R18 000.

Some of the challenges will require the contestants to cook with perlemoen, as previously mentioned, afval and Rooibos.

The latter you'll see in the very first challenge Errieda speaks about.

"So the challenge was that they received, instead of the standard mystery box, they received a mystery tea caddy with Rooibos," says Errieda. "They received Rooibos in all its forms: green and dried and fresh leaves, and the seeds, together with a childhood photo of themselves. And they had to prepare a starter, which, with Rooibos, was already something completely different. They had to combine a childhood memory and infuse it with the tea.

"They had plenty of time, but I refer to it as the 'blood against the wall' episode because three had to go home. It was dramatic for them, but that is the start, and they had this chance to make a good impression. This is serious business."   

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