Age is nothing but a number


She might be young, but she knows how to cook . . . Last night Khumo Twala (19) survived an elimination challenge that would have had many trembling in their boots. The complex dessert of liquorice and litchi was set for the quintet up for elimination by one of South Africa’s most accomplished chefs, David Higgs from the acclaimed Five Hundred At The Saxon restaurant at Johannesburg’s Saxon Hotel.

“We have a litchi sorbet,” chef Higgs explained, “We have a liquorice macaroon. We have a litchi panna cotta. And then just a little swipe of liquorice on the plate and a black bread crumble.”

The dessert led to Herman and Mary having to hang up their aprons and leave the kitchen. But the young Khumo still stands strong and we asked her a few questions about her journey so far . . .

How did you feel when you got into MasterChef SA?

I was shocked, overjoyed, relieved, excited, nervous and most importantly I was proud of myself. I just couldn't believe it. It felt like a dream. I knew that I loved to cook, but I never expected my cooking to get me chosen over thousands.

What is it like being the youngest contestant on the show?

Being the youngest is a challenge. People tend to underestimate me due to my age, which frustrates me. I believe I've done enough to prove that my age has nothing to do with it. Talent is a gift, and I've been blessed with this wonderful gift. I sometimes wish that people can overlook my age and actually concentrate on what is more important, the food . . .

On the other hand, I have young girls telling me that they want to be like me, which is not what I expected. Being so young I'm still trying to figure out who I am. Doing so and being an inspiration to someone is just mind blowing.

What is the dynamic like between the contestants?

We are 16 different people, with different lives, backgrounds and stories, but when we are together we are just one big and happy family. Sometimes God puts us in situations not for the reasons that we think. Sometimes I just say that maybe I entered so that I could make 15 new friends. No matter what the outcome is, we will all remain good friends. I love them to bits!

What has your favourite challenge been thus far?

I think the pressure test with David Higgs has been my favourite. It pushed me to a limit that I didn't think I could reach. I was completely out of my comfort zone. That plate of food was so intimidating I was literally scared of it . . .

The result I got from that challenge was something I needed for my confidence. I always doubt myself, and having people like chef David Higgs tell you that you are a good cook, that is something I will never forget. It’s something that I can take after this competition and use for the rest of my life. I am so honoured!

Who is your favourite judge and why?

Pete Goffe-Wood, definitely!  In terms of cooking styles, I really like what he does with food and his choice in ingredients is excellent. Throughout the competition I felt that he was the most encouraging. People see him on television and think that he is a rude and mean person. I, on the other hand, felt that he gave the best constructive criticism . . .

How does cooking make you feel?

Cooking makes me happy and keeps me sane. When I cook I get into this zone where I'm one with the food. I love it. You know what the best thing is? When you come back from school/work and you cook yourself a fantastic meal, all your problems just disappear. A yummy warm meal followed by a luscious dessert . . . How do you not feel happy?

You went to high school in Abu Dhabi, where your mother lives and works. How was it going to school there and what was the food like? 

My mother, Lebo, has been in the Middle East since 2001. When I was 13, we both decided that it would be a good opportunity for me to live in Abu Dhabi too. I made friends with people from all corners of the world, South America, Oceania, Asia, you name it . . . This is when I started experimenting with different food and different food cultures.

While I was there my favourite things to eat were Thai green curry (from a mall down the road), shwarma, falafel, lamb chops and a mix grill (from a restaurant below our apartment), a Filipino bread called pandesal and my all-time favourite seafood (from a restaurant called The Fish Market).

What did your Gran teach you about food?

Growing up I had a wonderful grandmother, Aletta, who enjoyed spoiling everyone with food. She was well-known among our friends and family for her excellent cooking skills. As a young kid I never bothered to capture some of that skill ? I was more interested in eating ? which I highly regret.

As I grew older she became ill. By the time I fell in love with cooking it was too late for her to teach me anything. I'm thankful for the memories I have because I can attempt to re-make some of her recipes.

The last meal I had with Grandma was the night before I left for the MasterChef kitchen. She unfortunately fell very ill and later passed away. She may not be here physically but we all know that her soul will remain in our kitchen.

Oh and by the way, Grandpa's samp mealies deserve a mention too.

What is your biggest dream still?

Somewhere down the line I wish to meet my food hero, chef Gordon Ramsay, and to someday open up a restaurant. I believe that I'm well on my way to accomplishing my dreams; I just pray for God to guide me in the path that he created for me.

-Loren Pienaar

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