About 2 months ago I was asked to take part in an awesome concept. It involved me using my experience and expertise in the best way I know how…by sharing it and helping someone else achieve magic in the kitchen. I said yes without hesitation when Tastic Rice told me about their concept and what they wanted to achieve with it.
The Tastic “Just Add Colour” campaign wasn’t just another one of those corporate food competitions that comes and goes and gives prizes to people we would never know or care about. There was some thought put behind it and its why I was proud (and honoured) to say I’d tag along for the ride.
So what was the idea? The concept revolved around the traditional Sunday buffet that many South Africans are very familiar worth. Its called “seven colours” because the buffet basically looks like the 7 colours of the rainbow. Standard dishes are broccoli, butternut, rice, stews, chicken, green salad, carrots, fish, mielie pap, dumplings and a whole lot more. Sundays were for church, food and sleeping the rest of the day away, not because you were tired, but because the food was just too much! The itis yo.
So Tastic decided to switch it up a bit and challenge young chef students to be creative with the 7 colours idea. Students went through initial elmination rounds from various culinary colleges and tertiary institutions and from there 7 students were chosen. Each student was given a day of the week (unlike having a typical Sunday meal, Tastic was trying to show how versatile Tastic rice is and can be eaten everyday of the week in weird and wonderful ways). Each day of the week was assigned a different colour and student. Cool. Now here is where we mentors came in. 7 of us were chosen, each assigned to a different student. All 7 came from various parts of the country…as did the mentors. I was to mentor Ouma Sethole, a rather shy but food savvy mass catering student from the Tshwane University of Technology.
Although I have this blog, I try shy away from telling people that I’m a blogger. I’m not, I’m a chef first and foremost and only started this blog because I saw the need for a chef to open up and start educating more South Africans about our awesome food and what the industry is like from a chef point of view (and to give away chef secrets!). Its partly why this blog isn’t like other food blogs, I’m a mere chef! So it was no surprise to me when I found out that I was the only chef mentor in the competition. Maybe a sign that more qualified chefs need to take part in opening the industry up and sharing information perhaps?
Anyway, I digress. So for a month Ouma and I were to discuss and strategize just how best to go about making awesome things with the colour Orange and Tastic rice. I grew up eating Tastic, I’m not trying to punt them by saying this but they truly do have the best rice in the game. I’ve had the opportunity to use as many different types and makers of rice from all around the world and Tastic comes first. They just need to add one or 2 more chef type gourmet rices and I’ll be in heaven. Ouma had chosen to make a terrine with her ingredients. Her idea was to make the rice orange, make a carrot mousse, add butternut and chicken and set it in a mold. It was fascinating tapping into the mind of a young, fresh culinary student who had all these awesome and crazy ideas. As her mentor though my role was to guide her along the right path and to see the bigger picture. As her dish was a main dish I suggested she shy away from making a terrine as a main course. As terrines tend to be cold dishes it wouldn’t go down well with the judges. I also recommended she break the colour up with some green swiss chard and add bacon as her protein along side salmon fillet. It would be plated as a stack and not a terrine. The other components would remain. The carrots, butternut puree and rice (of course). In between discussing the competition I would give Ouma advice on how to go about being successful in the world of cheffing. Chatting to young up and coming chefs is one of the privileges of my job that I will always appreciate and enjoy.
The day before the finale function the mentors, students and reps from Tastic and its marketing gurus all met up to meet and chat…and to listen to Chef Benny Masekwameng (he would be the head judge for the finale) being as loud and out there as he has become famously known for. It was the first time meeting Benny and it was actually pretty awesome. TV tends to present us chefs in a certain way and people assume thats how we are in person…far from it. Benny was as chilled and as friendly as they come. Although he had me choking on my rice cake when he told me how much his chef jacket costs to make! He gave each team a few tips and ideas on how to better or improve their dishes. Lunch was all about rice too. From the starter all the way to the main course. Every plate had a rice element on it.
The night arrived. As is the nature of the food world, not everything we needed or wanted was available but we made do and made a plan. There was a whole lot of glitz and glamour and lights and cameras! Luckily the students had us rather loud mentors there to calm them down and walk them through their processes. The other 2 judges for the finale were Azania Mosaka and Anna Trapido (who ironically studied where I studied but isn’t a practicing chef anymore). I got into a little chat with Aza about her cooking skills and she surprised me with just how much she actually knows about food. Then I got onto her case about not inviting chefs to her show on 702 and only inviting fashion people. Little did I know she heard my plea’s, 3 days later I was on her show chatting about food! haha. It helps being talkative and critical. Speaking of which, I was also interviewed by Kaya FM and was asked to bring in a dish. So as not to overshadow the students rice dishes, i played around with the 7 colours concept but in my own weird way. I made a mogodu, fillet steak, potato, vegetable and potato one pot. These elements are usually served separately on the 7 colours buffet…and I put them all into one concoction that looked like this…
The 7 students went about the business, they had an hour and a half to make their dishes and wow the audience and judges. The MC was Proverb and I gave him grief for wearing the colour red (one of the opponents colours) but it was all good. Ouma unfortunately miscalculated her timing and when the clock struck zero she had only managed to plate her spinach and some rice on each plate! Luckily the judges sympathized with the young students and out of the seven 4 had to use extra time to plate. They were penalized and sadly this was probably our downfall. It was a competition afterall and fair is fair.
I managed to have a chat with the team who conceptualised this concept and applauded them for the effort and recognising how important chefs are in building up customer knowledge and the image of food brands. I’m sure they got tired of me and my nonsense. Its brilliant what Tastic did though, the winner of the competition walked away with R100 000. No chef competition in SA gives away that amount of money as a prize and it was awesome seeing it going to such a young person who could use it to get a head start in her career and profession.
Here’s too more of these type of competitions.