• It was an ordinary Tuesday afternoon in Jozi with the winter sun shining down on what was once the Randburg waterfront – Brightwater Commons, home to the SABC3 Top Chef studio. And that’s where “ordinary” stopped. Media and socialites were welcomed with bubbly and a red carpet.

    We should have known there would be something up someone’s sleeve when celebrity chef Neill Anthony started serving canapés. How lucky were we? Ha… “You’re in for a surprise,” director Brad Darcy chuckled and enthused how the production has been one of the most exciting he’s worked on. Shot in record time – it took the team less than a month to shoot 13 episodes. Urban Brew Studios started filming on 4 June and it was a wrap on 2 July!

    Top Chef South Africa sets sail on its maiden voyage tonight, 12 July at 8pm on SABC3. Your gorgeous hostess – Lorna Maseko: Best known as Top Billing presenter, this multi-talented lady is also a top South African ballet dancer, choreographer and MC. The “cheftestants” will be adjudicated by head judge Neill Anthony (yes, you would know him from his very own show – The Private Chef).

    Neill trained in the kitchens of Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and other big international cooking gurus. Did you know he cooked up storms for Madonna? And then there’s judge Lesego Semenya (better known as LesDaChef). Lesego traded process engineering for a life in international fine dining, private catering and developing a line of kitchen accessories – a TV favourite and a social media sensation.

    14 contestants (aka cheftestants) contend for the crown of SA’s first Top Chef crown. Who will take it?

    Back to what was cooking in the kitchen – we were cooking! And by cooking, I mean more than the Divas of Jozi sizzling. We were told to choose our teams wisely and made groups of three (I was lucky enough to be in “Team Mela” with the charismatic Yudhika Sujanani and her delightful daughter Tanvi). Today, we were getting the full Top Chef experience.

    LesDaChef and Neill Anthony were rubbing their hands together in sheer anticipation… Did I hear a snicker? There is no such thing as a free lunch, nor canapé, and we were going to earn it! On the menu – prawns tempura, served atop a bed of pommes frites with home-made mayonnaise. Ready, steady, cook! Oil bubbling and blades flashing, the teams were off to a rowdy start – the Divas the loudest of all! We were warned on the level of sharpness the chef’s knives held. Of course, I had to be that person… One open finger later (chef’s knives aren’t made for pen-pushing editors’ fingers), but nothing could dampen our spirits.

    The prawns were fried to perfection – a crispy golden brown, the mayo an art. The pommes frites not your normal French fry – these perfectly even shoestrings were made from red and black potatoes (a first for most of us media plebs)! Winners were announced and although we did not win, we took congeniality, I reckon… But everyone’s a winner today and we are rewarded for our hard work with a four-coursed pairing from Spier’s range of fine wines.

    Warm, roasted cauliflower salad, sea bass, short rib and a lemon posset, honeycomb and dark chocolate truffle to round it all off… Oh, I can get back in that kitchen for this kind of treatment any day! Our glimpse into a day in the life of a Top Chef contestant opened our eyes and awakened our curiosity. I can’t wait to slip in under my blankie tonight and see how it’s really done. Be sure not to miss out!

    Meet your cheftestants

    • Devin Gregory Hogan (head chef and owner at SMAK Delicatessen and Restaurant in Cape Town)
    • Annemarie Roberts (executive chef at Burrata, Bocca and Open Door).
    • Hezron Louw (co-owner and chef of the Sumting Fresh Food Bus and gourmet street food company)
    • Kerwin Buckley (head chef at Durban’s St James on Venice Boutique Hotel)
    • Martine Christian (executive Chef at Escondido Tapas in Joburg)
    • Tsholo Mbele (Tsholo has no formal culinary training but loves to cook and experiment with new recipes)
    • Themba Tebogo Bawuti (sous chef at La Mouette in Cape Town
    • Ayabonga Gope (currently employed at The Deck House in Cape Town)
    • Sachin Gosai (head chef at The National in Parktown North, Joburg)
    • Phillip Nel (chef de partie at Rust en Vrede)
    • Paddy Khuele (chef at Thrive Cafe in Vilikazi Street in Soweto)
    • Kim Crystal Clement (owner of Urban Eatery and Central Pizza, both in Pretoria)
    • Lebogang Mpuang (co-owns an events and catering company as well as a food consulting and training company Blackcurrant Food Concepts)
    • Linda Nirina Mazibuko (co-owns a catering company, Blackcurrant Food Concepts, with fellow cheftestant Lebogang)

    Read more:

    South Africa launches its own ‘Top Chef’ series

    The sky is the limit with Lorna Maseko-Lukhele – Celeb on tour