Capsicum Culinary Studio turned 10. In celebration of being the largest chef school in Southern Africa, Saaleha (the content editor of niQi.co.za and wordworker behind Saaleha.com and MealsOnSpeed) and I were invited to attend a cook-off against Chefs and Capsicum students at their Sunninghill branch in Johannesburg. Claudia Katz, CEO of Capsicum says,”While Capsicum is serious about cooking, we’ve spent ten years establishing international partnerships and six campuses around the country, as well as producing over 3000 exceptional Professional Chef and Hospitality graduates – we wanted to show the fun side of the profession to anyone considering the culinary arts as a career. The tenth birthday Cook Off events display exceptional creativity, passion and fast decision making, as well as teamwork between students and industry professionals.”
We spotted these little figurines in their foyer. We had to take a closer look, and upon inspection we discovered that these were in fact made of chocolate and not wood, as I had initially expected.
We were the only two social-media personalities there alongside Simone Wessels-Bloom, the food editor of Essentials magazine who was joined by Chef Nikkita Zoulisas, the corporate executive chef for AGP (Pick n Pay group) were the judges for the morning. I felt privileged to be sharing a kitchen alongside Chef Chad Humby, Chef Mandla Mthyiane and Chef Wanda Grobbelaar along with the students of Capsicum Culinary Studio.
Saaleha and I were paired up with students of Capsicum, Ipeleng Motuba and Phillip Calitz and we were briefed to create two dishes with the ingredients supplied within a time-frame of one and a half hours. Our mystery box contained a selection of 10 South African ingredients. This included snoek, eland , mdumbi (African) potatoes, chicken feet and Marmite. Capsicum Culinary Studio is one of the only Chef schools in SA which is respectful of dietary restrictions. They were kind enough to ensure our chicken was halaal, and we were given the choice to cook with only the ingredients that we were comfortable with.
We were also given a selection of ingredients which we could use at free-will. These included common spices, assorted nuts, herbs, oils and seasoned salt. Instead of properly planning what Ipeleng and I were deciding to do, we jumped into it and hoped to figure it out as we went along, very unlike my usual method of preparing my daily meals, which I often have to plan a day ahead to ensure that my pantry is fully stocked before beginning! After spotting polenta and the nuts, I immediately thought of a dish I prepare at home, a spice and nut crust on a stuffed chicken fillet. With many of the ingredients not available, we opted to stuff the breast with a creamed spinach mixture. I sauteed a knob of butter in the pan, and added a handful of chopped spinach leaves to this. I seasoned with salt and pepper and allowed to cook off to a smooth consistency. Once cool, I stuffed the slit breast with the mixture and rolled in the crust mix. I seared it off on the stove, with a knob of melted butter in the pan and created a foil bag to continue baking off in the oven until we were ready to plate.
Ipeleng and I hit it off immediately, we have the same vision when it comes to food. We had an immense load of fun whilst doing this, given the time constraints and paired off perfectly when it came to visualising what we were intending our final product to be.
For our second dish, Ipeleng and I came up with a smoked fish cake. After poaching the piece of fresh fish in seasoned milk, I flaked off the fish and discarded the bone. I would usually mix this with potato to bind, but had to opt for sweet potato and yams instead. I mixed in an egg, seasoning and flavoured with pepperdews. I toasted it off lightly in a pan and allowed it to crispen until we were ready to plate. For the sauce, i made a roux using flour and butter. I added the milk that the fish was poached in and seasoned to taste. That worked superbly as the sauce for the base of the dish. We added in the micro greens and avo at the last minute because we tried to use up all the ingredients that was left on our tray!
We decided to make 3 dishes instead of the required 2. Ipeleng came up with Marmite infused whipped cream, which was insanely good! She baked off a tuille and topped with fresh seasonal strawberries. We finished a few minutes ahead of the time, and were both exceptionally pleased with our dishes.
Saaleha and I work so closely together, that it’s almost expected that we often think along the same wave-lengths. It showed clearly in their choice of meals that they had prepared! Phillip made biltong and avo salad, and their main was almond, black sesame and herb crusted chicken fillet stufffed with basil, spinach, peppadew and cream cheese served on creamed polenta with beetroot vinaigrette.
The winning team was Capsicum student Byron Whittle and Chef Mandla Mthyiane, Capsicum patisserie lecturer and SA celebrity wedding cake creator. They served the judges cured eland with strawberry gastrique, mdumbi pomme allumette and a rocket, biltong and pineapple side salad, and the Capsicum Surf + Turf; chicken feet and snoek fillet with roast beetroot, caramelised cream cheese spinach, polenta and Mdumbi potato sauces.
The students and staff at Capsicum conjured up a magical light lunch that included superb sushi, sesame seed marshmallow bites, mini caramel profiteroles and a surprising feat of molecular gastronony; tomato spaghetti, cheese foam and basil tuile, the combination of which tasted remarkably like a spoonful of pizza. Nothing store bought here!
We would like to thank Capsicum and Atmosphere Communications for inviting Saaleha and myself to be a part of their celebrations. Photography courtesy of Shootcake.