Tuesday, 10 November 2015 12:22

Masterchef Australia's Renae Smith

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Renae Smith in the Masterchef Australia kitchen Renae Smith in the Masterchef Australia kitchen Pictures provided by Janine Greenleaf

With a Dutch ouma in the background Masterchef Australia Renae Smith is a self-confessed fan of all things South African - and jokes that if she didn't have a lovely boyfriend at home, she might just run off with a hunky South African man! She even loves our much maligned Seffrican accent, with "all the rolling" and wants to learn as many new words as she can before returning home (she loves the word "tsotsi'!).

South African food is on the radar, she tells me, after her stint at the Durban Good Food & Wine Show where she cooked in the wellness section, and her meeting with the 2015 Chef of the Year Chantel Dartnall

Local foodies will agree that our chefs are worthy of recognition, competing on a world platform. Besides a plethora of great chefs in Cape Town, chefs like Luke Dale-Roberts (whose Test Kitchen features on the Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants of the World list) is starting up a pop-up restaurant at the Saxon Hotel similar to Cape Town's Pot Luck Club and culinary artist David Higgs (currently cooking at the South African garden at the Taste of Melbourne from Nov 15 2015) is piquing interest with his hush-hush new venture in Rosebank, with mysterious Instagram posts involving Laurent Perrier.

But back to Renae, nicknamed the "Mystery Box Queen" by her fellow Masterchef Oz contestants, due to her ability to create dishes full of flavour with minimal ingredients. She can whip up a meal in 15 minutes, she tells me. Being a vegetarian has its advantages, as raw food is so quick. A typical meal would involve chickpeas with roasted vegs and couscous ("just toss it together, and eat").

A strict vegetarian such as Renae might have a problem finding much on the menu in such a meat-loving country as this, but Renae improvises, making our legendary bunny chow with paneer cheese, in the North Indian style. She loves bunny chow and wants to make one that rivals the best from its home country.

Appropriately for the Durban show, her favourite cuisine is Indian and she loves curries.

Fellow chefs always take the piss, she tells me, and remark "extra chillies" whenever she cooks (is she sure she is not from Durban after all?)

What are her favourite vegetables and how does she prepare them?

Brocolli and corn are top of the pops, the former in a curry, as the leaves hold the sauce, and corn fritters or corn in a bowl with melted butter and salt ("mielies" was a new word too).

We talk avos, as they are such a hit with South Africans and she tells me about her "chocolate avocado mousse". It's made by whisking silken tofu and avo together until very smooth, then stirring through melted dark chocolate. Perfect for vegans, who exclude eggs and dairy.

So what does a top notch vegan have in the grocery cupboard at home?

Renae's cupboard does not disappoint. Australian foodies always know the newest trendiest ingredient and hers is Ethopian teff, a porridge-like grain. She also has every lentil under the sun, canned chickpeas, loads of olive oil, sesame oil , Himalayan sea salt, cartons of soy milk, chia seeds which she uses as an egg substitute and fresh coffee beans.

There is also coconut cream, and her favourite spices: cayenne, cumin, coriander, paprika and Thai red chilli flakes to make a "nice green curry".

Oh, and loads of fresh herbs, especially coriander. She uses half a bunch of fresh herbs together with a whole red chilli "on top of everything".

We talk Banting diets and even though she has never heard of South Africa's latest obsession, she is against what she calls "fad diets".

"Eat everything in moderation - just eat fresh food, that's it," is her philosophy.

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