Cooking-Off at Capsicum Culinary’s Ten Year Celebration


In my kitchen, every afternoon’s supper prep is something of a mystery box challenge. I begin with a protein, and look at what flavour profiles the fridge and grocery cupboard are willing to yield. Sometimes this results in a neat replicable alchemy or a a one-hit wonder. And there are the times where I get it a bit wrong, and make a mental note that fennel doesn’t quite go with everything.

I always tell people that I follow a school of thought that advocates chucking-it-in-and-seeing-what-happens. Despite my fairly relaxed approach to cooking and eating, I can’t help but feel a little nervous around cook-off challenges.

I faced my nemesis; whole unskinned chicken, at the Robertsons’ Spicemaster Challenge and this time around at Capsicum Culinary Studio, it was a bowl of what appeared to be the dismembered hands of a Grimm witch that had me questioning the integrity of my bowels. On closer examination, it turned out to be  innocuous pieces of chicken feet, known as walkaways when spoken of with affection. And I was ready to walkaway, even though, apparently, they are rather good in a curry. Quite fortunately (and perhaps it was because they were in a celebratory mood commemorating their ten years in culinary and hospitality education) the cook-off organisers at Capsicum weren’t too strict about what we used from the mystery basket to prepare two courses in 90 minutes.




Paired with one of the students, Phillip Calitz, we looked through the options of South African favourites, including; madumbi, marmite, biltong,  beetroot, spinach, avocado, peppadews, chicken and snoek, and settled on preparing a salad of biltong and avocado with a crusted and stuffed chicken fillet main served on a bed of creamy polenta accompanied with oven roasted sweet potato and a beetroot vinaigrette.

I love the liquorice notes in basil and thought it would be magic against piquant peppadews in a stuffing, with a bit of caramelised onion, spinach and cream cheese to mellow out the strength of those flavours.


For the chicken’s crust, we went with crushed almonds, black sesame seeds, fresh herbs, black pepper and some lemon juice.



We couldn’t find any kitchen twine to hold our stuffed fillet together and had to improvise with a bit of ribbon. I wouldn’t recommend this hack as some of the colouring bled green stripes into the chicken during the cooking. It was such drama but we managed to cover up the worst of it with the almond crust, and hoped it would not affect the judges’ constitution adversely.



Oven-roasted Sweet Potatoes


Our Plated Main


Phillip’s Biltong and Avo Salad with Roasted Pine Nuts


Phillip and I

My sister-in-law Naqiyah also participated in the cook-off and because we share mind-space from working so closely on other projects, she also prepared a crusted and stuffed chicken fillet, though far prettier. Read about her cook-off experience here: By invitation | Capsicum Culinary Studio hosted a Cook Off in their Joburg studio.



Naqiyah and I

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. Gastronomic winners for certain!
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. For that we were all winners.





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  • Safeera
    June 21, 2013

    Wow this looked so awesome. I wish I could do something like this someday. It must be a real test of culinary skill 🙂

    • saaleha
      June 21, 2013

      It was lots of fun, and also made me realise just how much there is to learn! This is the beginning of my schooling.

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