Celebrity chef and MasterChef South Africa judge Benny Masekwameng is extremely passionate about his country and its food. We caught up with Chef Benny at the Taste of Sydney festival where he prepared a feast in just thirty minutes, involving grilled lamb, deep-fried polenta and a colourful vegetable medley. He was then kind enough to share his travel tips for South Africa, including his favourite restaurants and unmissable South African dishes.
How would you describe the cuisine in South Africa?
It’s vibrant, colourful, full of flavour and it represents everybody that’s in South Africa. It represents the diversity we have in our country, in terms of the influences. A whole lot of ingredients are universal, you can find them everywhere, but what we have, we use in our dishes to tell a story. For Australians, it’s a good time to go to South Africa because the exchange rate is so good for you guys.
Where would you recommend first-timers go in South Africa?
Obviously, the major cities, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, but also the smaller cities and the countryside where you can go on safaris. We have so much to offer in all our nine provinces. We’ve got our semi-desert areas, which have unique animals, produce, lifestyle and people. Then we’ve got the lush green tropical weather on the eastern side of our coastline and then we’ve got the wine region down in the Cape, which has an abundance of fruits and berries. A whole lot to offer!
What city would you call South Africa’s culinary capital?
Cape Town. There is a lot of innovation that is going on there that filters up to Johannesburg. Johannesburg has the most restaurants and diversity, but in terms of innovation and new trends and funky things to do, they all start in Cape Town. I know people in Jo’burg will kill me for this - I’m from Jo’burg myself- but I regard Cape Town as our food capital.
What are South Africa’s must-try dishes?
We are famous for our boerewors roll, our braai and our barbecue. We’ve got a dish called bobotie, which is a mince dish with a custard egg on top and normally served with a bowl of rice on the side. It is a very nice dish with a Malay influence from the Western Cape - there is a lot of fruit in it.
We’ve also got our relish, called chakalaka. It sounds like a dance. It’s a relish made from tomato, onion, grated carrots and beans, but thereare a 1,001 variations of that, where people add peppers and cabbage and other things. You can have it on its own, bottle it, or eat it with bread, baked potatoes, rice, meat, stews – you can have it with anything! Add a bit of chilli. We love it.
Favourite restaurants you recommend?
One of my favourite restaurants is called La Colombe in Cape Town. I have been there three times and had the best experiences.. They do good food, very memorable. They have the best seafood dishes. Expect local ingredients, prepared in a way that highlights the ingredients and also tells our story by world-class presentation.
The Test Kitchen in Cape Town has been named the number-one restaurant in South Africa, two years in a row. We’ve also got Reuben’s Restaurant in Franschhoek. Then there’s Jordan Wine Estate, Tokara and Indochine in Stellenbosch.
Where can people eat your food?
The joys of working for a big hotel group puts me everywhere around the country, not in one particular place. But I get to cook with a lot of chefs and do a lot of promotion for our company. We have over 94 hotels throughout Africa and the Middle East. I could be cooking at any one of those venues, depending on where I am needed.
How can we keep in touch?
Follow me on Instagram and Twitter @chef_bennym