Do­mes­tic god­dess to grub guru

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Cape Town do­mes­tic worker Siphokazi “Sipho” Md­lankomo has been grab­bing head­lines – lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally – since her in­spi­ra­tional culi­nary jour­ney started on M-Net’s MasterChef SA. Hav­ing cracked the Top 5 with one of the most tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing desserts, De­bashine Thangevelo caught up with her proud em­ployer to find out where this pint-sized cook cul­ti­vated her en­cy­clopaedic knowl­edge of flavours and cuisines.

MASTER-FUL RE­LA­TIONS

ALL IT took was one suc­cess­ful au­di­tion and Siphokazi “Sipho” Md­lankomo had the na­tion root­ing for her as she raised the pro­file of do­mes­tic work­ers.

Heck, she even put pro­fes­sional chefs to shame with her out-of-the-box cre­ativ­ity in the kitchen, unas­sum­ing na­ture and abil­ity to keep calm in an en­vi­ron­ment that could eas­ily see any­one blow their lid.

Liz An­dreasen, her em­ployer, close friend and big­gest fan, says Sipho has al­ways been an avid cook.

She shares: “Sipho has been with us for nearly nine years. She shares a very close re­la­tion­ship with the whole fam­ily but, more specif­i­cally, with our 19-year-old son and me as we are both as pas­sion­ate about food and cook­ing as she is. From the day she started work­ing for us, we saw that her tal­ent def­i­nitely lay in cook­ing. And she has pro­gressed in leaps and bounds since.” Theirs is noth­ing like a Madam

& Eve car­toon strip or the stereo­typ­i­cal re­la­tion­ships most en­vi­sion a madam-and-maid re­la­tion­ship to be.

On the two whip­ping up plenty of dishes in the kitchen over the years, An­dreasen re­veals: “Sipho and I have spent lots of time cook­ing to­gether, which has been fan­tas­tic, but there have never been ‘lessons’ as such, but more a case of con­stantly ex­per­i­ment­ing. I am quite in­volved in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try and we do a vast amount of en­ter­tain­ing at home. We also have the priv­i­lege of en­ter­tain­ing peo­ple who have in­ter­acted with Sipho and in­spired her to follow her dream.

“I have al­ways en­cour­aged Sipho with any­thing she has wanted to do. She en­tered MasterChef to­tally of her own ac­cord. I will never for­get the mo­ment when she came to tell us she had been ac­cepted – I was be­side my­self with joy. And the whole fam­ily was over the moon. We knew she had the abil­ity to go far in the com­pe­ti­tion.”

While Sipho has been im­press­ing – and tan­ta­lis­ing, at the same time – the MasterChef judges and view­ers, An­dreasen says fam­ily meals have al­ways been an oc­ca­sion.

Re­vis­it­ing their favourite dish by the MasterChef can­di­date, she notes: “For some rea­son, we al­ways do Mon­day night roast chicken. Sipho has taken that to a whole new level. She does a pot roast chicken, which she stuffs with le­mon and fra­grant herbs. Then she mixes up a con­coc­tion of but­ter, le­mon zest, sage, rose­mary, thyme and garlic, which she mas­sages un­der the skin. Then she cov­ers the breast of the chicken with strips of ba­con. This gets slow roasted in a cast iron pot with white wine for an hour. She fin­ishes off the meal with the most crispy roast pota­toes, which she cooks in duck fat, po­lenta chips an as­sort­ment of sum­mer veg­gies and a big salad. Oh my word, the joy of it!”

And should Sipho re­alise her dream – it would mean a sad farewell to the An­dreasens.

On whether they are pre­pared for it, she says: “With­out a doubt. We have been prim­ing her for some­thing spe­cial for years now. What bet­ter way for her to achieve her dream than through MasterChef. No mat­ter where she lands up, we will re­main friends and, who knows, we could land up do­ing some­thing to­gether in the fu­ture.”

Mean­while, ev­ery Thurs­day con­tin­ues to be a shared fam­ily ex­pe­ri­ence in front of the telly with the An­dreasens root­ing for their favourite cook.

VIVA SIPHO!

IT doesn’t mat­ter what­ever gas­tro­nomic chal­lenge is thrown at Sipho – she de­liv­ers an ex­ploit wor­thy of Gor­don Ram­say’s stamp of ap­proval.

Her hum­ble begin­nings speak vol­umes for that in­fec­tious smile, bub­bly per­son­al­ity and un­mis­tak­able hunger to win, turn­ing even her great­est ad­ver­sary into her strong­est cam­paigner.

Sipho says: “I grew up in a small ru­ral vil­lage in the East­ern Cape. I got great teach­ings from my mum and grand­mother and they still play a very im­por­tant part in my life. I can be quite a re­served per­son, but I am not afraid of chal­lenges and stand­ing my ground. I am a de­ter­mined per­son with a good heart.”

Her first mem­ory of cook­ing is when she ob­served her mother cook­ing scones in a cast iron pot on an open fire.

“I was fas­ci­nated and that’s where my in­ter­est and pas­sion started,” she smiles.

On at­tract­ing me­dia at­ten­tion of gar­gan­tuan proportions, she ad­mits: “It is rather over­whelm­ing be­cause I didn’t re­alise I would get this much at­ten­tion. I’m a do­mes­tic worker, but also a tal­ented cook. Lots of peo­ple have hid­den tal­ents.

As for suc­cess­fully repli­cat­ing chef David Higg’s choco­late dessert – a chal­lenge ev­ery­one else was vis­i­bly grate­ful to have es­caped – Sipho says, with her trade­mark hu­mil­ity: “I like smil­ing and be­ing pos­i­tive. And you have to stay pos­i­tive when un­der pres­sure and some­times my gig­gles are ner­vous gig­gles. But that helps me get through dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions.

“Hav­ing the abil­ity to get this far in MasterChef SA has been most re­ward­ing.”

Win or not – Sipho is not giv­ing up on this dream!

TRIVIA

Her clos­est friend: Ian (Young). Plus, he lives just down the road from me in New­lands.

Favourite food smell: Freshly­baked cia­batta – home­made (of course). With loads of but­ter.

Sig­na­ture dish: My pot roast chicken and my ragu.

Her kryp­tonite dish: I would say bak­ing. I’m not a big fan of mea­sur­ing in­gre­di­ents. I pre­fer to cook by taste and bak­ing needs to be spe­cific.

Favourite din­ing out cuisines: I’m mad about Ital­ian food. How­ever, the fam­ily and I of­ten go out for Asian food, which I also re­ally en­joy.

THE OTHER GAME­PLANS

For­mer ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive Ian Young (49): Push the cre­ativ­ity, but re­main com­posed and within the realms of my ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Train-driv­ing as­sis­tant, Roxi Ward­man (26): I need to stay fo­cused. And I must def­i­nitely have more con­fi­dence in my­self and what I can do. My eye is on the prize. Life skills lec­turer, Philippa

Robin­son (48): I think at this stage it is all about keep­ing fo­cused and lis­ten­ing to the judges. It re­ally is a mind game as well as a cook­ing com­pe­ti­tion and I have to make sure that I be­lieve in my­self and en­joy ev­ery mo­ment. Stamina is also a fac­tor; we are tired and have been away from our loved ones for a long time now. This adds to the pres­sure. Fash­ion cre­ative, Melissa-Lee Suther­land (25): My game plan is to do my ab­so­lute best in ev­ery chal­lenge. So even if I do go out, I can go out with a dish I am proud of.

● MasterChef SA airs on M-Net tonight at 7.30pm.

TURN­ING UP THE HEAT: With M-Net’s MasterChef SA down to the Top 5 con­tes­tants, the pres­sure is on for Siphokazi Md­lankomo, above, and be­low, from left, Philippa Robin­son, Melissa-Lee Suther­land, Roxi Ward­man and Ian Young, who are all eye­ing this year’s cov­eted ti­tle.

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