Domestic goddess to grub guru
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.
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.
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!
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.