Following weeks of intense competition and heat in the kitchen the winner of the 2016 Walmer Park Kitchen Maestro title has been chosen.
Seventeen-year-old Caitlin Botha slipped to the front of the pack, and in the final in the promotions court at Walmer Park Shopping Centre on Sunday, proved she had what it takes to claim the highly contested title.
Walmer Park hosted both the semifinal and final cook-off last weekend, with both rounds attracting large audiences.
Last Saturday’s semifinal saw the five semifinalists – Charmaine Keevy, Chantel Cuthbert, Ronel Annandale, Liza Vermaak and, of course, young Caitlin – facing a Kauai Super-foods v Super-women Challenge of note.
This month is Women’s Month and, as fate would have it, the semifinals were made up only of women . . . ditto that round’s judges in head chef of Bocadillos on First Heila van Zyl; owner of Kauai Walmer Park and Greenacres Nerissa Walton; and features editor of Weekend Post and The Herald Louise Liebenberg.
Each semifinalist was given a mystery box containing superfood ingredients – hake, quinoa, coconut milk, fresh coconut and lemon grass – which all had to feature prominently in whichever dish the semifinalists chose to make.
The Kitchen Maestro pantry, too, was filled with a vast and colourful variety of super-foods selected from the new Kauai menu, as well as the staple supply from The Rocket Seed.
The semifinalists were given 45 minutes to prepare a super dish loaded with super-foods.
After much deliberation following each tasting, the scores were tallied up and the top two home cooks who would move on to the final round the next day, emerged.
Chantel Cuthbert, from Cook-off 5, won the judges over with her dish: Thai-style poached fish with charred corn and pine nuts served on quinoa.
“The dish was presented beautifully and the flavours were exceptional,” Van Zyl pronounced.
Teenager Caitlin, from Cook-off 4, arose as the next finalist, blowing the judges away with her dish: Cauliflower and coconut milk puree, pan-seared hake topped with roasted coconut shavings served alongside a display of roasted corn, fresh radish, blueberries, roasted nuts and drops of basil, mint and avocado puree to finish it off.
“Caitlin is only 17 years old and yet has shown so much promise. She plated up beautifully with a creative modern twist,” Liebenberg said.
On Sunday, it was game on for the finals as Caitlin and Chantel went head to head for the finals, each nervous but excited to cook.
With their key recipes and Walmer Park gift cards in hand, they set off on a trolley dash in Pick n Pay Walmer Park to buy all the ingredients needed to prepare a main dish and a dessert.
They were given 30 minutes to shop and once they had their ingredients, each had just 15 minutes of prep time before the one-hour cook-off clock started.
The finalists and audience were welcomed by delightful MC Niqui-Cloete Barrass with the Kitchen Maestro 2016 theme song and introduced to the judges.
As the pressure of two dishes began building, it was clear the finalists would need additional time, so the judges together with the marketing manager of Walmer Park Deveda Bloem agreed that Caitlin and Chantel would each receive an additional 15 minutes once the clock stopped.
After a stressful finish, both managed to present beautifully styled dishes to the judges – Kevin Askew from Swiss Appliances, Chef Dewald Hurter from Flair Catering and Claire Roberts, property manager of Walmer Park Shopping Centre.
“It was a close race to the end and both dishes were exceptional, but we do have a clear winner,” Hurter said.
And there you have it: Our 2016 Kitchen Maestro winner is Caitlin Botha, a Grade 11 pupil from Victoria Park High School.
Caitlin, in her quiet way, blew the judges away with her dessert – a deconstructed lemon meringue pie with surprise popping candy in the crumb – and her delicious, contemporary-styled main meal – pepper-crusted fillet steak served on a pea mint puree with an onion garlic sauce topped with colourful honey-glazed carrots and crispy roasted potatoes.
“Caitlin showed exceptional skill and technique in plating and preparation of the various elements of both dishes. She has a bright future in the culinary field,” Roberts pronounced.
“We are very proud of Caitlin and of all the contestants this year and we are excited to host the fifth season of the competition next year,” Bloem said.
An elated Caitlin, who received a fantastic prize package from the competition’s sponsors, with Weekend Post a gold category sponsor, had this to say: “I loved every minute of the competition and didn’t think I would get this far, or even win.
“Thank you to everyone who came out to support me and thank you to Walmer Park for the experience.
“I hope to apply for a bursary in the culinary field after matric so this would be great to place on my application.”
Visit the Walmer Park Shopping Centre website and Facebook page for pictures of all five cook-offs, the semifinals and the final round.