From Lenasia To Michelin Stardom

A Lenasia mother-of-two has had her culinary dreams come true as the winner of a bursary that could change her life, with her next goal to win a Michelin star!

South Africa’s largest culinary school, Capsicum Culinary Studio gave away seven bursaries, each valued at R90 000 with exception of a three-year chef programme valued at R200 000.

For the chance to live their culinary dream, entrants had to create a dish – sweet or savoury – using any red ingredient, take a photo and post it online. Following the judging, finalists were chosen to participate in a cook-off at one of the six Capsicum campuses closest to them, where they then had to prepare their dish. The winners chosen at each of Capsicum’s six campuses then competed in a national cook-off held at the culinary school’s Rosebank campus in Johannesburg.

The winner was Maritzburg-born 35-year old Cindy Naidoo, now living with her husband and two children in Lenasia South.

A delighted Naidoo explains why she entered, “About six years ago, I started a small home bakery business to keep myself busy and taught myself everything I know. But there was so much more I wanted to learn and so many new challenges I wanted to take on but, financially, we couldn’t afford it.”

So what was Naidoo’s winning dish? “For the finals we had to create two dishes with the ingredients from a mystery basket. I was prepared for one dish but not to make two in the space of only three hours, so I began to panic. But then I took a breath and started jotting down some ideas and put a plan in motion. For my first dish, I decided to do a dessert which was a decadent chocolate brownie with strawberry sauce, toasted almond brittle and a ricotta cream, garnished with mint leaves. For my second dish – which had to be a main course – I chose to cook lamb shoulder in a beef stock and a red wine jus with added veggies for extra flavour and a rich colour. To accompany that, I made a green pea puree, sautéed mushrooms and fresh zucchini rolls filled with a blue cheese and ricotta filling and garnished with micro greens.”

“From all those years of doing research and watching MasterChef, I knew that I had to focus on flavour, colour, texture, my plating and portion control. It was stressful, as I didn’t think I was going to make it on time but looking back on it, I had so much fun I wouldn’t mind tackling a mystery basket again!”

Naidoo reveals what led to her love of cooking. “When my son, Joshua (who’s now 16), was in Grade 1, he was diagnosed with ADHD and we were told that we had to change his diet completely. But because I didn’t want him to miss out on all the yummy treats that children love, I decided to teach myself how to cook and bake delicious, but healthy, meals and treats that we all could enjoy, as we decided to be on the same diet as a family. So, I guess you can say that all the low GI and sugar-free cook books ignited a passion that I didn’t know I had. As the years went on, my love for food grew. But even though I have learnt a lot on my own, I am really excited for the next level of my culinary journey and can’t wait to embark on Capsicum’s Advanced Culinary Arts programme, which I start in February 2020.”

And where does Naidoo see herself in five year’s time? “Working hard to make a name for myself as a female chef and hopefully earning a Michelin star someday. I also see myself working with the younger generation as well as children with special needs by helping them achieve their culinary dreams.”

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