A series of stories about inspirational South African Women
#3 Tarryn Gabi de Kock, Masterchef South Africa 2022 Finalist
Men can’t braai. We said it, men can’t braai! Women are the flavour in whatever we are cooking. Women are the patient braaiers and spice behind a delicious meal. We checked in with the second runner up of Masterchef South Africa for 2022, to hear how she is creating sustainability one delicious cooking experience at a time.
“Cooking is ultimately elements of casual magic,” says Tarryn. “It’s about discovering your own creativity, on a single plate, taking all five senses into account for the ultimate cooking experience.” From humble beginnings in Athlone in Cape Town, Tarryn always knew she was destined to be a chef. From as young as the age of 10, she competed in the McCain Junior Chef competition, always helping her parents out who were also in the hospitality industry - she is thus no stranger to a restaurant kitchen. At home, big family gatherings were standard practice. Whether a braai, a new baked dessert or just juggling cooking for 30+ people on a Sunday for lunch.
Her mom Ingrid and stepdad Kelvin had a house rule that everyone had to help with the cooking. As a big family, an extra set of hands while spicing the 5kg of chicken pieces made a big difference! From a young age, Tarryn could handle a braai on her own. From lighting the fire to knowing when the meat was cooked. Her parents exposed her to many ways of cooking and experimenting with ingredients. As she grew up, the supervision got less, and requests got more for her to quickly fire up the braai to get lunch going in the middle of the week.
After school, her journey took a little detour from cooking. She majored in politics and drama and obtained a master’s degree in education and development. Currently, she is busy with her PHD in education and political economy. To her, it’s a rewarding interest to understand the inner workings of a country. How to be open to differences, to make an impact in society, and to ultimately do something that brings positive change to the people around you.
Back to cooking. Tarryn had a plan and was actively working on her PHD when the entries for Masterchef opened. “It was a big question mark that I would even get in, let alone making it to the end of the competition!”. As any Masterchef fan would know, it is a grueling competition that tests if an amateur cook has the skills to become a chef without professional training. It’s an intense, fast-paced emotional rollercoaster. She swooped away the judges with a chutney she made for their omelet challenge, and that sealed the deal for her journey as a contestant.
Throughout the competition, she was tested to be brave. To try new things, techniques, and ingredients. To respect the produce and showcase how deserving she was to be there. Through years of experience growing up in the hospitality industry, she never practiced the art of being a leader. As an introvert, even the thought of being a leader didn’t come naturally. Always taking a step back from loud extroverts to guide a team. On Masterchef, there’s no such thing as ‘I don’t want to be team captain’. Everyone gets a turn. And that, was where her story changed. She took charge and lead her team to the most wins in the entire season! It proved to her that not only can she run a kitchen herself, but she can be an empathetic leader while doing so.
The surprising discovery of this crucial skill propelled her to start her own pop-up dining experience called Feast. Feast is a unique celebration of creativity, fine dining, and sustainable cooking in a harvest-style dinner club lined with South African Heritage. She not only cooks the food but she crafts up to 12 courses each of which can be a full experience individually. Each course compliments the next, ending on a high note with a dessert that you will dream about!
Feast is a space where she can experiment, truly test her creativity with sustainability and not waste a single thing. Every ingredient is used to its fullest, like broccoli for example. The florets can be a salad, a roasted side, a puree, or stuffing while the stems can be prepared as a pickle in a slaw. She took it to the next level to minimize her footprint on the planet by even making her own plates from paper maché.
Out of all the different ways of cooking, using fire is one of Tarryn’s favourites. Inspired by Francis Mallman and how he cooks on fire, Tarryn loves to experiment with the boundaries of braai. How to elevate the smokey flavours of different types of wood. How to time the braai perfectly for each cut of meat. How to smoke and braai at the same time. How to practice patience and let the fire do it’s thing. Something she believes women do much better than men, leaving the braai alone for the wood to break down naturally without fidgeting with it. The art of becoming a chef teaches you to embrace the technique you’re cooking with, and the same goes for fire. If you respect the nature of it, you will get the best results. Perfectly charred meat every single time!
Her ultimate dream is to use her cooking style of modern comfort and refined dining, to make a difference in society. To use her creativity to enhance our South African heritage in the dishes she creates like her Mopanie Worm salt she made on Masterchef. She wants to be bold and generous with her cooking. She wants to finish her PHD and become a restaurant owner. A young woman that can change the course of what we believe as South Africans and the boundaries of what you can become.
To Tarryn, we salute you for inspiring change in our beautiful country. We congratulate you for following your dreams and for reaching the finalé of Masterchef South Africa 2022. For crafting your creativity and creating a platform for us to share in the feast. And, for proving that women can braai!
Tarryn’s Ultimate braaied salad recipe.
Tarryn’s Harissa Lamb ribs recipe
Read more of her Masterchef journey here.
All Masterchef South Africa photos by Charlie Sperring exclusively for Mnet. Styled shoot photo by Neo Baepi. All rights reserved.