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Sunday Times STLive By MONICA LAGANPARSAD, 2012-03-25

'Human-size portions, please'

UNDER PRESSURE: Masterchef SA contestant Khaya Silingile
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KHAYA Silingile has gone from being a high-achieving student to working in politics and then starting a career in marketing.

But she has given it all up to become a cook.

Silingile, 27, quit her job as a marketing coordinator three weeks ago after winning a place in the top 50 on Masterchef SA.

It's no wonder. Her audition dish of scallops with smoked salmon and rhubarb tart with an orange vinegarette was enough to get her approving nods from all three judges.

''It was quite scary because you had only had 30 minutes, and I've never really cooked under pressure before," she said.

Masterchef has become a worldwide reality-show phenomenon - and the first episode of the local version aired on South African television on Tuesday night.

Silingile, a campaigner in the youth brigade when opposition party COPE was founded in 2008, said she liked gourmet food "with a homely twist".

She didn't make small portions, because "you are still hungry when you get home. I make human-size portions."

The self-confessed nerd - with 13 distinctions in her public management degree at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology - said her grandmother had nurtured her talent for cooking.

''I grew up in the Eastern Cape, and we used to play amandlwani - or, as they say, playing house. Each [kid] would bring something from home and split among the group, and we would cook."

Her grandmother taught her about flavours, making sure to bring flavours to food. "She grew my passion for food."

Silingile said she could cook anything - except oysters.

''I've tried them, and I hate them with a passion."

The winning cook will take home prizes worth R8-million.