Get celeb chef David Higgs to critique your cooking for a good cause — I did

The acclaimed chef has launched a fun competitive cooking show online to help rescue SA's hard-hit restaurants

29 October 2020 - 08:00
Contestant Aspasia Karras watches as David Higgs critiques her dish during an episode of the celebrity chef's new online cooking show, 'Cooking for a Cause'.
Contestant Aspasia Karras watches as David Higgs critiques her dish during an episode of the celebrity chef's new online cooking show, 'Cooking for a Cause'.
Image: Supplied

I have mixed feelings about competitive cooking shows. Particularly when I'm appearing in them. I once had the misfortune of being on Come Dine with Me SA — I have yet to live it down. And, I might add, I was sadly stone cold sober throughout.

People still walk up to me in shopping malls with a knowing look and a smirk and I immediately avert my eyes and duck into the closest shop to get away from the inevitable questions.  

But friends, I confess that this week I girded my loins, sharpened my knives and undertook to participate in a — you guessed it — a competitive cooking show. I did it for a good cause.

You may say I am a sucker for punishment, but I really love cooking. Particularly when it’s done for me in a restaurant and I get to sample the pleasures of the palate and life in a leisurely and charmed fashion. I have really missed the joys of eating out during lockdown and am worried, really worried, about the ability of the hospitality industry to bounce back.

So I donned my apron and joined three contestants on Monday night as we cooked our hearts out for celebrity chef David Higgs, judge of My Kitchen Rules SA, in an effort to raise money for the Eat Out Restaurant Relief Fund.

Called Cooking for a Cause, the premise of this competition is simple: a list of ingredients is posted on Premier Lifestyle's Facebook page, you make up a dish using these ingredients, photograph it and enter (details below).

If your entry is chosen, you get to play live and do the same thing again, but this time against other cooks and with some real time constraints. To give the game a bit of an edge you see.

Oh, and did I mention your kitchen antics will be broadcast live on Higgs’ YouTube channel, Dave's Kitchen, as part of his new online cooking show? Or that DHL will ferry all the finished dishes to him so he can critique them?

ON YOUR MARKS, GET SET, COOK!

On Monday afternoon, I received my box of ingredients from Food Lover's Eatery containing baby marrows, peas, onion, garlic, lentils, halloumi, chicken thighs, Fatti's and Moni's pasta, basil, asparagus, tomatoes and a bottle of Boschendal. And the game was on.

The other contestants and I logged onto a group video call with Higgs and got to work.

The dish Aspasia Karras whipped up while competing on 'Cooking for a Cause'.
The dish Aspasia Karras whipped up while competing on 'Cooking for a Cause'.
Image: Supplied

You have 60 minutes to cook and can use anything in your pantry as long as it’s not a premade sauce. I didn’t think this through, so when I told Higgs I was making a Harissa marinade for my Diana Henry-inspired chicken-and-date dish, there was an awkward pause.

“Harissa,” said the chef, “is a premade condiment.” I will not harm the reader’s sensibilities with my expletive-filled reaction. Suffice to say I took it on the chin and knocked up a batch of homemade harissa. Yes indeed.

In between making the accompaniments for my chicken — a pistachio relish and a side of roasted asparagus à la Yotam Ottolenghi — I watched the other contestants in action.

It was utter madness for an hour! Much wine appeared to be quaffed. Families stepped in to help. DHL rang the doorbell as people were manically plating.

I forgot to wrap my dish in cling film, so I imagined it sloshing around in the back of the delivery van as it made its way to Higgs. A short time later it miraculously arrived in the chef’'s kitchen so he could judge it.

Now I have nothing against Higgs. He is a fine and talented fellow with a super-refined palate. But I did feel a little resentful that he chose my fellow contestant, Kholiwe Rafu’s dish over mine when the winner was announced on Instagram Live the next evening — especially after the Harissa-from-scratch debacle.

'Cooking for a Cause' contestant Kholiwe Rafu’s winning dish.
'Cooking for a Cause' contestant Kholiwe Rafu’s winning dish.
Image: Supplied

To be fair, Rafu’s dish had a three-dimensional quality. It looked like the kind of thing you usually find, well, at places like Higgs'’s upmarket restaurant, Marble. So I get it. But still people, this cooking show stuff is a bitter pill to swallow.

Please click here to donate to the Eat Out Restaurant Relief Fund, so I don’t have to undergo this harrowing emotional roller coaster ever again!    

Watch the full episode of 'Cooking for a Cause' featuring Aspasia Karras here. Catch new episodes every Monday at 6pm on YouTube; all proceeds from the show go to the Eat Out Restaurant Relief Fund. For entry details or more information, e-mail premierlifestyle@gmail.com