‘Creativity, passion’: ‘MasterChef SA’ judge on recipe to success on the show

Cape Town chef Gregory Czarnecki shares the scoop on the upcoming show, which premieres on M-Net on Monday night

27 February 2022 - 00:00
By Hilary Biller
'MasterChef SA' judge chef Gregory Czarnecki.
Image: Supplied 'MasterChef SA' judge chef Gregory Czarnecki.

I was born in France and most of my childhood was spent travelling about the world. One such trip was to SA, where I met my future wife. After finishing school and my studies in Burgundy, I spent more than a decade working in and about France, gaining experience in Michelin-star restaurants and then finally moved to this beautiful country 13 years ago to be with my wife. For many years I was at the helm of The Restaurant at Waterkloof in Somerset West until it closed in December 2020.

After the closure of the restaurant I decided to take a sabbatical as I needed time to recalibrate, clear my head and simply enjoy life! I got to catch up on some family time as a cheffing life doesn’t usually allow much time for that! 

What gave me the edge when it came to the selecting of  judges for the new series? I believe my classical training and international experience helped me get the part. 

It’s a MasterChef first where the female judges outnumber their male counterparts. My fellow judges Zola Nene and Justine Drake are amazing professionals and came with a wealth of knowledge and experience. It was an honour working alongside them and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The role as a MasterChef judge is to rate passionate home cooks who are in search of validation from a panel of professionals in the industry. I always try to be fair and encourage contestants to push themselves further.

The effect of tasting all that food on my waistline? Ha ha ha ... for sure! I always taste everything three times: first bite is to taste, second is to confirm and third is final approval. Multiply that by the number of contestants and that’s a lot of food in one day!

What really happens when it comes to tasting the contestants' dishes? When the challenge has come to an end, the contestants move away from their benches and leave the kitchen and we immediately proceed to a hot tasting. We then do a cold tasting in front of the contestants where we will give him/her feedback.

Once all the cold tastings are done, we decide on the outcome of the contestants and their creations. We also follow their journey during the challenges. Seeing how they perform and use the ingredients and the story behind the dish, gives us a good idea of what we can expect at the tasting.

Watching the contestants sweat it out in the kitchen makes the judging job look easy. True or false? Let’s just say it’s easier to be on the other side of the working bench. We are there to push them and see how they handle the pressure but we are also deciding on their future on the show and maybe in their lives, so that is another kind of pressure. 

What does it take to succeed in MasterChefCreativity, passion, versatility and ability to handle pressure are the qualities it takes for a contestant to succeed.

I think MasterChef is popular reality cooking show because it’s all about real people with real dreams and inevitably some drama. A viewer may relate to a specific contestant and want to see him/her succeed. It's also an opportunity to learn a few tricks or new ways of cooking and viewers may play the game to see what they would have made for each challenge. I hope it inspires people to explore and try new things in their own kitchens.

Where will I be on tomorrow night at 6pm? I will be joining  my fellow judges and the production team for the premiere. I think it’s going to be fun watching it with the crew, I’m very excited!

• Catch the fourth season of MasterChef SA on M-Net (DStv channel 101) Monday to Thursday at 6pm