MasterChef Aussie’s Ben Ungermann on move to SA, what he’s cooking up next

The MasterChef Australia contestant has decided to make SA his home and he has big plans, including his first cookbook, a TV show and an exciting new development in Cape Town

21 April 2022 - 08:22
By Sanet Oberholzer
Celebrity chef Ben Ungermann. 
Image: Supplied Celebrity chef Ben Ungermann. 

For fans of MasterChef Australia Ben Ungermann is a household name. He was the runner-up in season nine in which he earned himself the title of the “King of Ice-Cream” and returned as a favourite in season 12, Back to Win.

Ungermann did not complete this season after claims of sexual assault emerged against him. That was later settled when he admitted to a lesser charge of common assault and the sex offence charges against him were dropped.

The Australian celebrity chef did not want to comment on whether this was one of the reasons why is relocating to SA, instead focusing on his plans to make big moves on the food scene. We spoke to him to find out what’s next, what he loves about Mzansi and what his best tip is for making the perfect ice cream.

Fans will be happy to hear that you’ve relocated to SA. How have you experienced the move?

I’m really stoked to be in SA. I feel very much at home here. This is my fifth trip to SA [and] I absolutely adore this country. I always say it reminds me a lot of Australia, I just think you guys have a better accent. The geography is the same, the people are very similar.

Every time I’ve come here I’ve been embraced and it’s always felt like home

But the thing that really got me about SA is the kindness, the acceptance. Every time I’ve come here I’ve been embraced and it’s always felt like home. It’s been a really awesome experience. I’ve got some great friends that I’ve made along the way and it’s just been an absolute joy and now it’s just building an empire up, I guess.

I did not actually expect to achieve so much as I have already, considering I came here and started all over. But it just goes to show how warm and inviting South Africans are. Even if they don’t have a lot, they’ll offer you everything which is something I absolutely adore about here and why it will be home.

You speak about building a new empire here. What are you planning on doing career-wise?

There are some things I can and can’t say. I can tell you that everyone has been hitting me up for a long time for my own establishment and that it’s definitely going ahead. [I’ve been] looking at locations which is quite exciting so that will begin in Cape Town. I can’t tell you too much about it yet or what it’s going to be but I can tell you it’s not going to be ice cream — [it will be] completely different.  

You are known as the ice cream king and people automatically associate that with you. Are you saying you are going to be moving away from that?

SA is definitely going to get their version of an ice cream at some stage. I just don’t want it to be my first venture. I’ve got a whole lot more to offer and I’ve done the gourmet ice cream parlour before in Aus and also in the Netherlands and I just wanted to challenge myself with something else that I’m quite passionate about and I feel like it’s going to be something very accessible and very exciting to everyone.

Apart from the plans you have going forward, how have you been keeping busy?

I’m stretched. I don’t have enough time in the day. At the moment I’ve been doing a lot of events but on top of my events I’ve become an ambassador for USN which has been quite exciting because fitness is also a massive part of my philosophy and what I’m about. It’s been quite nice working with them and also coming up with some healthy recipes which is a very nice crossover between my fitness and making food.

There’s also a TV show in the works. I can’t go into too much detail but there’s definitely going to be a local show soon that involves me.

I also have a cookbook [coming out]. It will be my first.

I know at the beginning of May you also have an event that you’re doing at The Maslow where you’re doing a kitchen takeover. Tell me a little bit about that?

I actually designed a brand new menu purely for The Maslow. I’ve been doing pastries and ice creams for a while and then I’ve been exploring a lot of Indonesian which is something I’m still very passionate about. But for The Maslow I created a menu which was based purely on modern SA cuisine which is also something that I’m very passionate about.

I think you guys have the best produce in the world. Your Woolworths smashes ours back home. I think you guys are really blessed with the produce that you have and I want to celebrate that in the menu.

You mention SA cuisine. Is there something you’ve tasted here in SA that you’ve been completely blown away by or that you really enjoy?

I love a bit of spice and I love a bit of temperature so I really enjoy the Durban traditional dishes. Stuff like bunny chows are a really cool go-to for me when I’m allowed to carb load.

Part of Ungermann’s plan is a local TV show and his first cookbook.
Image: Supplied Part of Ungermann’s plan is a local TV show and his first cookbook.

In terms of SA cuisine I think that it’s just a melting pot really. You have so many different influences which makes your cuisine very rich and I think if you’re smart enough you can do some really exciting things with it. That’s the sort of thing I’m trying to represent.

Without divulging all the secrets of your trade, do you have a tip for ensuring the perfect creme anglaise when making ice cream?

It’s really important when you are making an anglaise that you’re very careful when you’re working natural flavours into that anglaise. Remember this is a very light and fluffy mixture and at every stage you want to be incorporating air into the mixture — that’s what makes it light, that’s what makes it fluffy and gives it the best taste, especially on the palate. So you don’t ... want to be overly rough with your anglaise.

And then you need a really good quality churner because remember that thing is doing the majority of the work, constantly, gently folding air into the mixture.

So be kind to your anglaise, don’t be too rough with it, don’t overwork it and then a quality ice cream churner.

• Ungermann will be hosting his pop-up experience at The Maslow in Sandton on 4 and 5 May 2022 from R1,400 pp. Visit The Maslow’s website for more information.

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