City slickers might think they know what tastes good, but even top chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Siba Mtongana know that flavour is perfected in unexpected and often rural places.
They know what they’re talking about because it’s traditional Limpopo fare like mopani worms and roasted termites that led Queen Mathebula, 32, a butcher from Malamulele, to become the only woman finalist in this year’s Checkers Championship Boerewors contest.
The national competition will come to an end next month, when Mathebula will face off against two competitors at the Langa Sports Centre in Cape Town. If she is crowned the queen of boerewors, her special recipe will be sold in stores nationwide.
So where did her knack for creating the perfect wors come from? “I believe that growing up in Limpopo has made me more open to trying different foods and local treats. We really do love our meat, so it forms a part of almost every meal,” she says.
This is the fourth year she has entered and she’s excited that she’s made it this far. She’s galvanised to show the men a thing or two behind the braai.
“I believe that I have a good chance of winning the competition. It’s the furthest I have come. I made a few tweaks to my recipe, which seems to have done the trick,” she reveals.
Rooting for her are her parents, younger brother and two sons. They seem to be in the pound seats as Mathebula seldom makes kitchen mishaps – meaning perfectly cooked food at home. “I haven’t really had any big accidents in the kitchen, apart from occasionally burning the food,” she jokes.
Behind the braai, a little burn is, however, a good thing since a bit of char ensures a smoky flavour. But it’s doubtful that’s the reason Mathebula beat 17 other competitors to be in the top three contending for a prize that includes a Toyota Hilux bakkie.
Central to Mathebula’s Championship Boerewors recipe is quality meat and a secret blend of spices. Although she’s tight-lipped on where the flavour comes from, she says coriander is her favourite spice, which means her wors has a distinct taste of home.
She enjoys her wors served with pap and her favourite place to braai is at home with family and friends. Although wors is a major part of Mathebula’s life during the final stages of the competition, she will now get to cook her favourite, steak.
“It comes in a variety of cuts so you can prepare it in many different ways.”
However, all meat in the Mathebula household is respected and bathed in flavour. After all, tasting good is integral to every home cooked meal.
She breaks down her favourite accompaniment for popular meats: “For pork chops I use paprika, thyme, salt and black pepper and for chicken, I prefer to use dried rosemary. Barbecue spice is another favourite of mine – it goes well with various meats.”
She might not be classically trained in the kitchen, but her work as a butcher means she knows meat and the fact that she’s been cooking for 22 years just adds to her ever-expanding kitchen repertoire.
“I started cooking when I was about 10 years old. I learnt from my mother and I have special memories of the many days spent in the kitchen with her. We still share recipes, cook together and eat together. My mother taught me how important food is in creating a healthy family environment,” Mathebula says.
All of this has led her to have confidence heading to the shoot-out that will determine if she makes South Africa’s best boerewors. Mathebula’s rivals in the competition include fellow Limpopo resident Moses Mathebule, who entered the competition five times before making it to the top three this year.
They are joined by James Lebepe from Atteridgeville in Gauteng. But the competition doesn’t worry Mathebula.
“I believe that I make the best boerewors but I want South Africans to have an opportunity to taste and decide for themselves whether my boerewors is indeed SA’s number one.”
She adds that if she wins, she intends to aim the nose of her new Hilux bakkie at the Kruger National Park to celebrate. – firstname.lastname@example.org