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Mom & Son COOKING DUO…

We were delighted to spot a proudly North Coast team on the third season of DStv’s My Kitchen Rules SA towards the end of last year. We recently caught up with Ballito property developer Jeff Upneck who teamed up with his mom, Stella, to take part in the reality TV cooking series.

Family is incredibly important to the Upneck family. Which is why, when mom Stella entered herself and her 31-year-old son Jeff into the reality TV cooking series My Kitchen Rules (MKR) SA without him even knowing, he says he was more than happy to do it with her. The experience brought the already tight mom-and-son team even closer together and was an experience Jeff says he will never forget. We asked them about the MKR experience.

Give us a bit of background about your family and your life on the North Coast. As a family, we moved to the North Coast in 2003 and I can honestly say I’ve never looked back. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. My wife Tanya and I have been married for seven years and we have a beautiful one-and-a-half-year-old son named Thomas. My parents, younger sister and brother all live here and we love our family life on the North Coast.

How did your mom convince you to enter MKR with her? To be honest, I didn’t know I was entered until a couple weeks after entries closed. My mom had been in hospital and had seen the MKR advert. She contacted my wife, got a few extra details and entered us! I remember walking around Ballito Junction when I got the phone call to say we had made it through to the next round. I was shocked!

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Is cooking a passion you share with your mom? I do enjoy cooking and have many memories of helping my mom in the kitchen when I was younger. A lot of the cooking I do now is based on things I’ve learned from her over the years and I still phone her often to find out how to make dishes. She is always ready to offer advice and I really love the fact that I have that connection with my mom.

Both you and your mother have overcome some challenges. Please share a bit about this? By far the hardest was when my grandfather was murdered in 2012. It absolutely devastated my mom and the whole family. It was very traumatic for all of us. He was a great man and we actually dedicated one of our dishes, called ‘For the Love of Reggie Cheesecake’ to him in the show. I lost my best friend to cancer at a young age, which really shattered me, and then three years later I discovered I had an undiagnosed heart defect and was in the early stages of heart failure. I had to have an aortic heart valve replacement to avoid permanent damage. It’s not nice to have something like that happen to you at such a young age, but it does give you a lot of perspective. These were terrible things that happened, but they brought us closer together as a family.

Tell us a bit about your family life. Who cooks at home and what type of food do you enjoy? My wife and I have always shared the cooking responsibilities, although now she does joke every now and then, saying “what are you cooking tonight? After all, you’re the only one who’s been in a cooking show, so it’s only fair that you cook!” We love homely food, like lasagne and good old ‘spag bol’. The hearty stuff, most of which I learned how to cook from my mom. Gourmet mac and cheese. Now that my son is getting older and eating with us, it’s so great to see your kids eat the food that you’ve made. I hope, when he’s older, that I can encourage him to enjoy spending time in the kitchen as much as I do and not see cooking as a ‘hack’, but a great stress-reliever.

Where are your favourite North Coast dining spots? We do enjoy eating out (although we did a lot more before kids, haha). My absolute favourite, and it’s been in Ballito as long as I have, is Mozambik. It really is the taste that’s stood the test of time and they produce some of the best Portuguese seafood you’ll ever eat. Another favourite, especially because of my wife’s German heritage, is Siggi’s in Salt Rock. You can get a really good, hearty German meal and a cold Weiss beer. Our favourite child-friendly spots are Burnedale and La Piazza – both of which cater really well for kids and the food is always great.

What was the actual MKR competition experience like? Was it what you expected it to be? I’ve always had mixed emotions about reality television, but I can say that it’s very different behind the scenes. There was a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’, but the whole production team were incredibly professional. I have so much respect for all of them – from the directors to the cameramen and the sound team – they are so dedicated to their craft and chosen careers. It was also amazing to be able to cook in a professional kitchen like that with lights and equipment and cameras … it was pretty intense and I made mistakes I’ve never made before! You realise how calm your kitchen at home actually is! It’s an experience of a lifetime and something you cannot buy.

Jeff and Stella’s Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with a Burnt Butter Sauce
You’ll need: 300g butter; 1.2kg flour; 12 eggs; 6 lemons. For the filling: 6 lemons; 4l milk; 1.6kg baby spinach. To serve: 600g parmesan cheese; 300g microgreens

To make: Make the pasta in two batches, so it is easier to handle. Pour 600g of flour onto a clean counter. Make a well in the centre and add 6 eggs. Mix together to form a dough. If the dough is too soft, add more flour. Knead the dough until it is elastic and not sticky. Wrap in cling wrap and let it rest in the fridge for an hour. Repeat the process with the next 600g of flour and 6 eggs. Filling: Put the milk into two pots to make the curdling process quicker. Heat the milk to between 79°C and 85°C. Add the juice of 3 lemons to one pot and do the same to the other pot. Keep stirring to mix through the milk properly. As soon as the curds start forming with the stirring, remove from heat and leave for approximately 20 minutes. Line a large sieve with muslin cloth and pour the mixture into the muslin cloth. Let this drain for 20 minutes and then squeeze, to remove more of the water from the ricotta. Allow to cool and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, heat some water in a pot with a pinch of salt. Add the baby spinach to the boiling water to blanch for 30 seconds. Remove it from the heat, drain and add the spinach to cold water. Strain it again and mix through with the ricotta, tasting and adjusting the seasoning.

Burnt butter: Add butter to a sauce pan and allow to heat until foaming. Constantly stir and monitor the pan until brown flakes begin to appear. When it comes time to cook the pasta, fill two pots with water and salt and let them come to a rapid boil. Add the ravioli in different batches and cook for two to three minutes. As they float to the top, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside until you’re ready to serve.

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