It’s a huge congrats to twenty-nine year old Nafisa Saleh from Brixton, Johannesburg, who has been crowned the winner of the Capsicum Culinary Studio Cake Boss Bake Off competition, beating eight other contestants to secure a R100 000 patisserie bursary from the school.

More than 1 340 entries were received via a call for entries made during the broadcast of the new season of Cake Boss on TLC and this was whittled down to the final nine bakers who competed against each other at the Capsicum Culinary Studios campus in Rosebank.

The judges were Chef Deon Roets (academic and quality manager, Capsicum Culinary Studio), Helma Holloway (Capsicum Culinary Studio, Rosebank campus) and Andries Kemp (owner of Rolkem South Africa).

Says Roets about the winning cake: “The judges’ overall impression of all the cakes was good. We looked at what was used to cover the cake and how it was decorated but for us the texture was what was most important. The texture of Nafisa’s cake was moist, yet very soft and light and the accompanying buttercream made it even more ‘wow’.

“They just complemented each other as if they were born with the same baking DNA.”

I caught up with Saleh, shortly after she was told that her cake was the best in show, to ask her a few questions:

Congratulations on winning the Capsicum Culinary Studio/Cake Boss Bake Off! What does the win mean for you?

It’s an absolute blessing. I have always wanted to pursue the art of patisserie making, so winning this bursary will allow me to make my dream come true. I want to thank Capsicum Culinary School and Rolkem for this amazing opportunity, and also a big thank you to the students and the staff of Capsicum for the hospitality. It felt like home.

There were nine bakers competing in the final for which you were given five hours. How tough was that?

The competition was tough, each one came with his/her own talent, techniques and expertise. Each of the competitors produced beautiful cakes. It was nerve-racking. I thought of running away midway through the competition after seeing the many hands creating such pieces of art. However, the competitors were very friendly and encouraging. I’m so pleased to have had the chance to work with such lovely people in one kitchen, even if it was individually.

What is your baking background?

Basic really! I bake for fun, I learn by trial and error. My biggest critics are my mum and dad. Mum wants perfection when it comes to taste and dad will comment on the overall look. I’ve only baked for friends and family, but I love it and thanks to this opportunity I might further it as a career.

Even though everyone was given the same recipe, you had a very original looking cake. Where did the idea/inspiration come from for the design?

With regards to taste, I wanted something none of the others would have done, so instead of using just one flavour I combined the two available flavours – lemon and blueberry; basic flavours that give out extraordinary taste when combined. My look was based on the beautiful surrounding we were in and availability (the ready-made flowers). I must actually thank Chef Helma and Andries Kemp (Rolkem) for the idea. Had they not brought our attention to the lovely garden and the peace it promised I would not have thought of the idea.

When did you get the recipe? Did you have any time to practice?

We received the recipe at the beginning of the bake off in the morning, so there was no time for practice. I read the recipe and got to work. I wasn’t sure if I would achieve the required results. The flavours were a last-minute thought. I saw the blueberry essence on the shelf and a little light flicked on in my head. The design I drew as a guide was quite simple and not at all detailed. I added the details as I went along and filled empty spaces with what I could think of at the time.

What was the hardest part of the Bake Off?

The decorating! Everyone else was so good. They were clued-up on what to do and how to do. They seemed to have a plan. Their talent was evident in the way they worked. I have a long way to go in that department. The pressure was the cherry on the cake if you’ll excuse the pun. It was just like being on MasterChef, surrounded by talent, pressure and a variety of options.

Your prize was a R100 000 bursary from Capsicum Culinary School to study patisserie. What do you plan to do after you graduate?

I plan to open a little Patisserie boutique. I want to make unique pastries that will be a part of all special occasions. One day I would like to be featured as an extraordinary patisserie chef.

What is your favourite cake to eat?

Chocolate cake. I can eat anything made with chocolate. Who doesn’t love heavenly chocolate? A cake dripping in chocolate ganache is my thing.

Well done!!!

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