Kamini’s 4 Delicious, Fast & Nutritious Meals
Kamini Pather has heard the words ‘never trust a thin chef’ too often.
“It’s an old way of thinking, and food has to be part of a balanced life,” says the 33-year-old former Durbanite over a coffee, near her new home in Cape Town.
Clearly. The 2013 South Africa MasterChef winner, radio and TV host, stylist and food writer is far from overweight – especially since she started running in 2010. This year, she finished her first 42.2km, at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon.
She is also about to film her second series of Girl Eat World, now airing on Netflix in the US, and has become a global food personality beyond SA shores.
“I look at a guy like (UK chef) Antony Worrall Thompson, who was recently diagnosed with diabetes and had to make a radical change to his life,” Pather says. “Just because you enjoy food and cooking doesn’t mean you have to live an unhealthy life.”
Pather grew up in a large Indian family in Glenwood in Durban, and remembers big lunches cooked by her grandmother Savi, who still rules the family dinner even now, when Kamini goes to visit.
“I come from a big, extended family, with three siblings, and we would sit at this long table with the kids at the end,” Pather remembers. “Even now, when I go to visit my gran, she still makes the main food dishes, and I’m left with the menial tasks.”
But it’s these early memories that kick-started Pather’s love affair with food; and driven by that love, she’s ambitious. She started with a job as an intern at Eat Out magazine, and then Taste, and did a short stint as a radio DJ and then as a chef on SABC TV’s Expresso show.
But it was in 2013 that Pather’s big break came, when she auditioned for the local version of MasterChef.
“I remember only deciding at the last minute to go and try out; and when I got there it was late in the day, and I just walked in. We went through various rounds before it was whittled down to the people who made it on to the TV show.”
Pather did so well, she won the season. But the show only aired six months after the actual competition ended.
“It was tough going to functions and not being able to tell anyone that I had won, since it all had to be confidential. I stopped going out to functions for a while!”
MasterChef success led to her own TV show, in which each week, Pather travelled from home in Johannesburg to places such as Bangkok, Lima and Dubai, to taste the local dishes and present her experiences.
“I basically did nine countries in nine weeks. It was hectic.”
As her confidence grew in the world of food, Pather also knew that the excesses of her lifestyle would require some attention, and in 2010 she started running.
“I guess what got me going was the Nike+ app and the motivation it gave me,” Pather remembers. “I started off doing two kilometres, and was utterly exhausted.”
But gradually she started to build her mileage, and by 2013 was regularly running eight to 10 kilometres, three times a week.
“I realised when I was on MasterChef that I’m quite a competitive individual, and running gave me an outlet for that.”
In her youth Pather ice-skated competitively, even competing in an overseas competition as a junior, so she had some athletic background to fall back on – and some strong legs to carry her. She’s also a qualified yoga instructor, and uses yoga to help herself relax and stay flexible.
But she’d never run further than 15 kilometres. Until in 2016, the organisers of the Cape Town Marathon challenged her to take on a full 42.2.
“I was intimated at first, but I wanted to break five hours. That was my goal: I decided I would rather die than not break five hours,” Pather says.
In the end, she achieved that goal. But it wasn’t easy.
“Yes, there were some tough moments, when I honestly didn’t think I would make it.” But the build-up to race day rewarded her with some motivating training sessions.
“You have those moments in training, when you have a session that shows you the hard work is paying off. I remember doing a 21-kilometre run and feeling invigorated, energetic and light on my feet. It was a great feeling.”
In between all the hard work, Pather plans to run at least one marathon a year, and use her love of running to explore the cities she gets to visit while making her TV show.
“I’m one of those people who always has to do an out-and-back route, otherwise I get lost,” she admits. “I once did an eight-kilometre run in Lima, and I also ran in Bangkok. But it was so busy and noisy.”
Food to heal
Given her high-pressure lifestyle, Pather must also ensure that whatever she eats is quick and easy to make.
“When you come back from a run late in the evening, you need to make something fast. I like making couscous, for instance, because it’s instant; and I also make sure I have stuff prepared in the fridge that I can cook.”
But she’s also partial to the simplicity of peanut butter on toast. Pather uses a lot of turmeric in her food – it’s a natural anti-inflammatory, and a spice that she grew up loving.
“Actually, I really eat anything, and I love food. But it’s okay – I run, too!”
The Post-Run Chow-Down – Steak & Black Rice
300g sirloin steak
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
120g black rice
160ml boiling water (enough to cover the rice by 1cm)
2 handfuls baby spinach
1 brown onion, cubed
1T canola oil
200ml coconut milk
1 stalk lemon grass
1 red chilli (optional, but live a little)
¼tsp turmeric powder
Salt and place in the fridge, uncovered and on a wire rack, for two days before you intend to serve it. The idea is that the surface of the meat dehydrates and intensifies the flavour. Before cooking, take it out of the fridge and allow to reach room temperature by leaving it out, covered, for a few hours.
Brush the meat with canola oil. Heat a pan to smoking point. Place steak into the pan and flip every five to 10 seconds. As the meat takes on colour, feel the thickest part of the steak (see below).
When the steak is almost done, toss in the butter, tilt the pan to one side to collect the fat, and add the crushed garlic clove. Spoon the fat over the meat until basted. Allow to rest before slicing.
Wash rice twice in cold water before putting it on the stove and adding the boiling water. Allow to cook on high heat for 20 to 25 minutes. You’ll know it’s beginning to soften when it starts to turn purple.
While the rice is cooking, sweat off half the cubed onion with 1T oil and a pinch of salt. Cover the pot with the lid so the onion steams as well as frying – the onion needs to glisten. When the water has evaporated from the rice and the rice is almost soft enough, transfer to the pan of onion and cook further. You may need to add another splash of water at this stage. Stir the baby spinach through before serving. Taste for seasoning.
Turmeric coconut sauce
Sauté the other half of the cubed onion in 1T of oil, with a pinch of salt, the bruised stalk of lemon grass, garlic and red chilli. Again, cover with a lid to truly soften the onion. When it is, add ¼tsp turmeric to the pot and stir. Allow the turmeric to cook out for three minutes before pouring the coconut milk into the pot. Stir until the colour is even.
Portion the spinach and black rice onto the plates. Slice the steak, and drizzle with coconut sauce.
[ NOTE: How to test for the perfect steak ]
With a relaxed hand, touch your index finger to your thumb. Press the fleshy area below the thumb with the index finger of the other hand. If it feels like the steak, your steak is rare. For a medium-rare steak, touch your middle finger to your thumb and do the same test.