“I’m still getting used to the idea. I’m not under the impression that it will last for a very long time because there will be a new season of Masterchef and there will be new people who come through,” she says.
The 23-year-old Masters student in analytical chemistry has to balance her studies with meetings, interviews, food events and other new side projects. She writes for TheCoffeeMag and writes a food column with her sister Seline for Beeld. They also have a food blog together and are in the process of publishing a cookbook.
Seline, who made it to the top three in this season of Masterchef, studied industrial engineering at Tuks. “Being together in the competition was more fun than competitive,” Leandri says. “It was actually rather nice because we never really got into the situation where we had to cook directly against one another,” she adds. The two supported and cheered each other on in the Masterchef house.
The house is located on the Paarl Golf Club. The house was fully stocked with everything the contestants needed. They only left the house when filming, which mostly took place on the Nederburg Wine Estate.
“You’re just like in these two little bubbles and you’re stuck with the contestants the whole time,” says Leandri.
Leandri coped by taking personal time, reading cookbooks in the library on set and drinking lots of coffee. “I am a personal, private sort of person. So I needed a lot of alone time to just think and process things,”she says.
After filming ended in February, Leandri and Seline had to keep quiet about what they’ve been up to. Then the show premiered in July and suddenly they were battling it out in the kitchen on national television. “It’s like three different situations which are all completely strange,” says Leandri.
How does she deal with all the attention after Masterchef finished airing? “I don’t actually,” says Leandri laughing. “It kind of feels like everything is starting to slip away from me.”
With all her new responsibilities, Leandri says she is taking time to figure out what is important to her. “All I really want to do is inspire [people] to make a real difference.”
Leandri has found a way to do this, through her love of coffee. Roast Republic is an initiative she is running with two friends. “We are selling the idea of coffee with a conscience,” she says. All the proceeds gained in their sales will go towards sending children to school.
“Our philosophy is: educate Africa’s children so they can make their own decisions and they can pave the way.”
Leandri’s love of coffee and chemistry meet through activities such as flavour pairing. Leandri encourages the pairing of coffee with food just as you would do with wine. Certain food and coffees have common flavour compounds. These complimentary compounds are identified through analytical chemistry, making it scientifically possible to predict which type of coffee will enhance the flavour of a certain type of food. Chemical analysis can also be used to make sure there aren’t any pesticide residues left over in coffee. “It would be really cool if I can get coffee and chemistry to come together,” says Leandri.
Leandri did combine chemistry and food in a study she did for a flavour company last year. She won a 2012 ChromSAAMS award for her research.
“I was trying to see if I could find a way to recreate the aroma of rosemary without using actual rosemary,” she explains. By using four preparations of rosemary: the dried herb, the fresh herb and two essential oils, Leandri tried to identify the compounds which give it its characteristic smell so that she could chemically recreate it.
Did the Masterchef experience help Leandri overcome her fear of failure that she mentions quite openly in other interviews? “It’s given me a certain sense of self-assurance,” she says.
“Just give it your best and try and do it with style. It’s that sort of facing your fear which frees you,” says Leandri.
Five foodie questions:
What’s your favourite food item or restaurant on campus?
On campus, I generally go to Tribeca.
What is your suggestion to Tuks students for a healthy and delicious meal that’s still cheap?
What I often do is make a vegetarian curry because that’s actually pretty cheap and it’s really healthy.
What’s one herb or spice that you consider a definite must?
I really like to use thyme. I just find that it’s really nice in desserts and in savoury foods.
What food do you absolutely despise?
I don’t eat cheese.
So you’d never do a wine and cheese?
No, there’s no cheese and wine to me it’s just wine. I’m really bad, I eat the little broodjies and I eat the wine and little grapes. It’s horrible. I hate the idea of cheese and wine because cheese and wine doesn’t make sense because cheese has such an overpowering taste that you can’t actually taste what’s in the wine.