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UMHLANGA: The heat was on in the Unilever Food Solutions’ kitchens, as Chefs from around the country competed to claim the coveted Chef of the Year title. Held in five categories – Senior, Junior, Team of 4, High Tea and the inaugural Trio of Desserts – the Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year (the oldest culinary competition in South Africa) saw some incredible talent on display. 
 


Winning the title of Senior Chef of the Year was Siphephelo Mtshali from the Southern Sun Elangeni (Durban) while Shaista Shantkumar Anoop from 1000 Hills Chef School (Hillcrest) was crowned Junior Chef of the Year. 

IKAPA Caterers (Cape Town) won the Team of 4 category; the Gorge Private Game Lodge & Spa (Port Shepstone) the High Tea category; while finally, Joanita Venter from the Beverly Hills Hotel (Durban) walked away with the Trio of Desserts top honours. 

"Thank you to all our competitors who came out to compete,” said James Khoza Senior Judge, Executive Chef of Tsogo Sun’s Sandton Convention Centre and President of the SA Chefs Association. “It is a tough thing to compete, but Chef of the Year is really a wonderful opportunity for Chefs. It’s a character building experience and allows you to work with Chefs you may not have had the chance to meet before."

"The standards on display at this year’s Chef of the Year competition augurs well for the country in terms of tourism. The standards were high and proved beyond a doubt that South Africa can compete on a global level. Thank you Unilever Food Solutions for giving Chefs the platform they need to expand their careers."

Senior Judge Tony Kocke, the Executive Chef at Fairmont Zimbali Resort was also impressed with what he saw and believes the competition is a must-do for all Chefs. 

"A competition like this pushes you – it tests your ability to cook under extreme pressure. You learn skills you’ve never had before. Competitions like Chef of the Year also advance your career – if you win, every one knows your name and wants to work with you. It happened to me almost 30 years ago – and I couldn’t recommend it enough. All Chefs should enter Chef of the Year."

SENIOR & JUNIOR CATEGORIES

 


The Senior and Junior categories were both a tight race. The Senior category was open to Chefs 25 years and older with a minimum of five years’ experience, while the Junior category comprised Chefs aged 18 – 25 years, with less than five years’ experience.

Contestants in both categories were required to prepare a three-course menu to serve three judges using the produce from a communal table, which included premium quality fish, meat, and seasonal fruit and vegetables. Each finalist was expected to use a minimum of ten compulsory Unilever Food Solutions products.

SENIOR CHEF OF THE YEAR
 


Although the dishes of all six finalists were exceptional in the Senior category, it was Siphephelo Mtshali’s starter of seared salmon; main of smoked chicken breast; and dessert of lemon-infused white chocolate mousse that came out as the winner. 

"I cannot believe this. I am speechless. Thank you to Unilever Food Solutions for the award and thank you to my team from the Southern Sun Elangeni for the support. I am speechless!"

Siphephelo will take home R20 000 in prize money.

JUNIOR CHEF OF THE YEAR
 


The Junior category clearly showcased the deep well of culinary talent South Africa has to offer. Although all six finalists created incredible dishes, it was Shaista Shantkumar Anoop’s starter of baby squid, main of pan-roasted lamb loin and a dessert featuring chocolate mousse, micro sponge and butternut cheesecake that emerged victorious. 

"I am so excited, I still can’t believe it!” she said. “This was my third year of entering the competition, and last year I came second. The only way to go was up, so the pressure was really on,” she explained. “However, I had the support of my team around me, so I am so happy."

Shaista Shantkumar Anoop will take home R15 000 in prize money.

TEAM WORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
 


The Team of 4 category, open to Chefs from the catering industry only, aims to recognise the efforts of hard-working and skilled members of the kitchen support team, who are often not given credit for the roles they play. 

This category aims to shine the spotlight on teamwork, collaboration and execution at the highest level. The Team of 4 contestants were required to prepare a three-course meal for eight people. IKAPA’s teamwork, menu preparation and overall presentation impressed the judges enough to secure them victory and prize money of R50 000. 

IKAPA cooked poached salmon with lemon curd and crustacean bisque as a starter. For mains, they cooked a roasted rack of lamb with Salsa Verde oil and textures of cauliflower. For dessert, they made a red velvet crème brûlée with a chocolate brownie cannelloni and bitter orange mousse. 

A HIGH-BROW HIGH TEA 
 


In this category, Chefs had to prepare their High Tea cuisine beforehand, pair it with teas from Unilever Food Solution’s new Pure Leaf range and present to the judges. 

Phindile Shezi and Alicia Giliomee from the Gorge Private Game Lodge & Spa (Port Shepstone) walked away with the winner’s trophy in this category.

The winning High Tea consisted of buchu sweetie pie on spekkoek, German apple and rooibos ginger cake with ginger truffle, apricot and mebos beesting, pickled fish and marigold arancini with a mango centre, sesame coated chicken confit and a vanilla poached pear with biltong and blue cheese. All the snacks were paired expertly with Pure Leaf teas.

The High Tea Category aims to showcase the versatility of tea and that it can be paired with food just like wine and whiskey traditionally would be. This is why Unilever Food Solutions decided to use a sommelier, Laurie Smorthwaite-Cooper from the KZN School of Wine, as a judge for this category.

"Tea is such a versatile drink and can be paired with a huge array of foods both savoury and sweet," said Cooper. "I felt the Pure Leaf range was the perfect match, bringing intensity of flavour and an array of herbal, flavoured and classic teas to choose from. It has been a privilege to be part of this experience and to celebrate a modern approach to an age old tradition," said Smorthwaite-Cooper.

TRIO OF DESSERTS
 

The inaugural Trio of Desserts saw seven Chefs from around the country create three identical plates of three individual petite desserts for the judges. Each Chef needed to have at least five years of industry experience. The winner in this category walked away with R15 000. 

Joanita Venter from the Beverly Hills Hotel presented a miniature mocha toffee delice (layers of coffee chocolate brownie, mocha custard and salted toffee cream); a lemon, orange and passion fruit cheesecake, and a chocolate berry tartlet. 

"I am so honoured to walk away with this title,” said Joanita. “It’s been an incredible day and this is really the icing on the cake. Thank you Unilever Food Solutions!"

Craig Elliott, the Executive Chef of Unilever Food Solutions believes the Chef of the Year competition is important to the South African culinary industry. "Giving back to the industry is key for us," said Craig. 

"We believe Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year gives Chefs the opportunity to showcase their skill and talent to the broader industry, which opens new doors for them. For many Chefs, this competition has kick-started their careers and we are proud of that." he said.

"In this year’s competition it was interesting to watch how the plating trends have evolved. I do see that Chefs want to put a piece of art in front of the customer, which is fantastic. Plating techniques have definitely come a long way, which is exciting to see."

Janine Van Rooyen, the new Managing Director of Unilever Food Solutions South Africa was exceptionally proud of the Chefs who participated. "This year’s competition was a huge success,” she said. “It was an honour to host some of South Africa’s finest up-and-coming Chefs in the various categories, from the Team of 4 who showed us the true meaning of teamwork to the Senior and Junior competitors, who impressed us all with their incredible talent. Thank you to all, and hopefully we will see you all back next year!"