An intense cook-off, inspiring discussions and glittering gala dinner and awards ceremony in Cape Town result in four deserving winners in the regional final of this prestigious global event.
Cape Town has seen an intense two days of kitchen-focussed creativity as fourteen young chefs from Africa, Middle East and South Asia region came together on 23 and 24 January 2023 to compete for the regional title and the privilege of proceeding to the grand finale of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy competition.
The cook-offs took place over two days at Makers Landing in the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, hosted by MC Abigail Donnelly an award-winning food writer, trend stylist and restaurant awards judge. Seven chefs per session, each day took to their kitchen stations with five hours to create their signature dish and present it to the jury. Assisted by 3rd-year student chefs from CPUT, the competitors were calm, focused and intent on conveying their story and beliefs on the plate. Each young chef did themselves and their mentors proud.
The chefs not cooking in their respective sessions joined media, mentors and guests in observing, connecting and giving moral support, sustained by superb pastries and focaccias by chef Giorgio Nava, Nespresso® coffee and S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna mineral waters. After each presentation to the jurors, invited guests made the most of the opportunity to sample the dishes and discuss flavours, techniques and ingredients with enthusiasm.
A powerful jury with a vast wealth of experience between them (and co-incidentally the first all-female jury of this region) had the difficult task of tasting, assessing, and evaluating dishes. South African chef Siba Mtongana, of SIBA The Restaurant at The Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town, best-selling author and star of Siba’s Table on Food Network; Selassie Atadika, UN humanitarian, voted #73 in the Best Chef Awards 2020 and 2021 recipient of the La Liste New Destination Champion Award for Africa, previously a finalist in the 2019 Basque Culinary World Prize, her company Midunu, a nomadic and private dining enterprise in Accra Ghana, embodies ‘New African Cuisine’. Tala Bashmi, chef patron of Fusions by Tala at the Gulf Hotel in Bahrain and winner of the first Middle East and North Africa Best Female chef award in 2022.
An inspiring Brain Food Forum panel discussion on the first afternoon, moderated by Managing Editor Tom Jenkins of Fine Dining Lovers, shared sage advice and experience with chefs and guests in two sessions. Chefs Grégory Czarnecki (mentor to two young chef finalists in the region) and Paul Prinsloo (S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy 2019 regional winner for Africa & Middle East) discussed the importance of mentoring both in and outside the competition framework. Then the jury, together with chefs Margot Janse and Peter Tempelhoff covered wide-ranging topics: including taste and creativity, vital skills outside the kitchen for a chef’s success, and the future of fine dining.
The winners in four categories were announced at a glittering gala dinner at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, hosted by TV and radio presenter Elana Afrika-Bredenkamp. Chefs, mentors and guests were treated to a dinner cooked by past alumni of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy: a course each by chefs Callan Austin, Vusi Ndlovu, and Paul Prinsloo, paired with wines specially selected by Joseph Dhafana of Mosi Wines. A dessert by pastry chef Vicky-Lynn Gurovich of the Mount Nelson followed paired beautifully with Nespresso’s Nepal Lamjung coffee, and a Sicilian dessert wine chosen by Pedro Estrada Belli of Vinotria.
Spirited interludes of music from electric string quartet The Muses, and a guest appearance by Alida Scheepers from the Cape Town Opera, made for an energising atmosphere filled with celebrations.
And now to the winners:
The winner decided by the jury, whose dish best combines the three golden rules of technical skills, creativity and personal belief is Mythrayie Iyer, head chef of Farmlore Restaurant in Bengaluru, India.
Entitled Barter – Evolution of Indian Cooking Through the Age of Exploration, her dish demonstrates the huge shift in traditional cooking wrought by new ingredients introduced by global trade routes in the times of Vasco da Gama – one element used only pre-trade indigenous ingredients such as the ridge gourd, millet and aubergine, the second part of the dish only new world imports (now staples) such as tomato, chilli and lobster.
Voted for by foodies and the Fine Dining Lovers community, Kareem Atef, head of culinary research and development for TLT Concepts in Egypt, presented Egyptian Delight – a snapshot of Egypt on a plate. From a tartlet of traditional bessara (a purée of beans and herbs often served when meat was scarce) to lamb with textures of dukkah, okra and taro root representing the family’s celebratory feast.
Voted for by the Sustainable Restaurant Association, this award goes to a chef who represents socially responsible and sustainable practices in their dish. Zanté Neethling, head chef of the recently opened Nest Food Bar in Knysna, South Africa, fulfilled that with her beautifully presented Strandveld Ecosystem evoking the ocean and edible and medicinal fynbos herbs of the South African coastline with smoked mussel flan, pickled cob, buchu, seasonal wild leaves, served with golden sage tea as a palate cleanser.
Voted for by the local mentors, this award acknowledges connections across different cultures. It goes to Aurélien Durand, chef de cuisine at Ossiano Restaurant, Atlantis The Palm, in Dubai. His dish, Life Starts at the End of Your Comfort Zone uses a masterly technique to create delicious and intriguing combinations of unusual sustainable products such as jellyfish and Patagonian toothfish, embellished with sea lettuce panna cotta.
The grand finale of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy competition will be held in Milan in October 2023.
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