The kitchen was on fire at the Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year finals last week in Umhlanga as chefs from across the country went head-tohead in a bid to add the coveted title to their resume, kick-start their careers and win the recognition of their peers.
It has three categories – senior, junior, and Team of 4 – and is the oldest culinary competition in South Africa, with a 40-year history. The top six chefs in each category were selected based on regional cook-offs in the senior and junior categories, while the top six teams were selected based on competition entries.
The winner in the senior category was Jean-Pierre de la Motte of the Lord Charles Hotel in Cape Town, who presented three noteworthy dishes: seafood croquette, tomato and red pepper chutney with salmon ceviche and smoked garlic aioli, followed by slowbraised duck with roast cauliflower purée, seasonal vegetables and tiramisu mousse with chocolate sponge and almond nougatine.
In the junior category, the Saxon Hotel’s Terror Lekopa impressed the judges with his starter of pan-fried kingklip, tomato mayonnaise, carrot purée, pickled radishes, tomato sponge and lemon and herb cream, which was presented alongside seared ostrich, parmesan croquette, cauliflower purée, roasted beetroot and red wine demi-glace, baked cheesecake, lemon sorbet, orange curd and passion fruit jelly.
Willem van der Merwe and his team from the 12 Apostles won in the Team of 4 category. This category recognises the efforts of hard-working and skilled members of the kitchen support team, who are often not given credit for their roles in quality hospitality experiences.
“We saw exceptional modern presentation in the junior dishes, incorporating linear presentation, clean lines and dishes cooked to near perfection. “Today, everything was well-rounded on the starters and mains and the quality was at a level far above the expectation of juniors, which bodes well for South Africa’s future as a global tourist destination,” said head judge Garth Shnier, an internationally recognised judge and consultant chef.
The winners took home a collective total of R110 000 in prize money, with a bonus for the top Junior Chef of the Year of a trip to Nice in France.
The Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year sets the bar higher each year, Shnier said.