Culinary students show talent under pressure

Culinary students show talent under pressure
The winning student chefs at the awards gala. (Photo: Supplied)

Mentorship lies at the heart of the Mount Nelson Reaching for Young Stars initiative, created by Showcook.

Although Young Stars is a combination of learning and competition, elements of the programme expose candidates to the cream of the hospitality industry, introducing them to opportunities and an environment where top chefs, sommeliers, baristas and bakers offer their extensive knowledge to inspire young professionals destined to become the next generation of chefs, wine stewards, pastry chefs, bakers and baristas. 

The awards dinner and ceremony for the – and this is a mouthful – Mount Nelson, a Belmond Hotel, Reaching For Young Stars 2022, A Showcook Initiative, took place in the ballroom at said hotel on Wednesday, June 15. It was very grand and glittering, with candelabras, sparkling chandeliers, sparkling wine and sparkling frocks, cocktails billowing smoke, black ties and chefs’ whites. Two long tables to either side of the podium were laden with highly desirable kitchen appliances and goodies wrapped in cellophane – the prizes for the top performing students from seven Cape Town culinary and hospitality schools.

“Hello, I’m the Kitchen Dragon,” a woman at my table introduced herself. I was suitably impressed. It was Julietta e Silva Overmeyer, Capsicum Culinary Studio alumnus, the judge of the Kitchen Evaluation category, which defines the important role of kitchen hygiene. 

Our table at the awards, with the ‘Kitchen Dragon’ Julietta e Silva Overmeyer, centre. (Photo: Supplied)

The awards ceremony followed a day of intense cookoffs on June 4, where teams from each campus had to prepare their dishes, beverages, and pairings to the panel of judges, all industry specialists. Along with Julietta e Silva Overmeyer and her Kitchen Evaluation co-judge Cody Dodgen, these were Rudi Liebenberg and Mariëtte Crafford (Hot Chefs); Jac Kolver and Debbie Hall (Pastry Chefs & Bakers); Penelope Horwood and Willem du Toit (Cocktails, Wine & Mineral Water Presentation); Guy Webber and Marlvin Gwese (Food & Wine Pairing); and Wayne Abrahams and Mogammed Sameer De Long (Baristas).

At the cook offs, the students had to use certain ingredients provided by the sponsors, and our gala dinner prepared by the Mount Nelson team followed suit (which I thought was a nice touch) with KWV Brandy and Cruxland gin cocktails, those of the goblets of billowing smoke; and Sanpellegrino sparkling drinks and S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna; a Bio-Wheat bread course which included delicate breadsticks which snapped easily with a flick of the wrist and went flying and honestly, you can’t take me anywhere; followed by a starter of ravioli with a mushroom cap, sweet and sour pickled mushrooms, and garlic cauliflower crème.

The starter at the awards dinner – Denny Mushroom ravioli, mushroom cap, sweet and sour pickled mushroom and garlic cauliflower crème. (Photo: Supplied)

The main course was certified Karoo lamb, a compilation of puff pastry baked shank which was the highlight of the plate for me, BBQ rib, merguez-wrapped braised neck, and roasted baby carrots, chickpeas, celeriac purée, and Senqu pistachios. And finally, dessert: yoghurt sorbet, citrus parfait, pine needle granita, olive oil jellies (which were delicious, I’m just not sure I wanted them in my pudding), with meringue and fennel pollen crunch.

The dessert at the gala dinner – ClemenGold® parfait, yoghurt sorbet, pine needle granita, olive oil jelly, meringue and fennel pollen crunch. (Photo: Supplied)

Understandably, the cook offs and presentations to the judges were stressful as well as exciting for all the students. 

The competition’s skills exchange development programme, designed to raise awareness of local and global partnerships, included meeting farmers, producers, tourism professionals, and the opportunity to not only engage with guest speakers, but to embark on a variety of extra mural activities like a mixology class at Superyacht Training Academy, a South African wine course at Cape Wine Academy, tasting and learning about the making of fine spirits at KWV’s House Of Fire in Paarl at the KWV Emporium – all fine examples of the generosity extended by the industry to the next generation.

Main course at the dinner: Certified Karoo Lamb Compilation – puff pastry baked lamb shank, BBQ lamb rib, merguez-wrapped braised lamb neck, roasted baby carrots, chickpeas, celeriac purée, Senqu pistachios and Lurpak Butter. (Photo: Supplied)

“It has been 14 formidable and stimulating years since Chania Morritt-Smith and I began The Reaching for Young Stars programme,” said Annette Kesler of “We have seen many profound changes in curriculum, commitment and professionalism as our culinary academies rose to meet fresh challenges. There is a greater understanding today of a rapidly changing hospitality industry. It has been a great pleasure seeing the incredible progress our young stars have made over this time, a huge source of pride and pleasure for us both.”

Rudi Liebenberg, judge, and executive chef at the Mount Nelson, said, “Every young person in industry needs to invest in their futures and, win or lose, this competition sets an amazing base to learn and grow.”

And so it came to pass that we were in a room where, a bit like a wedding but not, speeches were made, and seated at the main table were not the bride and groom, but rows of fresh young faces, bursting with eagerness and enthusiasm for the recognition of their hard work in a chosen career which promises, along with its rewards, a lifetime of graft. To see them being recognised for excellence at such a tender age, and to be showered with gifts and prizes beyond their wildest dreams, was heartwarming.

Each of the teams was partnered with a wine estate: International Hotel School (IHS) & Kleine Zalze; Chefs Training and Innovation Academy (CTIA) & Krone; The Cape Town Hotel School (part of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, CPUT) & Anthonij Rupert Wyne; Capsicum Culinary Studio & Ernie Els Wines; Superyacht Training Academy & Simonsig; False Bay TVET College & Beyerskloof Wines with The Pinotage Association; CookTastic & Neethlingshof; and The Hurst Campus & La Motte.

The winners of the Scanpan Excellent Kitchen Practice duo of chefs were Köhn du Toit and assistant chef Tadiwa Mwendamberi from Hurst Campus.

Like Superyacht, CookTastic Hospitality Hub was a first-time participant, fielding beverage student Kgaogelo Magopane, who said, “I’m a self-disciplined, motivated individual who strives to succeed in any task I perform. I would like to see myself starting my establishment where I can make the food I love and go for the stars as a young woman starting in the hospitality industry.”

CookTastic founder and project manager Mbuyi Jongqo, whom I keep bumping into at functions and she is always bubbly and vibrant, was wildly enthusiastic about the competition’s innovation.

In the category Hot Chefs (which refers to the food I am told, not their appearance, although…), first place went to Terise Pillay from the International Hotel School, who said she “felt ecstatic, humbled to have been acknowledged in that manner and extremely grateful for this amazing opportunity to showcase my talent.”

She – and second and third placed students Chulumanco Mavuso (Cape Town Hotel School) and Marthinus Terblanche (CTIA) respectively – also all won what are called the “exceptional prizes”: five-month working experience in Cape Cod, Massachusetts at Winslow’s Tavern, a top heritage restaurant in a historic Federalist building in scenic Wellfleet with fellow South Africans, chef-patrons Phillip and Tracey Hunt. 

Chulumanco Mavuso, second in the Hot Chefs category, presented this dish at the cook offs: Certified Karoo Lamb with charred cauliflower florets, zucchini ribbons, brûlée onions, minted pea puree, candied sunflowers and capers. (Photo: Supplied)

Chef Deon Roets, academic manager for the chef division at CTIA, encouraged students to enter the Showcook competition for the first time in 2020, and could not be happier with the 2022 results. “What a great opportunity for our school and so much gratitude towards our students’ achievements,” he said.

The title of Ultimate Lancewood Young Star Pastry Chef Of The Year went to Chanda du Plooy from False Bay TVET College, who said she was “quite surprised but really ecstatic about winning this award”.

Du Plooy will experience a three-month internship in France at the exquisite Château de la Creuzette in Boussac with hosts Louis Jansen van Vuuren and Hardy Olivier.

The third exceptional prize went to first-placed beverage student Craig Munemo from Superyacht Culinary Academy. Munemo won a week’s work shadowing at KWV over harvest time where he will experience everything from vineyards to cellar, including sales, marketing of spirits and wines.

Second placed beverage student Gustav Duvenhage from CTIA took home more than one prize: with chef Marthinus Terblanche, best main in the Food & Wine Pairing category, as well as best dessert with pastry chef Chloë Joubert; best KWV brandy cocktail, and as a member of S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna Best Team Presentation with Terblanche, Joubert, Jessica Scholtz, and Faith Neethling.

“It was very shocking to win all these categories but it felt wonderful to have heard my name called out,” he said.

Don Johnson Nkomo from Hurst Campus was the third-placed beverage student. Tinotenda Sadziwa from Capsicum Culinary Studio, the KitchenAid Young Star Bio-Wheat Baker Of The Year, described herself as “a very talented and goal oriented young lady. I see myself working in one of the best hotels getting all the experience and advancing my culinary skills to open my coffee bar and later, a school on baking”.

CTIA’s Jessica Scholtz came second, and Chuma Cetywayo from Cape Town Hotel School was third.

Young Star Barista Of The Year, Cara Kleynhans from Hurst Campus, said her heart flooded with joy when the announcement was made.

Kleynhans, who hopes to open a little speciality pastry and coffee shop with her sister one day, loved being under pressure on the cook offs day.

Superyacht’s Craig Munemo was second in this category, and Cape Town Hotel School’s Codey Olivier was third.

For Food & Wine Pairing, Pillay and beverage student Lyam Johnson from the International Hotel School, with Kleine Zalze, won best starter. Their dish was double stuffed ravioli with creamy cheese and mushroom filling, served with a mushroom broth topped with sautéed exotic mushrooms and a drizzle of lemon infused olive oil.

Terblanche and Duvenhage’s winning main course was certified Karoo lamb glazed and coated with Senqu River pistachios served with a tomato risotto, fondant baby onions and carrot purée, and topped with pickled baby carrots and saffron broccoli with lamb jus.

The best dessert was a ClemenGold marmalade hemisphere centre with a Senqu River pistachio and matcha sponge cake brushed with a pistachio honey simple syrup, chocolate almond crunch layer and ClemenGold curd surrounded by a pecan mousse encased in mirror glaze and served with a pistachio honey and ClemenGold whipped Lancewood mascarpone.

And on that verbose but delicious note the evening concluded – short speeches, brisk handing out of prizes, efficient service of food and wine, all much appreciated as was the early start of 5pm, which meant we could all be home in bed with a nice cup of tea before 10pm. However, the giddy rush and legal high no doubt lasted much longer. DM/TGIFood

For more information, click here.

Follow Bianca Coleman on Instagram @biancaleecoleman

The writer supports The Gift of the Givers Foundation, the largest disaster response, non-governmental organisation of African origin on the African continent.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted