Germaine Esau wins Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year

Annual competition

On Thursday, Germaine Esau from Delaire Graff Estate in the Cape took the hotly contested and prestigious title of the 2014 Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year competition at the awards ceremony held in Durban after a sizzling day in the kitchen. A total of R110 000 was won across the five categories of the competition this year.

“It’s been a tough few months for the Chef of the Year contestants who have been preparing for the competition since the start of the call for entries in May this year. The UFS Chef of the Year competition is known to change the lives of those who win the title, and has been inspiring chefs for close to four decades,” says Craig Elliott, Executive Head Chef of Unilever Food Solutions South Africa. 

Proof of the pudding can be found in chefs such as Petrus Madutlela, winner of the 2010 Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year competition, who is now living and working in London.

Germaine Esau from Delaire Graff Estate in the Western Cape won R 15 000 and the Senior category of the competition after going up against five highly experienced finalists in a two hour mystery basket challenge at the state-of-the-art Unilever kitchens in La Lucia Ridge, Durban. Germaine’s menu consisted of tuna tartare and seared tuna served with pickled mushroom, lemon pomegranate, crispy ham and carrot, followed by lamb loin, sautéed kidneys, broccoli sprouts with butternut and a camembert rice crème and dessert consisting of olive oil parfait, kiwi sauce, compressed nectarine with meringue.

In the Junior category, in which all six competitors were women, Amoré Botha from The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa in Cape Town was the recipient of R10 000 for her starter of carpaccio of salmon, salmon tartare, fried calamari, mussel croquette with lime cream cheese and pickled carrot; duo of quail, pan-fried breast, tomato-braised leg tortellini, butternut puree with roasted butternut and quail jus for main; and wild berry soufflé, cinnamon anglaise, gooseberry compote, vanilla pannacotta, macerated strawberries and walnut crumble for dessert.

The Bring Your Best Team category and R 20 000 was won by Tsogo Sun’s Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani in Durban for their starter of prawn-studded coriander-scented yellowtail fishcake, complimented by brandy bisque and red pepper coulis with an Asian finish; main course of herbed pork tenderloin set upon sweet potato, lentil and chorizo hash with blueberry onion marmalade, baby vegetables and a white wine jus; ending with brownie-based minted lemon cheesecake, vanilla crème brulée, accompanied by cinnamon chocolate sauce and peppered strawberry confetti.

The Creative Canapés category was won by Samantha Lloyd of The Taj in Cape Town for her hot canapés of chicken pea fritter, lamb potjie vetkoek, chicken curry bunny chow and bobotie burgers, and cold canapés of ostrich tartar with paw paw salsa, smoked snoek cheesecake with apricot chutney, beetroot-cured salmon with masala cream cheese and biltong and parmesan crisp. Samantha won R7 000.

Winner of the Confectionary Showcase and R7 000 was Kevyn Buys of Capsicum Culinary Studio for his traditional rose petal infused four-tier cake with bead droppings.

Runners-up in the five categories included:

Senior category: Mluleki Luthuli of Radisson Blue Sandton took second place and R10 000, while third place went to Jade van der Spuy of 1000 Hills Chef School in KZN, who walked away with R5 000. The compulsory ingredients in the Senior category included kabeljou, parma ham, lamb kidneys and loin and a minimum of six Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), with the option to use a variety of products from a basket of ingredients that included camembert, basmati rice, chickpeas, exotic mushrooms, long-stem broccoli, nectarine, pomegranate seeds and kiwi.

“By hosting this competition, Unilever Food Solutions offers chefs an opportunity to showcase their skills, and what we’re seeing now is a new generation of modern chefs, displaying a very high standard, with good flavours, great innovation and new cooking techniques. 

It was an absolute pleasure to judge the Senior category and I was left with a feeling of pride that South Africa has such great talent coming through,” said Garth Shnier, Executive Chef of Tsogo Sun’s Sandton Sun, Sandton Convention Centre and Sandton InterContinental Towers, and a member of the esteemed World Association of Chefs Societies Culinary Committee, which oversees culinary competitions worldwide.

Junior category: Michaela van der Merwe from The Twelve Apostles, and Kirsten Howell of the Saxon in Johannesburg, who took home R 6 000 and R4 000 respectively. The compulsory proteins in the Junior category were salmon, baby squid, fresh mussels and quail, plus six UFS products and a basket of optional ingredients including cream cheese, vermicelli, red lentils, baby corn, baby spinach, strawberries and gooseberries. 

Kevin Joseph, Executive Chef of the Oyster Box and a judge in the Junior category, said, “We saw a very good effort across the board. At times I would have thought I was judging the senior and not the junior category. 

There was a lot of raw, basic skill displayed and it was surprising to see so many skills on one plate at this level of competition. There were also lots of interesting new flavours and very innovative ways of utilising the Unilever Food Solutions products. Overall, the imagination – from the terminology of the dishes to the dishes themselves – was wonderful to see. What’s very important for future competitors to note in this category is that, in the end, the points were so close that it boiled down to seasoning and who put salt on the food.”

Bring Your Best Team: Second place and R12 000 went to the Radisson Blu Gautrain in Johannesburg, while third place at R8 000 went to Western Province Caterers in Cape Town. Compulsory proteins were chorizo, pork fillet, yellow tail and prawns plus six UFS ingredients and a basket including basmati rice, chickpeas, brown lentils, baby marrow, snap peas, baby corn, blueberries and strawberries. Heinz Brunner, judge of the Team category said, “Overall the standard this year was very good. It was wonderful to see that the pastry stood out and excelled with some innovative dishes. 

While the cooking methods could be improved and the pork was definitely a curve ball, given how important it is not to overcook the meat, the overall teamwork was very gratifying to see. After all, teamwork in the F&B environment is what it’s all about, which is what makes this such an important category in the Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year.”

Creative Canapés: Second place and R2 000 went to Mpho Malaka of Radisson Blu Gautrain in Johannesburg and third place and R1 000 went to Ekkanut Imthawin of Hilton Durban. Gerard van Staden, judge of the Creative Canapés, said, “The canapé standard was much higher than last year. In general, competitors need to think out of the box and rely less on their operating equipment and more on the quality of the dishes they are presenting. 

Overall, the competitors were more organised and the portion sizes were more regular. It was also good to see so much use of traditional South African ingredients and dishes, such as atchar and chutneys.”

Confectionary Showcase: Larissa Pillay of The Oyster Box in Umhlanga was awarded second place and R2 000, while Nathan Jacobs of The Twelve Apostles in Cape Town won third place and R1 000.

“The standard this year is the best I’ve seen in 10 years. We saw a new dimension added to the Bring Your Best Team of Four category, which really showcases the calibre and skill of food & beverage teams across all sectors of the industry. 

The category that stood out this year was the Canapés, which were exceptional in their creativity. Having been involved in this competition for a decade, I think what’s most important and unique about this competition is the feedback that is given to the competitors, not just on the day of the finals, but on the entries and at the regional level. 

The feedback from the mentors and veterans of the industry is what allows the competitors to grow year on year and for those who come back the next year to truly excel, both in the competition and in their workplace,” comments Craig Elliott, Executive Head Chef of Unilever Food Solutions South Africa.

Said Graham Donet, General Manager of the South African Chefs Association, “This is a very critical competition within the foodservice industry, and is widely regarded as the premier culinary competition in South Africa, covering every sector of the industry. With other competitions having fallen by the wayside this competition has become even more important in uplifting skills and encouraging healthy competition.”

“Unilever Food Solutions is a brand that inspires chefs to be creative every day and there’s no doubt that some of the UFS products enhanced that inspiration; it was refreshing to see new creations using the UFS ingredients.This competition is just another way of acknowledging and recognising the immense expertise and culinary skill that chefs contribute to the food service industry in this country. 

We are proud to provide this platform for chefs to network, learn from each other and take back their learnings back to their kitchens. Congratulations to all the chefs who took part in this competition,” says Michel Mellis, MD of Unilever Food Solutions South Africa.

Issued on behalf of Unilever Food Solutions by Strategic Public Relations. For further information contact Gaole Bogatsu on 011 672 2037 or e-mail 

Unilever South Africa - Unathi Mgobozi External Affairs Manager

+27 31 570 3000
031 570 2470

Explore more on these topics:

Back to top


We are always looking to connect with people who have an interest in a sustainable future.


Contact Unilever and our expert teams to find contacts around the world.

Contact us