The kitchen was on fire at the Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year finals, held at the Umhlanga offices on 6 September 2017 as chefs from across the country competed head-to-head in a bid to add the coveted title to their resume, kickstart their careers and win the recognition of their peers. The results of this year’s competition clearly highlight South Africa’s ability to compete as a global culinary tourist destination.
Held in three categories – Senior, Junior, and Team of 4 – the Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year is the oldest culinary competition in South Africa, with a 40-year heritage of providing the industry with a platform for the recognition of culinary talent. The top six chefs in each category are selected based on regional cook-offs in the Senior and Junior categories, while the top six teams are 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 consistently noteworthy dishes, namely seafood croquette, tomato and red pepper chutney with salmon ceviche and smoked garlic aioli, followed by slow-braised duck with roast cauliflower purée, seasonal veg and crispy duck skin, and tiramisu mousse with chocolate sponge and almond nougatine.
In the Junior category, the talent and potential of the Saxon Hotel’s Terror Lekopa garnered much attention from the judges, who were impressed 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, and 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. Their impeccable cooking, presentation and service skills proved to be a recipe for success at this year’s competition. The Team of 4 category was created 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 in quality hospitality experiences.
Head judge Garth Shnier, internationally recognised judge and consultant chef, says, “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. The Senior category was extremely closely contested, with the kitchen scores separating the top three. The Team of 4 displayed five-stars in food, presentation and service, which exemplifies the nature of this category.”
Top chefs and teams in the three categories took home a collective total of R110 000 in prize money, with an added bonus for the top Junior Chef of the Year – a trip to Nice on the Côte d'Azur in France, to apprentice with – in addition to a R10 000 cash prize.
Junior and Senior finalists were required to prepare a three-course menu to serve three people using a vast communal table of premium quality fish and meat products, seasonal fruit and vegetables and a minimum of 10 compulsory Unilever Food Solutions products, as well as a pantry of other ingredients.
The Team of 4 finalists prepared a three-course menu for eight people, including wine pairing and themed table décor. Each dish was judged on its preparation, presentation and taste.
Shnier concludes, “The Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year sets the bar higher and higher each year, staging what is truly an exceptional example of a competition that challenges chefs to greater heights through its professional standards. This competition is vital for the development of culinary standards in South Africa.”
Remco Bol, Managing Director of Unilever Food Solutions South Africa concludes, “We are exceptionally proud to be able to provide this platform to the chefs of South Africa and we salute Chefs Jean-Pierre de la Motte, Terror Lekota and the Team of 4 winners, along with all the competitors on the commitment, talent and skill displayed today.”