What a fantastic find in the form of Culinary Table situated on the edge of…
The South African Culinary Olympic Team – Team Masakhane – has returned victorious with three bronze medals as evidence of the years of dedication, passion, talent and skill they have invested into representing their country on the biggest culinary stage in the world – the IKA Culinary Olympics.
Held once every four years in Germany, the Culinary Olympics is the ultimate culinary competition, attracting around 1 800 participants, including 110 teams and roughly 800 individual competitors from 67 countries to compete in various categories. The most prestigious and highly prized category is the National Team category, which this year saw 29 teams competing for the goal of gold in the oldest and biggest international culinary arts competition, which was first held in 1900.
Competing in 22 professionally equipped kitchens built especially for the Olympics in Stuttgart, surrounded by thousands of spectators, constantly watched by jury members and cooking under extremely pressurised competition conditions, South Africa’s young team – one of the youngest among the 29 teams – rose to the challenge, overcoming many logistical challenges, and impressing judges and fellow competitors with their systems, discipline and spirit.
Under the auspices of the SA Chefs Association, Team SA was headed by Trevor Boyd, Team Manager and Executive Chef of The Michelangelo Hotel; with team members: Dion Vengatass, Chef de Cuisine, Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel (Team Captain); and Kirstin Hellemann, Junior Sous Chef, Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, both of whom have past Culinary Olympic experience – and Olympic newcomers, Adrian Vigus-Brown, Executive Chef, African Pride Melrose Arch, Autograph Collection; Chanté Rabie, Pastry Chef, Saxton Hotel, Villas & Spa; Bradley van Niekerk, Senior Chef de Partie, Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia; Oscar Baard, Pastry Chef, NH Cape Town The Lord Charles; and Sifiso Chiziano (commis chef, African Pride Melrose Arch, Autograph Collection & National Youth Chef Training Programme 3rd year student).
The Springbok squad competed in two categories; the Chef’s Table, entailing seven different dishes for twelve people on 16 February, and the Restaurant of Nations, a three-course menu for 110 people on 18 February. In both categories, visitors to the IKA Olympics paid to enjoy the dishes. The Team won a bronze medal in each of the two categories.
The third medal was won by individual competitor Nicolas van der Walt of FBI Culinary Studio, who entered the showpiece category with a work of art in sugar titled “King for a Day”, a spectacular representation of South Africa’s beautiful king protea.
Comments James Khoza, President of SA Chefs Association and Executive Chef of Sandton Convention Centre: “We are happy with the results. When you consider the high standards at the competition, our young team did exceptionally well. They learned a lot about what they need to work on, over and above the culinary elements, like sustainability, hygiene of the highest standard, and mental strength. This achievement means we can set the bar higher, and work hard to reach gold in the next Olympics. It’s an achievement that demonstrates what we’re aiming to do for the country and brings unity to South Africa; it gives chefs an aspiration because we are not just working for a salary, but for tourism and for the country, and we are putting ourselves forward as ambassadors for the country. I’m very proud.”
According to IKA Culinary Olympics jury president Frank Widmann, the teams this year set new culinary trends. “Whereas a lot was cooked sous-vide at the Culinary Olympics four years ago, the trend at the IKA 2020 was once again towards cooking with open heat.” In culinary terms, the trend at this year’s Culinary Olympics has moved away from unusual and expensive products. “Instead, the teams have managed to create unique and outstanding flavours from simple and regional products from their own country,” Widmann stated. The jury president was assisted in the evaluation of the dishes by a total of 67 jurors from all over the world. South Africa was represented on the jury by Chefs Garth Shnier, Martin Kobald and Nadin Pospech Demmler.
In the National Culinary Team category, Team Norway was crowned the winner, taking home the Olympic gold medal. According to organisers VKD (Verband der Koche), Team Norway displayed precision and artistic craftmanship. They were followed closely in second place by Sweden, who achieved the silver medal for their outstanding performance. Third place and overall bronze went to Iceland.
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COMMENTS FROM THE SOUTH AFRICAN JUDGES
Chef Garth Shnier, former member of the World Association of Chefs Societies’ Culinary Guidelines Committee: “Whilst I didn’t personally judge the South African National Culinary Team, the feedback from my fellow judges on the international jury was that the team was extremely dedicated, professional and motivated, and the enthusiasm, hygiene and work ethic they displayed in the kitchens in both categories was outstanding. On a personal note, I am very proud of the team as they are very young team. The standard of the IKA Culinary Olympics 2020 was the highest I’ve ever seen, and the international teams were very well prepared. It was an honour to judge this year’s Olympics.”
Chef Martin Kobald, Deputy President of the World Association of Chefs Societies: “Out of the kitchen Team Masakhane was full of energy, friendship and brotherhood. In the kitchen, they were full of dedication, passion, great workmanship, professionalism and team spirit. They are a very young team who are going to make some big culinary waves in the future. Next stop for the Team would be the Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg before the Olympics in 2024. I ask for the continuous support of the entire hospitality industry in South Africa; this a Team worth investing in, one that has a great future ahead of them.”
COMMENTS FROM THE MEMBERS OF CULINARY TEAM SA
Dion Vengatass, Chef de Cuisine, Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel (Team Captain): “What a rollercoaster ride the past three years has been. We went to show that South Africa can compete against the best. The response from the other countries clearly showed that we’re a force to be reckoned with. People were talking about us; we had Norway coming to ask us about our systems, and Sweden coming to take photos of us when we changed over our uniforms. We set a new precedent in terms of what this competition means for South Africa and how we want to execute. We followed a modern, new direction. As a team we were aiming for gold, but bronze feels like a gold because we had some challenges two months before the competition that put us at a disadvantage. We were one chef down in the Chefs Table category with a young, inexperienced team, and still we managed to do our country proud. We have a strong system, and a team that wants to stay in it for the next four years. We have a determination now to push for what will bring us a gold. It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m so proud of each and every team member and their tenacity and willpower to strive for something bigger than us.”
Kirstin Hellemann, Junior Sous Chef, Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel: “This is my second Olympics, and it has been an amazing experience. I can see the growth personally and as a team. The team we have now is solid. We’ve got stronger and stronger, and now all we need is to keep the consistency and the management if we want to compete with the rest of the world. We’ve got the talent. I’m very proud of our two bronze medals; I’m proud of the team and how we’ve gelled together. It shows how strong we are.”
Adrian Vigus-Brown, Executive Chef, African Pride Melrose Arch, Autograph Collection: “This Olympics was an eye opener in terms of our our processes being game changers, and now we need to execute them over the next period until the 2024 Culinary Olympics. There is a big difference between South Africa and the leading contenders in terms of numbers and volume of work. Despite this, we CAN compete. It was very humbling to know how many supporters we had behind us, and every day when we looked at social media it was a big boost to see how many people were encouraging us, commenting and sharing. The experience of having nine people from different backgrounds coming together to compete with the best was the most humbling experience of all.”
Chanté Rabie, Pastry Chef, Saxton Hotel, Villas & Spa: “I am the pastry chef on the team and I’ve been with the team for just over a year. The Olympics is an experience that’s difficult to explain. It’s been ups and downs, it’s been stressful but enjoyable. When you start training for the Olympics, you think it’s a big thing but the reality of the fact that I had the privilege of representing my country only hit me when I was on the stage with hundreds of chefs from 50 teams. We gave it our all from day one. At times we felt like giving up but we’re South Africans and we don’t give up; we were a force to be reckoned with, we took it on, we believed in ourselves. Having our first experience of cooking in an international competition was amazing; the cameras, the people watching you, admiring you, cooking in a glass fishbowl, the adrenaline, working with the ingredients, seeing the amazing chefs you’ve been admiring for years, competing on a floor where there are 22 kitchens, with chefs who are all in the same position fighting for our country, realising that we share exactly the same passion. I still can’t believe that there’s an Olympics for our passion. We have so many stories, like getting to Germany, without having brought any of our own ingredients, believing in their ingredients, and realising that even the flour was completely different from the South African flour, struggling to get something as simple as a malva pudding right, and then presenting the best malva we’ve ever had. Walking on that stage with my team, winning two bronze medals we felt so proud because we know we did it together, through all the challenges we did it together. I’m so grateful to Chef Trevor Boyd for believing in me, Chef Nicolas van der Walt who introduced me to the team, to my family for being with me in Germany. It was such a proud moment to be in Germany with Chef Garth Shnier and Chef Martin Kobald, it’s something you can only dream of. The one thing I have realised is that iF you ever believe that your dream is too big it’s not. Being 22 (now 23 after celebrating my birthday in German) with two medals – it’s a surreal moment. I’m so, so grateful. And so proud to be a South African.”
Bradley van Niekerk, Senior Chef de Partie, Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia: “I’ve been with the team for 2½ years. There are so many lessons I’ve learnt that I can take back home, especially working under the pressure, with the jury watching all the time.”
Sifiso Chiziano, Commis Chef, African Pride Melrose Arch, Autograph Collection and National Youth Chef Training Programme 3rd year student: “I joined the team two months ago. I didn’t know anything and I needed to learn everything very fast. I had the greatest people around to support me. The experience in Germany has changed my mindset for the better. I found out that it’s easier when you have the right people behind you.”
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COMMENTS FROM THE MANAGEMENT OF SA CHEFS ASSOCIATION
Thomas Overbeck, General Manager of SA Chefs Association: “We are incredibly proud of the team and their dedication, discipline and control, both on and off the playing field. They had a wonderful camaraderie, and we are very proud of the bronze medals they achieved”.
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