As a writer I receive invitations to many special events. Yesterday’s Africa/Middle East finals of the S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015, held at the SA Chef’s Academy, was one of those memorable events, particularly as the nine finalists no doubt will become the future top chefs of our country and of Dubai.
Originally ten finalist chefs aged 30 years or younger were selected to represent Africa and the Middle East. Chef Eka Mochamad of the Pepper Fine Dining Restaurant at Jumeirah in Dubai had to withdraw due to the early birth of his child. The nine finalist chefs were from Johannesburg, Cape Town, Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Dubai, many meeting for the first time at the competition. The competition cooking was managed by SA Chef’s Academy Paul Hartmann, whom I met for the first time, a mine of useful information as to chef movements.
We were welcomed by Sandra Husseini Norberg from San Pellegrino Middle East & Africa in Lebanon, who co-ordinated the judging of the Africa/Middle East leg of the competition on behalf of Fine Dining Lovers. The three judges were Chef David Higgs from five hundred at The Saxon Boutique Hotel, and an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant winner whilst he was at Rust en Vrede; Joe Barca from Lebanon, best known for his Top Chef TV show; and Uwe Micheel of the Radisson Blu Hotel Dubai Deira Creek. They conferred in one of the rooms, and each chef had to present his/her dish to the judges. I asked the finalists about their interaction with the judges, and there seemed to be few questions and little talking with them. Once the dish had been presented to the judges, the finalists plated small tasting portions for the guests, to allow us to vote for a People’s Choice dish.
The winning dish, as judged by the judges, and also the People’s Choice winner, was entitled ‘Milk is Thicker than Water’, and created by Chef Angelo Scirocco of Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen, who has a fantastic mentor in Chef Liam Tomlin. Yesterday morning Chef Liam posted on Facebook a bolchy prediction which came true: ‘A very confident Angelo arriving at the SP young chef of the world completion. So proud and wishing him the best. Next stop Milan‘. Chef Angelo’s dish was most unique and unusual, in its focus on milk, with textures, and reflecting old school cooking, he said. It consisted of elderflower panna cotta, strachiatella mozzarella, vanilla and cardamom rice pudding, buttermilk ice cream, and meringue shards, the plate being placed on a straw base. He was down to earth, and very grateful to Chef Liam, who had lent him the plates and who had been a sounding board for him in developing his dish.
The second best dish was ‘Tribute to a local Lamb‘, created by Chef Rahil Rathod of Radisson Blu Hotel Dubai Deira Creek-Boulvar. Chef Rahil came to chat, and told me that the dominant Moslem population eats lamb. His dish honours the old world and new world in the flavours he created in his dish, and uses lamb rack, loin, shoulder, and sweet breads. I asked him what he thought of Cape Town, after 24 hours in our city, and he said he was most impressed with our mountains, as he was driven from the airport to his city hotel.
Third place winner was Vusumuzi Ndlovu of five hundred at The Saxon Boutique Hotel, who laughingly said that Chef David is a tough boss, who knows what he wants. He is a fair judge, Vusi said. He started cooking at The Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Pretoria. He was a member of the South African Culinary Olympics team in 2012. Vusi’s dish was Angus Beef with oysters, charred asparagus, a hollandaise sauce made with bone marrow, and a pine dressing.
The other dishes presented to the judges were the following:
* ‘Preparations of Quail’ by Chef Constantijn Hahndiek of the OSA Restaurant at Fairmont Zimbali, whom I had met whilst he worked at Café BonBon in Franschhoek. He is moving to Hartford House next month, exciting news for the young talented chef. His finalist dish reflects basic classic cooking techniques with pure simple cooking, utilising only a few basic ingredients, he says.
* Parma-wrapped slow cooked rabbit, palm sugar Szechuan rabbit liver brûlée, and pumpkin seed gremolata, prepared by Chef Darren Badenhorst of Grande Provence. His cooking style is adding an Asian twist to classic French cuisine. Chef Darren told me that he chose rabbit as it is an unusual meat to present, to which he added duck and rabbit liver, as well as foie gras. Chef Darren said that the competition has given him tremendous exposure on radio, TV, in newspaper articles, and in blogposts.
* ‘A Tropical Plate’ by Chef Amoré Botha of the Twelve Apostles Hotel. She won the Unilever’s 2014 Junior Chef, and Hudson & Knight’s Baking Master. Her dish reflects what she likes to eat as a fresh summer dish, including tropical fruits such as lychee, pineapple, and papaya. She used gluten-free and lactose-free ingredients.
* ‘Cape Coast Rock Pool‘ was the dish of Chef Katlego Mlambo of Rust en Vrede, who learnt to cook from his gran. Coming from Johannesburg, and having spent the past six years in the Cape, he wanted to reflect the treasures of our oceans. He has previously worked at The Roundhouse, and La Colombe. The dish came with a bottle of brownish liquid, an umami broth representing the ocean water, Chef Katlego explained to me. The dish contains mussels and calamari.
* Royal spiced Salmon served with prawn centurion egg croquette, spiced carrot purée, edible soil, and rose oil tossed asparagus was created by Chef Sanjay Thakur of Etihad Airways. He said that his dish represents his journey on the plate, the salmon prepared in the traditional method. He has worked in Australia, including at Nobu Melbourne.
* ‘Down to Earth’ by Chef Simone van der Merwe of De Kloof Restaurant in Pretoria, who studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, and worked for Neil Jewell at Bread & Wine. Her dish was unusual in its presentation, a glass lying on its side on soil, with beetroot, blood orange, chocolate, and thyme.
Other restaurant news from the event was:
* Chef Hilton Espey (previously Apprentice) is taking over the Equus kitchen from Chef Henrico Grobbelaar on Sunday 1 March
* Chef Lauren Case from Mondiall joins Bocca next month.
The international S. Pellegrino 2015 Young Chef of the Year finals will be held in Milan in June, and Chef Angelo will represent Africa and the Middle East in competing against 19 other regional winners for the global title. Chef Angelo will be accompanied by Chef David Higgs, who will help Chef Angelo fine-tune his dish for the competition.
DISCLOSURE: We received a goodie bag which contained an interesting collection of gifts: a S. Pellegrino pen and notebook, an orange iPhone 4 cellphone cover (I had just bought one the day before), a Saladini knife, and a silver bracelet with a S. Pellegrino and an Aqua Panna bottle top charm.
S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015. www.finedininglovers.com Twitter: @FineDiningLovers