Dion Vengatass from Mount Nelson Hotel is Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year 2011

A handful of South Africa’s finest chefs have walked away with top honours in the Senior, Junior and Team of Four categories in the whirlwind mystery basket finals of the Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year 2011 that took place on Friday, 16 September.

Unilever Food Solutions Head Office in Umhlanga, Durban was the site of the exciting cook-off which attracted hundreds of entries from some of the most promising chefs in the country, as well as international talent in the Senior and Junior categories. In the end, only 38 chefs were selected, through process of regional finals, to battle it out in their respective categories for the ultimate title of Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year 2011 – plus their share of R90 000 in cash prizes.

Following a three-hour cook-off, it was Dion Vengatass from the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town (executive chef Rudi Liebenberg) who took first place in the Senior category, winning a R15 000 cash prize and the overall title of Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year 2011. Brent Assam from Riverside Hotel in Durban placed second, winning R10 000, and Said Sayed Mohamed from Dubai came third, winning R5 000.

Vengatass's winning menu:

-  Starter: Kingklip roulade, lentil spread, lemon zesty pickled vegetable scallop tortellini, roe emulsion and asparagus salad

-  Main course: Roasted rabbit saddle, quail and rabbit dumpling, butternut puree, roast vegetable and pan fried quail breast jus

-  Dessert: Blueberry cheesecake, strawberry parfait and berry salad.

First place in the Junior category was scooped by Jade van der Spuy from 1000 Hills Chefs School in Durban who walked away with R10 000, second place and R6 000 went to Kayanee (Cherry) Pin from Southern Sun Grayston hotel in Johannesburg and the third prize of R4 000 went to Chang Sheng (Peter) Ye from Radisson Blu in Cape Town.

Van der Spuy's winning menu:

-  Starter: Local salmon and leek mousse with pickled mussels and red cabbage puree

-  Main course: Pan fried duck breast, smoky bacon maize cake, carrot points, green beans, wild mushrooms and a Merlot reduction

-  Dessert: Berry and apple white chocolate Charlotte Royale.

The Team of Four category was won by Food Design Agency in Johannesburg, led by Jodi-Ann Pearton who has won all three legs of the competition, with Capitol Caterers in Durban placing second and Compass Group in Durban taking third place. The winning teams walked away with R20 000, R12 000 and R8 000 respectively.

The Food Design Agency's winning menu:

-  Starter: Roasted garlic royale served with a bisque, poached prawns, grilled calamari and mange tout

-  Main course: Duo of chicken roasted on the crown and spiced pork fillet served with sweet potato fondants, pickled beetroot puree and a pumpkin and corn salad

-  Dessert: Caramel-centred citrus sponge served with nut praline, frozen honey and chocolate mousse and seasonal fruit salsa.

Judges were: Stephen Billingham from HTA School of Culinary Art and president of the South African Chefs Association, Paul Hage from Dubai and Bruce Burns from Delmont Caldow Caterers (Senior category); Mervyn Davies from Sublime Catering, Shaun Munro from Beverly Hills Hotel and Nadeem Raja from Pakistan (Junior category); Jackie Cameron fromHartford House, Sharmaine Dixon from 1000 Hills Chef School and James Khoza from Sandton Sun (Team of Four category); and kitchen judge for all three categories was Sean Webber from Fedics.

“The standards of our namesake competition reach higher levels each year, making it the richest and most respected culinary competition in South Africa; and one in which any chef is proud to be selected to participate,” says Craig Elliott, executive head chef of Unilever Food Solutions for South Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan. "For Unilever Food Solutions, the competition is about pushing the boundaries of creativity, imagination and skill; about uniting behind our talented chefs and going to great lengths to provide them with solutions and inspiration for use in their own kitchens every day. They, in turn, share their talent, inspiration and innovation with us through the proficiency and passion they put into their dishes. The chefs here today are of world-class standard and we’re honoured to be able to offer them a platform from which to launch their careers.”

Since its early days almost four decades ago, the Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year has facilitated talented South African chefs to go on to achieve great heights. Last year’s Senior Chef of the Year Winner, Petrus Madutlela, came out to South Africa to celebrate with the winners and share his success story of going from cleaner to the Savoy.

Following his victory Madutlela went on to win the Unilever Food Solutions By Invitation Only challenge earlier this year, where he competed against five handpicked industry greats to walk away with the title and R40 000 in cash. He is currently working as chef de partie at The Savoy in London

“As part of the SAMEP (South Africa Middle East and Pakistan) cluster within Unilever Food Solutions, we’re delighted, for the third year in a row, to have brought a global edge to the competition by hosting chefs from Egypt, Dubai and Pakistan at the cook-off. We believe that not only does this convey enormous prestige and recognition of an entire continent, but looking at the judges’ scoring, proves that our local chefs have what it takes to hold their own among the best culinary talent in the world. Congratulations to all the winners,” says Eelco Camminga, vice president of Unilever Food Solutions for South Africa, Middle East and Pakistan.

For further information on the competition, visit www.unileverfoodsolutions.co.za.


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