At a glittering ceremony at the Moses Mabhida stadium, marking the 40th anniversary of the illustrious competition, KwaZulu-Natal’s Jade van der Spuy was announced as the 2015 Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year. The 1000 Hills Chef School lecturer walked away with the top prize of R15 000 on the 10th of September.

This was the first year that the competition was endorsed by the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) and a WACS-accredited judge oversaw the judging delegation as well as the overall judging procedure.

“Our heartiest congratulations to Jade as our newest Senior Chef of the Year, as well as to all the other worthy winners in the competition,” says Remco Bol, Managing Director of Unilever Food Solutions South Africa. “The entire competition was tightly contested in all categories, again proving the exceptional world-class standards that our chefs in South Africa constantly achieve.” Bol adds that the WACS endorsement and oversight added a new dimension of professionalism to the competition, taking it to the next level in international culinary competition standings.

In the nail-biting final, Jade, a former winner of the Junior category of the competition, went up against five other finalists in a three hour mystery basket cook-off at Unilever Food Solutions’ state-of-the-art kitchens in La Lucia Ridge. Her menu consisted of a starter of cob with tempura oyster, rice tuille, leek kimchi, garlic cream, tomato veloute, parsley and camembert pesto and red pepper; main course of pan-fried lamb loin with lamb pâté, melange of vegetables, potato croquette, butternut purée and jus; and dessert of chocolate mousse with crispy brownie, caramel truffle, vanilla cream, berry jelly, pistachio and meringue.

Winning the Junior Chef of the Year title was the 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa’s Michaela van der Merwe. She presented a three course menu consisting of mussel stuffed squid with corn salad, herb oil, deep fried squid, mussels, tentacles and a calamari broth, followed by spiced rub quail breast with butternut puree, deep-fried quail leg, wilted baby spinach, pickled onion, potato croquette, butternut gremalata and red wine jus and ending with walnut cake with choc cremeux, cheesecake mousse, caramel sauce, gooseberry and strawberry compote and macerated berries.

Craig Elliott, Executive Head Chef of Unilever Food Solutions South Africa says that the competition has steadily grown in prestige over the decades and has been the making of many renowned South African chefs’ careers. “We’re exceptionally proud of what this competition is continuing to contribute to the South African culinary industry, which was evidenced by the wide range of creative and delicious menu items that all the contestants delivered at the finals.”

The five competition categories featured three prizes in each, representing a total of R120 000 in prize money, and included Senior Chef of the Year, Junior Chef of the Year, Team of Four: Bring your Best; Creative Canapés, and Confectionary Showcase.

The winners in each of the categories were:

  • The Senior Chef of the Year and winner of R15 000 is Jade Van Der Spuy (1000 Hills Chefs School); first runner-up and winner of R10 000 is Henrico Johan Grobbelaar (Southern Sun Waterfront Cape Town) and second runner-up and winner of R5 000 is Hanno Van Eeden (Diep in die Berg).
  • The Junior Chef of the Year and winner of R10 000 is Michaela Van Der Merwe (Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa ); first runner-up and winner of R6 000 is Kayla-Ann Osborn Traffords; and second runner-up and winner R4 000 is Dominique Hobson (La Petite Chef).
  • The Team of Four winner of R20 000 is Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani; first runner up and winner of R12 000 is The Table Bay Hotel; and second runner-up and winner of R R8 000 is The Capital Hotel School and Training Academy.
  • Creative Confectionery winner of R10 000 is Belinda Moolman (Protea Hotel Centurion); first runner-up and winner of R4 000 is Cherry Pin (Hilton Sandton Hotel); and second runner-up and winner of R2 000 is Melicia Naicker (College of Cape Town).
  • Canapé Showcase winner of R10 000 is Richard Ellis (1000 Hills Chefs School); first runner-up and winner of R4 000 is Candice Jordaan (Fusion World Food Café); and second runner-up and winner of R2 000 is Peter Venter (Diakonia Council of Churches).

Adds Elliott, “Once again our competition winners worked very hard on their entries, coming up with new ways to work with Unilever Food Solutions’ quality product range and delivering great-tasting and often surprising dishes.

Garth Shnier, a member of the WACS Culinary Guidelines Committee, who adjudicated over the judging procedure, says, “This competition is invaluable in providing the industry with a benchmark for culinary competition skills. It is one of the key events on South Africa’s culinary calendar and has, for the last 40 years, consistently produced outstanding winners who have gone on to achieve great heights in their careers. From the time that I won the Marvello Chef of the Year, the predecessor to today’s competition in the 80s to now, the Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year has grown in stature and prestige, and is an important contributor to uplifting culinary standards and giving chefs a platform for their talents and skills.”

Bol assured chefs across South Africa that Unilever Food Solutions will continue to strengthen its position as the chefs’ champion, taking their suggestions, needs, and expectations into account as product development, promotions and events were planned going forward. “While teaching is a great passion of mine, so is learning, and we welcome every opportunity to improve on the work we do with chefs in this country. Our sincere thanks must go to every chef who has invested time and effort with us, helping us to work more closely with this inspiring industry.”

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