Distell Inter Hotel Challenge | Meet the Chefs!

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The annual Distell Inter-Hotel Challenge, spearheaded by showcook.com’s Annette Kesler and Chania Morritt-Smith, takes an active role in showcasing the wonderful talent we have in our hotels. Hotels from around SA take part in the challenge by putting forward a team made up of a chef that’s been nominated by the exec chef, a wine steward, a baker and a concierge, where applicable. The teams take part in workshops and networking events, before showing their stuff in the final challenge. The cook-offs have already taken place around the country, and the winners will be announced at the awards ceremony in August – so keep your eyes peeled for the results! Here are the chefs that have taken part in the competition this year – wishing you all the best of luck, chefs!

Gauteng

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Lerato Monagane | De Hoek Country Hotel

Lerato has taken a roundabout way of getting into the cheffing industry – she was once in the fashion industry as a store development coordinator! In her spare time, she established her own catering company and after five years, realised that that’s where her heart and passion lay. She enrolled at the International Hotel School to become a qualified chef and is currently completing her 2 year practical at De Hoek Country Hotel in Magaliesburg.

Nicholas Freitas | Sandton Sun

Currently the Chef de Partie at Sandton Sun, Nicholas has been in the industry for five years now and says that his passion for cooking increases daily. “I have experienced cooking in contrasting kitchens with different cuisines and have learnt a lot along the way,” he says. He currently works under Executive Chef Gerard Vingerling and Executive Chef Chad Bosman and hopes to increase and better his knowledge and skills in the future.

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Ithabeleng Mathibe | The Palace of the Lost City

Hailing from Rustenburg, Ithabeleng knew that she wanted to be a chef from Grade 8 – she walked into the Grade 10 Home Ec class and thought “I want to do that!” After matriculating, she studied hospitality management, majoring in professional cookery, at the Vaal University of Technology. She trained at the Orion Safari Lodge in Rustenburg, before moving to Abu Dhabi to work in the industry for 2 years. She joined the Royal Marang Hotel teal as a Chef de Partie, before joining Sun International in 2017 – she was part of the opening team for Sun Time Square, running and managing the kitchen operations for Guy Fieri’s Kitchen & Bar. Last year, she joined the Sun City Resort team, taking up a position at the Cabanas Hotel, and in February this year she began working under Chef Hanroe Erasmus at The Palace of the Lost City.

Shane Vermaak | Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa

“Seeing people enjoy my food is what drives me, what empowers me and what, quite frankly, makes me do this every day,” says Shane. “Being a chef is all I know; always learning, always listening and always improving my skills and techniques.” Shane studied at HTA School of Culinary Art, and after graduation set off to the United States where he spent two seasons working at a hotel and golf club. After his return to SA, he joined the Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa team. “I am eternally grateful for the career I have chosen, says Shane. “I am excited to see what the future holds and the opportunities that will prevail.”

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Percy Leso | Protea Hotel by Marriott Johannesburg Balalaika Sandton

Percy first set out in the industry wanting to be a hotel manager “…but then I went into the kitchen and found this was truly where my passion was!” While he enjoys what he does, there are days that he feels exhausted, but then he meets a guest that gives compliments to the chef “That makes the long hours worth it as I had put a smile on a stranger’s face. Sometimes this becomes a regular face who asks for me and asks for his favourite dish. That is why we work in this industry.” Percy recently became a father to a little boy and part of his motivation in entering the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge is to be able to one day show his son what he did. “This competition can change my life, change his life!”

Johandré Grobler | Maslow Hotel

26-year-old Johandré Grobler studied professional cookery through The Capital Hotel School in Pretoria, graduated in 2012 and then travelled to Italy to study at Alma la Scuola di Internazionale di Cucina Italiana where he gained a Diploma in Italian cooking. When he returned to South Africa, he started working at the Maslow Hotel in 2013 as a Demi Chef de Partie, later promoted to Chef de Partie. He then went on to spend some time in America, working in a 5-star golf club in Florida, before returning to The Maslow where he has been working as Chef de Partie for the last two years.

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Western Cape

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Lyndsay Tamson Buys | TAJ Cape Town

After matriculating from Belhar High School in 2009, Lyndsay began her studies at Northlink College. During her three-year course, she completed her in-service training at Salt Restaurant in Bantry Bay, and after graduating began lecturing at Northlink College. After a year, she moved to Franschhoek to take up a position of Chef de Partie at the Haute Cabriere Wine Estate’s kitchen, before moving on to the Vergenoegd Wine Estate as Junior Sous Chef. In 2017 she headed back to Cape Town, to the TAJ Cape Town where she currently works as Junior Sous alongside Chef David Tilly.

Aviwe Mapotolo | Spier Hotel

Aviwe studied at the College of Cape Town City Campus, studying hospitality management for three years. He graduated in 2015 and started working at the Harbour Bridge Hotel & Suites as a part-time chef. After a few months, he was offered a position at Adderley Hotel, where he worked until the property was sold and then moved on to the Inn On The Square Hotel. He later began working at the Spier Hotel, where he currently holds the position of Demi Chef de Partie.

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Jo-Ann Du Plessis | Southern Sun The Cullinan and Southern Sun Waterfront

After a year of studying Nature Conservation at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Jo-Ann realised that it wasn’t her true calling. With a passion for cooking and baking, she enrolled in a Professional Cookery course at CPUT, working as an intern at a number of top spots in Cape Town, including a stint at the Cape Town International Convention Centre during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. She then went on to intern at the Southern Sun Waterfront, growing even more passionate about pastry work during her 18-month internship assignment. Once she graduated, she joined the hotel as a Pastry Commis Chef, later moving up to her current position of Chef de Partie.

Vuyolwethy Mashalaba | Ellerman House

Originally from Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape, Vuyolwethy has called the Western Cape home since 1993. His passion for food developed when he was introduced to hospitality studies whilst attending Kayamandi High School in Stellenbosch – he then went on to study at the Cape Town Hotel School, where he gained experience in different hotel kitchens. “Food is my love and my hobby; I love the thought of tasting my way through cultures,” he says.

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Athi Gobingca | The President Hotel

In 2014, Athi began studying Professional Cookery at the International Hotel School, but due to unforeseen circumstances had to drop out – he hopes to one day take it up again and finish the course. “I chose to pursue the chef profession because of the love and desire I have of preparing food, creating new dishes and to display my talents,” says Athi. On the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge he says, “I’m looking forward to exploring and learning more about the culinary trade, to uplift my knowledge and skills that I currently have.”

Nancy Minords | Silo Hotel

Nancy Minords found her bliss in the kitchen at a very young age and went on to study Hospitality Management at the Cape Peninsula of Technology. During her studies, she did her third year placement at The Silo Hotel, where she met her mentor Chef Ziyaad Brown.  Working with Ziyaad she realised the artistry behind creating menus and dishes, and follows his motto of ‘Chefs don’t dish, they plate’. Nancy is currently a Demi Chef de Partie with Executive Chef Veronica Canha-Hibbert at The Granary Café at The Silo Hotel.

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Luqmahn Cloete | Vineyard Hotel

For as long Luqmahn can remember, he’s wanted to be a chef. Food has always been a big part of his life, spending much of his childhood with his grandmother on her food truck. He started his career working in a restaurant, enhancing his skills as a chef, before moving onto the Vineyard a year later and completing his studies.

He’s worked his way up to his current position of Demi Chef de Partie, which he says has allowed him to learn from those around him and to meet amazing people. “Although the hospitality industry holds many challenges, I enjoy the rush and creativity that goes into it,” says Luqmah, who looks forward to both his personal and professional growth through taking part in the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge.

Mongi Fana | Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa

Mongi attended Infinity Culinary Training School in the Eastern Cape, where he received a Certificate in Professional Cookery. He went on to further his studies in 2018, achieving a Diploma in Culinary Arts and Certificate in Food Safety and Hygiene from the South African Chefs Academy. He started working as a trainee chef at Ellerman House in Cape Town, before moving on to a position at CHEFS Restaurant as Demi Chef de Partie. He joined the Silo Hotel team as Chef de Partie before joining Executive Chef Christo Pretorius’ kitchen at The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa as Junior Chef de Partie, the position he currently holds.

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Athi Ntwakumba | Sunsquare Cape Town City Bowl

Born in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape, Athi’s passion for cooking started in his Grade 10 Consumer Studies class. In 2012, he enrolled in the Cape Town Hotel School and majored in Professional Cookery. He completed internships at the Southern Sun Cape Sun as well as restaurant La Mouette, and currently holds the position of Chef de Partie at SunSquare Cape Town City Bowl. He still studies part time, working towards his Masters Degree in Tourism and Hospitality.

Dimpho Matee | Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront

The seeds for Dimpho’s future career in cooking were planted at a young age and, after finding a post-matric job unfulfilling, he pursued his interest in the culinary industry. He quickly fell in love with creating dishes in the kitchen, browsing cooking magazines and researching different recipes online. He worked in a number of restaurants over the years, and this is how he met his mentor Michelangelo D’Oria who gave him the advice of “Never go backwards in life, always aim higher”. “I aimed for a high-end luxury hotel, a place where I could learn and grow, and this is how I found myself at Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront as Commis Chef in Pastry,” says Dimpho.

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Lester Adams | One&Only Cape Town

After studying Fine Art at WITS University in Johannesburg, Lester decided to change career paths and followed his passion for cooking. He relocated to Cape Town and today works as a Chef de Partie at One&Only Cape Town’s Reuben’s restaurant. “The two industries [Art and Cooking] are not that different in that they are both creative endeavours, but with food I found a satisfaction I haven’t found in any other industry. The ability to make people happy through food is tremendously gratifying and fulfilling as life’s work,” says Lester.

Clinton Haas | NH The Lord Charles

Clinton grew up in Macassar and always had an interest in food preparation, as well as the different, strange ingredients his mother used in the kitchen. He credits his mother with teaching him many of the basic skills he still uses today. He began his work in the culinary industry as an orientation trainee at NH The Lord Charles Hotel in 2016, fresh out of high school, and has worked his way up to his current position. “I have been given the opportunity to work in La Vigna restaurant where I can be part of an amazing team of chefs that have taught me so much. I get to experience our monthly wine and dine evenings, tasting Chef Henrico’s amazing and crazy flavour combinations that have opened my mind to new and exciting ideas,” says Clinton.

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Brinelle Cunningham | Belmond Mount Nelson

Brinelle moved from Durban to Cape Town, initially to pursue her dream to become an auto electrician. However, she soon discovered her passion for cooking, starting out as a casual in the Oasis Restaurant of the Belmond Mount Nelson before being offered a permanent position as comis chef. She worked up to the position of Demi Chef in the banqueting kitchen before being promoted to Chef de Partie. She draws inspiration from her mentors Chef Jaco Goosen and Rudi Liebenberg, and has complete a number of programmes to further her studies in the hospitality industry.

Graeme White | Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

Graeme grew up in the small town of Malmesbury in the Western Cape. “I was always interested in cooking,” he says. “As a child I used to help my ouma make Malva Pudding in the kitchen, measuring the ingredients and stirring the mixing bowl.” After school, he enrolled in the Ikusasa School of Cooking, later receiving a three year bursary to study at the International Hotel School and completing an internship at Le Franschhoek Hotel & Spa. He currently holds the position of Chef de Partie at the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, a luxury eco-lodge in the Overberg.

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Werner Steyn | Lanzerac Hotel & Spa

Werner got his start in the culinary industry as a waiter and barman at Fairways Restaurant in Welgemoed, Cape Town but soon discovered that he preferred being behind the stove rather than front of house. When the call of cooking proved too much, he pursued his studies at The Swiss Institute of Hospitality Training. He fulfilled the practical component of his training at Overture, and after he graduated he moved to Lanzerac Hotel where he moved up the ranks to the position of Chef de Partie. After gaining experience at a number of different establishments, including Bertus Basson @ Spice Route, he returned to Lanzerac where he currently holds the position of Senior Chef de Partie.

Werner shares: “I enjoy cooking and love making people happy.”

Brandan Coetzee | Marriott Cape Town Crystal Towers

Brandan, who hails from Table View, is currently Chef de Partie at the Marriott Cape Town Crystal Towers. He took hospitality as a subject during high school – “it changed my whole perspective on cooking in general, discovering the science behind it made me fall in love with it even more!” After he matriculated, he joined the Protea Hotels in-house internship programme and was hooked from his first day in the kitchen! “Through the years I started to get a better understanding of what it was like to be a chef in a hotel and fell in love with fine dining, the rush you get during busy services cannot compare to any feeling,” says Brandan.

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Farzanah Harris | The Table Bay Hotel

Farzanah has been working at The Table Bay Hotel for just over 5 years and holds the position of Chef de Partie at the hotel’s in-house restaurant, the Camissa Brasserie. She got her longstanding love of cooking from watching her grandfather cook, which she describes as like watching magic happen. She was just 9 years hold when she cooked her first hot dish – a chicken pot roast with vegetables – and her dream is to eventually own her own restaurant, serving Indian cuisine with a Cape Town twist as well as good quality Halaal plated food.

KwaZulu-Natal

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Riashnie Thaver | Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani

Riashnie Thaver is currently commis chef at Durban’s iconic Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani hotel’s Grill Jichana restaurant. She was drawn to the kitchen at a young age, completing her studies at The South African Hospitality Institute after matriculating and joining Tsogo Sun as a chef last year.  “To be given the opportunity to work at Durban’s most iconic hotels is a huge honour and I am sincerely grateful that they recognised my ability,” said Thaver.

Mpendulo Mbongeni Singwane | Protea Hotel Marriott Durban Edward

Born and bred in Malelane, Mpendulo began his career in hospitality as a dishwasher in the Fedics Group’s Cosmos Hospital in Emalahleni. “This was considered the lowest position in that kitchen but I learnt that I was just as important as anybody else,” he says. Mpendulo was then mentored by Chef Stanley, who began to teach him about the culinary arts and cooking, and he was later promoted to cook and placed on a development programme through the HTA School of Culinary Art. He is currently a Commis Chef at Protea Hotel by Marriott Durban Edward.

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Cathrine Chetty | Beverly Hills Hotel

Cathrine grew up in Verulam on the North Coast of KZN, and completed a 2 year course in Professional Cookery at the Capsicum School of Cooking. After graduating, she was placed at the Beverly Hills Hotel for 6 months for her in-service training before moving on to Sugar Rush restaurant in Ballito, working as a commis chef for a year. In 2017, she re-joined the Beverly Hills team as commis chef, representing the hotel in 2018 in her first professional cooking competition hosted by the Chaine des Rotisseurs. “I am grateful and privileged to be nominated as a candidate for the Inter-hotel challenge and will take all the learnings to heart. I am excited for the journey ahead,” says Cathrine.

Diandra Reuben | Durban ICC

Diandra, who currently works at the Durban International Convention Centre as Graduate Demis Chef, studied at the Ikusasa Hotel School after she matriculated. She began working at the Durban ICC in 2014, and has participated in a number of different competitions which have helped hone her culinary skills. In 2017, she travelled to the Ivory Coast to cook for the South African Ambassador for a week. “This trip was one of the highlights of my career because I gained immense experience and exposure as a young chef who is eager to learn and grow in the industry,” says Diandra. She currently works in the Halaal kitchen at the Durban ICC, focusing on mostly Indian dishes under the guidance of Chef Trisha Naidoo, the Indian Cuisine Specialist for the Durban ICC.

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