By Invitation Only competition now underway

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Unilever Foodsolutions By Invitation Only competition is now underway. The briefing started at 10:00 this morning, by 10:30 the chefs received their mystery baskets, by 11:00 their three-course menus had to be created and written up and they have now started cooking.

Chefs competing this year represent a broad spectrum of culinary styles and philosophies, from top hotels, restaurants and catering concerns across the country.

The chefs that have been invited to compete this year include: Michelle Barry, principal of Christina Martin School of Food and Wine in Durban; Dilene Boyd, independent pastry chef from Johannesburg; Rudi Liebenberg, executive chef from the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town; Mike Bassett, executive chef from Ginja and Myoga restaurants in Cape Town; Paul Gindra, executive chef from Radisson Blu Hotel in Johannesburg; and Nicholas Froneman, executive chef at Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel in Durban.

To have six chefs of this calibre competing in a tight space, from a mystery basket, on equipment that may not be installed in their own kitchens and alongside their culinary colleagues is a rare treat for the industry.

This year's mystery basket contained a series of compulsory ingredients. These include Unilever Foodsolutions products Knorr Tomato Pronto, Knorr Demi Glace, Carte D'Or White Chocolate Mousse and Knorr Mash Flakes. Compulsory proteins include kingklip (300g), smoked salmon (150g), lamb loin (300g), three chicken thighs and chorizo sausages.

Students in the kitchen helping with the fetching, carrying and washing up are from the Zevenwacht Chefs School in Stellenbosch. They are first year students, fresh from two months of training, and are holding up well.

Kitchen judge is Andy Cordier, chairman of the Western Cape region of the South African Chefs Association and executive chef at Grand Westin. He says: "The kitchen space is tight this year so the pressure and heat of the kitchen will be challenging."

He is judging chefs on their organisational skills, how they work with the raw ingredients, how they pace themselves as they work through their carefully crafted menus and strict hygiene standards.

Cordier comments on the differences of working in these show kitchens compared with the chefs' hotel kitchens: "It is an unknown environment and the equipment plays a major role as it could be different to what is in their work kitchens. They are dealing with the apparatus they have been given, some of which is new on the market."

"The challenge is not just the mystery basket, but the equipment, atmosphere, noise, and competing chefs close by."

To watch all the action in what is one of the top cooking competitions in the country, go to the Mac Brothers stand next to the Wine Circle at Hostex Cape(stand number C7) - look out for the blue banners on the roof.

The chefs will be cooking until 14:30, when their main courses will be presented to the team of SACA-accredited judges. The winning chef of the R40 000 cash prize will be announced at 15:30.

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