The annual Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year Competition has always been a platform for chefs across all categories to showcase their skills. This year the team from Unilever took extra steps to widen that platform with the introduction of the Rise Up category, which joined the categories of Junior and Senior Chefs of the Year, Teams of 4 and the new High Tea category.

Rise Up

While going through the over 400 entries that were submitted for the competition in the Junior and Senior categories, Chef Craig Elliott from Unilever Food Solutions saw that there were a number of entries from professionally-trained chefs who were seeking employment. He realised that there was a space for these chefs to showcase their skills in a separate category, with the winner receiving a ten month work placement, a stipend from Unilever Food Solutions to support their salary, as well as a knife set.

Finalists in the Rise Up Category were Sipho Mcdonald Mokgweetsi, Zilungile Mtshali, Tapiwa Munyawiri, Peter Mogopodi, Comfort Rotakala Mariba and Prudence Madzikatire. Tapiwa Munyawiri was named the winner of the Rise Up Category, after cooking a dish of seared beef fillet with potato foam, cauliflower puree, a pistachio salsa, confit mushrooms and pomegranate jus.

An exciting announcement made on the night of the awards was that Ronald Ramsay, the Group Executive Chef of the Sun International Group, has offered Munyawiri and another Johannesburg contestant, Peter Mogopodi, a permanent position.

“Sun International is committed to growing chefs in the country,” he said. “Our Food & Beverages Team is one of the biggest in the country and it’s great to recruit up-and-coming talent. This competition is great in that it brings these young chefs to prominence and allowed us access to chefs we would usually not know about. We are really happy to offer Munyawiri and Mogopodi a position, as we were hugely impressed by what we saw.”

Tony Kocke, the executive chef of Fairmont Zimbali Resort also took on one contestant, while Russell Jordon, the Regional MD of FEDICS hired three of the contestants.

Senior Chef of the Year

The finalists in the Senior Category were tasked with creating a three course menu using a minimum of 10 compulsory products from the Unilever Food Solutions range as well as a wide selection of fresh produce from the communal table. Competing in the Senior Category were Kirstin Hellemann, Juan Neethling, Terror Molebeli Lekopa, Coovashan Pillay, Jaid Jhala and Siphiwo Dandala, but it was Juan Neethling from Southern Sun Waterfront that walked away with the title and R15 000.

“I can’t believe it,” said Neethling. “I am so happy to represent my company, and to win this for Cape Town! I think I won because I followed my heart. Everyone gives advice on what you should do, but I stuck to my plan. I did me, and I think that’s what got me across the line.”

Junior Chef of the Year

In the Junior Category, the finalists, who were also asked to create a three course menu with the communal table and compulsory Unilever Food Solutions products, were Praise God Sihle Zuma, Bianca de Gois, Sibusiso Skosana, Kabelo Molosiwa, Josh Utah Green and Shaista Anoop.

Josh Utah Green from 1000 Hills Chef School was announced as the winner, walking away with R10 000. “This feels surreal,” laughed Green, who also receives a week’s personal training with Chef Ash Heeger at her new restaurant, Riverine Rabbit in Cape Town. “Today marked the anniversary of my late mom’s death. I remember watching the first ever season of Australian Masterchef with her, and we loved this one contestant whose signature dish was chocolate fondant. I made a fondant tonight in honour of my mom, and it feels amazing to win the title.”

Chef Ash Heeger is excited to mentor Josh Utah Green. “Experience is invaluable,” she said. “I am proud to be offering Josh some real, hands-on experience at my new restaurant. It will be a great way for Josh to see what running a kitchen is all about and what’s involved. I hope to provide Josh with some great learnings that will stand him in good stead.”

Team of 4

The Team of 4 category was open to chefs from the catering industry only and aimed to recognise the efforts of hard-working and skilled members of the kitchen support team, who are often not given credit for the roles they play.
Teams from Fedics, Capitol Caterers, Laduma Caterers, Western Province Caterers, Department of Correctional Services Boksburg and Feedem Group competed, however, it was the team from Laduma Caterers that were named as the winner of the title and R50 000.

The Laduma Caterers team consists of Justin Camilleri, Siyolo Vokwana, Simone Tiede and Linda Makhubu. “We are incredibly proud to receive this honour,” said Camilleri, on behalf of the Laduma Cape Town team. “Our hard work and dedication paid off.”

High Tea

The newly introduced High Tea category challenged chefs to pair a selection of afternoon tea treats with a tea from either the Pure Leaf or Lipton Exclusive Selection. The chefs that were handpicked to compete in the challenge were from Fairmont Zimbali Resort, The Oyster Box Hotel, Crowne Plaza Johannesburg Rosebank, Sandton Sun, The One & Only Cape Town and the Belmond Mount Nelson. Chefs Shaylay Pillay and Kris Maslamoney from The Oyster Box Hotel were announces as the winners of the inaugural category.

“This year’s competition was a huge success,” said Remco Bol, Managing Director of Unilever Food Solutions. “It was an honour to host some of South Africa’s finest up-and-coming chefs in the various categories, from the Team of 4 who showed us the true meaning of teamwork to the senior and junior competitors, who impressed us all with their incredible talent.”

Bol is pleased that the two new categories were such a success. “The High Tea category, introduced to complement the launch of two new exclusive tea ranges, brought a new dimension to the overall competition,” he said. “We were especially proud of the Rise Up Category, which makes a contribution to one of South Africa’s biggest challenges – unemployment. We are honoured to make a difference to the life of even one chef,” he concluded.

“Unilever Food Solutions has been running the competition for over 40 years. This year was an extraordinary year that showcased a new level of talent,” said Chef Craig Elliott from Unilever Food Solutions. For Elliott and the company he represents, the Chef of the Year competition is their way of giving back to the industry. “It gives chefs the opportunity to showcase their skill and talent to the broader industry, which opens new doors for them. For many chefs, this competition has kick started their careers.”