Grace Telana from Tshawe’s tavern in Khayelitsha has been crowned the Western Cape provincial Mzansi Tavern Chef champion after serving up a stunning dish of traditional African chicken, steamed bread and vegetables against fierce competition at the Nederburg in Paarl.

The judges congratulated Telana on combining excellent technique with authentic township flavours to create a delicious, wholesome meal using affordable ingredients, presented with a creative flourish. Telana learned her craft from her mother and started cooking for her community and donating meals to the local creche when she realised the need. She was overcome with emotion when she was announced the winner, saying the R30 000 regional prize would go a long way to help her provide food for her community.

She saw off a highly competitive field representing taverns from Khayelitsha, Eerste River, Gugulethu, Maitland and as far afield as Malmesbury. The fifteen contestants seared, sauced, sautéed and spiced it out in glorious weather in the welcome shade of the courtyard at Nederburg, producing a mouth-watering array of dishes ranging from chicken tagliatelle to mutton stew, ribeye steak with mushroom sauce, traditional pap and chicken liver, and vetkoek with burger patties, to seafood pasta.

The provincial final was the first event in the Mzansi Tavern Chef Cook-off competition, hosted at Nederburg in a partnership with Distell and the National Liquor Traders. It will be followed by the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, with each provincial winner scoring prizes to the value of R30 000 towards food serving in their outlets and the right to compete in the national grand final for the chance to win the ultimate prize of a tavern makeover to the tune of R100 000.

The Tavern Chef competition is the apex of a campaign by Distell to promote food serving in taverns as one of the measures to address binge drinking. Eating food before and during alcohol consumption is a practical way to regulate consumption and avoid intoxication. Food serving in taverns has the dual benefit of helping to moderate consumption and promote a responsible, more sociable atmosphere, while also creating an additional revenue stream for the outlet which can drive township economic development and employment.

Master chefs Peter Goffe-Wood and Benny Masekwameng, along with Drinks Federation of South Africa Chairperson Monhla Hlahla, are the judges and kicked off proceedings with a briefing and handover of the competition aprons before pans sizzled and intense aromas filled the air as the competitors got down to business at their cooking stations for the one-hour cook-off. “We’ve enjoyed a truly enticing array of dishes here today and picking a winner has been hard,” said Goffe-Wood. “I’m inspired by the passion for food we’ve seen from our competitors and I hope this competition motivates all of them to keep developing their skills.”

Hlahla said she was blown away by the determination and standard of cooking on display at the event. “This competition has sparked such excitement among taverners for cooking and serving food in their outlets and that’s exactly what it’s all about. The joy and pride in their cooking shown by these tavern chefs is a wonderful example of the kind of positive, uplifting and responsible environment we want to promote.”

Distell Head of Corporate Affairs Southern Africa, Jolene Henn, said the competition builds on the company’s food-serving campaign through its Bansela customer rewards programme, in which taverners are rewarded with prizes and incentives for serving food and water, as well as complying with liquor license trading principles. “I am excited to see how quickly the idea of food serving is catching on in our taverns and our aim with this competition is to amplify the message to drink responsibly and in moderation. From the talent on display here today and the standard of cooking we have seen; I can only say that tavern chefs in the rest of the country are in for a real battle for the ultimate prize of a R100 000 tavern makeover.”