Team SA, the South African Culinary Olympic Team, recently returned from the IKA Culinary Olympics with three bronze medals.

This event is held once every four years in Germany, and is considered the ultimate culinary competition. This year 1,800 participants, including 110 teams and roughly 800 individual competitors, collectively representing 67 countries, put their cooking skills to the test.

The competition conditions are extremely pressurised, with both judges and spectators scrutinising the contestants and then sampling their food. South Africa’s team – one of the youngest there – rose to the challenge, and impressed the judges and fellow competitors with their systems, discipline and spirit.

“The competition conditions are extremely pressurised, with both judges and spectators scrutinising the contestants and then sampling their food.”

Chanté Rabie, one of the team members, said: “Having our first experience of cooking in an international competition was amazing; the cameras, the people watching you, admiring you, cooking in a glass fishbowl, the adrenaline, working with the ingredients, seeing the amazing chefs you’ve been admiring for years, competing on a floor where there are 22 kitchens, with chefs who are all in the same position fighting for our country, realising that we share exactly the same passion.”

The Springbok squad competed in two categories; the Chef’s Table, where they had to create seven different dishes for twelve people, and the Restaurant of Nations, where they had to prepare a three-course menu for 110 people. The team won a bronze medal in both categories.

The third medal was won by Nicolas van der Walt, who entered the showpiece category as an individual competitor. He pulled off a work of sugar art inspired by the South African king protea, titled ‘King for a Day’.

South Africa was also represented on the jury by Chefs Garth Shnier, Martin Kobald and Nadin Pospech Demmler.

South African Chef Garth Shnier, former member of the World Association of Chefs Societies’ Culinary Guidelines Committee, said: “Whilst I didn’t personally judge the South African National Culinary Team, the feedback from my fellow judges on the international jury was that the team was extremely dedicated, professional and motivated, and the enthusiasm, hygiene and work ethic they displayed in the kitchens in both categories was outstanding.”

“The feedback from my fellow judges on the international jury was that the team was extremely dedicated, professional and motivated, and the enthusiasm, hygiene and work ethic they displayed in the kitchens in both categories was outstanding.”

In the National Culinary Team category, Team Norway took home the Olympic gold medal, and were followed closely in second place by Sweden. Third place and overall bronze went to Iceland.

Dion Vengatass, the Team Captain, said: “What a rollercoaster ride the past three years has been. We went to show that South Africa can compete against the best. The response from the other countries clearly showed that we’re a force to be reckoned with. People were talking about us; we had Norway coming to ask us about our systems, and Sweden coming to take photos of us when we changed over our uniforms. We set a new precedent in terms of what this competition means for South Africa and how we want to execute.”

“It gives chefs an aspiration because we are not just working for a salary, but for tourism and for the country, and we are putting ourselves forward as ambassadors for the country.”

James Khoza, President of SA Chefs Association and Executive Chef of Sandton Convention Centre, said; “It’s an achievement that demonstrates what we’re aiming to do for the country and brings unity to South Africa; it gives chefs an aspiration because we are not just working for a salary, but for tourism and for the country, and we are putting ourselves forward as ambassadors for the country. I’m very proud.”

Team SA is supported by the SA Chefs Association, and was headed by Trevor Boyd, Team Manager and Executive Chef of The Michelangelo Hotel, with the following team members:

  • Dion Vengatass, Chef de Cuisine, Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel (Team Captain);
  • Kirstin Hellemann, Junior Sous Chef, Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel;
  • Adrian Vigus-Brown, Executive Chef, African Pride Melrose Arch, Autograph Collection;
  • Chanté Rabie, Pastry Chef, Saxton Hotel, Villas & Spa;
  • Bradley van Niekerk, Senior Chef de Partie, Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia;
  • Oscar Baard, Pastry Chef, NH Cape Town The Lord Charles;
  • Sifiso Chiziano, Commis Chef, African Pride Melrose Arch, Autograph Collection & National Youth Chef Training Programme 3rd year student.

According to IKA Culinary Olympics jury president Frank Widmann, the new culinary trends seen at this year’s event included cooking with open heat and using simple and regional products from each competitor’s own country, whereas in the past, sous-vide was the preferred cooking method, as well as using more unusual and expensive products.