RCL FOODS Food Partners, the out-of-home division of RCL FOODS, together with the South African Chefs Association (SACA), have announced the winners of the country’s very first Young Chefs Competition. After an exciting final round, the coveted national title went to Johan Muller and Dana-Leigh Coleman from the Capital Hotel School in Pretoria. They take home a R30 000 prize, plus a R7 500 food hamper for their school and automatic entry into the trials for the National Junior Culinary Team. The runners-up were Natasha Kleynhans and Thato Molekoa from the Pretoria Campus of the International Hotel School, while third place went to Saxon Tilling and Aimee Hohls from the Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine in Hilton.

The Young Chefs competition was created specifically for trainee chefs starting out their careers in an industry devastated by the COVID-19 lockdowns. “Given the lack of culinary competitions allowing young chefs to hone their skills and form valuable networks, we put our partnership values into action to help address this pressing industry need,” says RCL FOODS Food Partners Head Chef, Brad Kavanagh.

During the pandemic, the RCL FOODS Food Partners team has been finding ways to lend practical support to its food service customers including restaurants, hotels, contract caterers, retail delis, bakeries and forecourts. In 2020 they played an integral role in the #OneMealManyThanks campaign run by a consortium of suppliers to help restore the food service sector.

“Just as our partnership with SACA made this competition possible, we realised that giving students the opportunity to partner up and enter as a team would help ease nerves and offer a gentler introduction to the world of competitions. To incentivise them to take the leap, we invested in prizes to the value of R100 000,” explains Chef Brad.

Participating teams had to submit recipes for a restaurant main course, a catering main course and an innovative dessert. Regional finals were held in five provinces and the top two regional teams went to the national final hosted by RCL FOODS and held at Capsicum Culinary Studio in Umhlanga.  Here the teams impressed some of South Africa’s most esteemed chefs with dishes made from essential cooking ingredients as well as a mystery basket containing a range of RCL FOODS Food Partners product solutions, including Meadowland, Marvello, Nola, Selati, Supreme, Ouma, Yum Yum, PIEMAN’S and the delicious Fry’s and Oumph! plant-based protein ranges.

Praising the students’ skill and attention to detail, SACA competition director and judges convenor, Chef Adrian Vigus-Brown, said, “Their hunger to grow their personal brands and showcase themselves with confidence would never have been possible without the committed support of RCL FOODS Food Partners and the partnership with SACA.”

This was echoed by bronze medallist Saxon, who commented on Instagram that “the competition was phenomenal and executed perfectly. Thank you for putting in so much effort to see more from young South African chefs…none of us would be here today if it wasn’t for you.”

The success of the first competition is just the start of things to come. “After a very encouraging uptake this year, we hope to see entries from an even broader range of culinary schools and cookery programmes in the future so that we can jointly help to kick-start more careers and do more to support the next generation of our country’s chefs,” says Stewart Jones, Customer & Marketing Executive at RCL FOODS.

The team is grateful to their other partners, Geochem for ensuring hygienic operations throughout, and to Chefs Brigade for kitting the contestants in quality aprons and chefs’ jackets.