The South African Chefs Association and The Festive Vegan & Plant Powered Show recently held a competition to find the country’s most talented young chefs and home cooks to take part in the online Festive Vegan & Plant Powered Show on November 28.
The contest was open to all chefs and cooks residing in South Africa, aged 28 and younger, who were invited to submit their best vegan dish via a 30 second video as well as a recipe using vegan-only products with a list of ingredients and the cooking method.
Hundreds of entries were received and whittled down to a final top 10 by a panel of judges that included award-winning chef Luke Dale-Roberts (The Test Kitchen), Adrian Vigus-Brown (competition director SA Chefs Association), Coo Pillay (executive chef of Protea Hotel by Marriott O.R. Tambo Airport), Dion Vengatass (SA Culinary Olympics team), Linah ‘Pinky’ Maruping (Unilever Food Solutions) and Chef Jocelyn Myers-Adams (director, JMA Hospitality and Consulting).
The top 10 were then tasked with submitting a demo, with the ultimate winner being Hope Mdakane, a 25-year-old Gauteng-based chef from Soweto, who will now share a visual stage with some of the best international and local chefs including the UK’s Gaz Oakley, MasterChef Australia‘s Simon Toohey, Luke Dale Roberts, Chris Erasmus (Foliage), Jenny Morris (Yumcious), Chef Cola, Jay Mac (The Kind Kitchen) and Peter Ayub (Sense of Taste Chef School).
We caught up with Mdakane to find out more about him, his winning dish and his plans for the future:
When and how did you love for cooking start?
My love for cooking started when I was a child at the age of about 11. I would watch my grandmother and mother whenever they would cook and also ask for help if ever, they needed it. Another special thing which got me into cooking was how my grandmother had a little herb garden where she would plant certain herbs which we used in the cooking and also for medicinal purposes. This is also where my passion for natural, home grown produce began.
Did you attend a culinary school?
I studied at HTA School of Culinary Arts in Gauteng and graduated in 2015 with a one-year certificate and again in 2018 with a three-year apprenticeship diploma.
Tell us about your journey from graduation to where you are today.?
After graduating I started my career at the Hilton Hotel as a commis chef, and then moved to the Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa and started as a demi chef de partie. After one year I was promoted to chef de partie. In order to develop further, I started entering various competitions to challenge myself, the first being the HTA In-Service Chef of the Year competition in 2018 where I came first. Shortly afterwards I entered the Chaine des Rotisseur competition two years consecutively, in 2017 and 2018. In the first one I learned a lot but unfortunately did not make it to the nationals, but with my second attempt I made it through to the nationals and came second. I also entered the Unilever competition in 2018 and won the opportunity to do a six-week internship at Le Calabash in the Loire Valley in France. Upon my return, I was included in the National Junior Culinary team of South Africa in 2019 and competed in Cairo, Egypt, where we came second in the African Culinary Cup. We then went on to Shanghai to compete in the FHC China International Culinary Arts Competition and picked up the bronze medal. Earlier this year, I was chosen to return to France for a masterclass at Le Calabash. I returned to the Saxon just as the COVID-19 lockdown struck, and have been staying at the hotel using the time to develop my skill set.
Tell us about your winning dish. What inspired it?
My dish is a vegan entremet (dessert). It was inspired by my grandmother who used to make us trifle which brought us together as a family. I took a dish I love and used the culinary skills I have learned and developed to make something new and different.
What are your thoughts on veganism?
It is a movement that I feel strongly about, due to the sustainable nature of the lifestyle. There are vast health benefits in following diets that are predominantly or entirely plant based and I am now developing my knowledge and understanding of vegan diets and the quality varieties that can be produced to ensure a superior dining experience without the use of animal-based products. It also keeps the ever-evolving world of food and food production interesting and exciting, as we are forced to think of new ways of making classic and traditional dishes vegan friendly.
What five things are always in your fridge or pantry at home?
Salt and pepper, thyme, garlic, onion and coconut oil. With these ingredients, you have the foundation to prepare almost anything and create some magical flavours and textures.
What is your go-to dish when you want to entertain and impress friends or family?
You can never go wrong with a traditional malva pudding with some homemade ice cream. I have obviously modelled a recipe that is also vegan friendly.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I would really like to grow and develop my skills and knowledge in the culinary world. I would love to travel and gain more international knowledge and expand on those trends and to bring this all back home to create a unique South African, sustainable, culinary experience.
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