It was not so long ago that all the top-level chefs in South Africa were imported from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. But local chefs are coming into their own now, dominating the teams in international cook-offs, winning places in posh restaurants – and some of them starting their own restaurants.
There are a number of South African chefs who can boast a high profile among South Africans. Among them:
In Cape Town: Garth Stroebel at the Mount Nelson; Barak Hirschowitz at Tides at The Bay Hotel; Garth Shnier at the Arabella Sheraton Group’s Western Cape Hotel and Spa at Kleinmond; Graeme Shapiro at The Restaurant; and Janet Telian at the Savoy Cabbage.
In Johannesburg they include Bruce Burns at Lutyens; Stefano Strafella at the Saxon; Michael Broughton at Broughtons in Sandton; Steven Benson at the Sandton Hilton; and Gaetano Sgroi at the Park Hyatt.
The team of Daniel and Karine Leusch at La Madeleine in Pretoria win awards year after year. Marc Guebert at the Ile de France in Johannesburg was one of the first celebrity chefs in the country. The executive chef at Linger Longer in Johannesburg, Walter Ulz, has just celebrated his 25th anniversary at this finest of restaurants.
Master chef Lucas Ndlovu still draws the gourmets to the Coach House in Agatha in the Northern Province, 12 years on. Paula Nel is guest chef presenter on Top Billing, while Citrum Khumalo of the Compass group performs the same function on Radio Metro.
The country’s best-known chef is Bill Gallagher, current chairman of the South African Chefs Association, past president and honorary life president of the World Association of Cooks Societies, and food and beverage director of the Southern Sun group.
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The Association puts together national teams which compete at international culinary competitions. The South African team has won medals in every international competition, both individual and team events, since its debut in 1980, when the team won five individual gold medals in the IKA Culinary Olympics.
At the IKA Hoga Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, the team walked away with 15 medals and in the Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg, golds in both the hot and cold competitions.
A local chef, Eric van Dam, achieved second place in the Chaine des Rotisseurs Young Chef of the Year competition in 1987 in Spain, and a year later won second place in the Masterchief Junior World Challenge. For a full list of achievements by South African chefs, see below.
The South African professional culinary scene goes beyond honours and celebrity. In keeping with the country’s history, and the remaining gap between rich and poor, it was Bill Gallagher, before his tenure as president of the World Association, who suggested a World Cooks Tour for Hunger – now a mainstay of World Association activities.
The first tour, in August 1993, brought 118 chefs from five continents to Johannesburg at their own expense to train hotel and restaurant staff and to host fund-raising events, from demonstrations and competitions to street parties for underprivileged children. The chefs also cooked for shelters for street children. The tour and a special book commemorating it raised a good deal of money for South African non-governmental organisations Operation Hunger and the Valley Trust.
The concept has continued, with subsequent tours elsewhere. In 1999, for example, the World Association staged its Tour for Hunger in Scotland to benefit Save the Children. The South African team was among international chefs who arrived to do their part.
South Africa has a much-decorated history of participation in international competitions, both at individual and team levels.
- 1980 (South Africa’s debut) – IKA Culinary Olympics – five individual gold medals and an overall fourth placing in the hot competition
- 1983 – Torquay Gastronomic Festival – Won team trophy, two silver medals and two bronzes and were placed fourth out of eight teams
- 1984 – Hotelympia – Two gold medals, a silver and a special merit award
- 1984 – IKA Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt – 11 gold medals, three silvers, two bronzes and overall prize for best junior chef of the entire competition
- 1987 – American Culinary Classic in Chicago – A silver medal behind Canada in the cold display and a gold in the hot event
- 1988 – IKA Hoga – Three teams sent; the junior team won five bronzes, the city team won four golds and the national team won five golds and two bronzes
- 1989 – Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg – Six gold medals in the hot kitchen and six silvers in the cold kitchen
- 1990 – Gastroprag cooking competition in Czechoslovakia – Six silver medals and 14 gold medals
- 1991 – American Culinary Classic – Silver medal in the hot kitchen and gold medal in the cold kitchen
- 1992 – IKA Hoga Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt – 15 Olympic medals and world champions in the Hot Kitchen (alias Restaurant of Nations)
- 1993 – International Culinary Competition: Taste of Canada – Bronze in the hot competition and three silvers and a bronze in the individual cold events
- 1994 – Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg – Golds in the hot and cold competitions
- 1995 – Malta Open Cookery Championships – Eight individual and two team events brought three golds, three silvers, a bronze and two trophies
- 1997 – World Culinary Grand Prix (Scothot) in Glasgow – Three medals and a diploma
- 1998 – Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg – Silver medals in the hot and cold competitions
- 1986 – Mary Taylor achieved fourth place in the Salon Culinaire in Germany
- 1987 – Eric van Dam achieved second place in the Chaine des Rotisseurs Young Chef of the Year in San Sebastian in Spain, achieving second place, a single point behind Germany. This is the best result to date by any South African in this competition
- 1988 – Masterchef Junior World Challenge, held in South Africa – Eric van Dam awarded second place, earning him a stint in Lyon working under Paul Bocuse
- 1989 – Gordon Fraser placed fourth in the International Culinary Grand Prix Auguste Escoffier in Lisbon
- 1989 – Heinz Brunner placed third, winning six trophies and a win for his dessert in the Concours Auguste Escoffier in Nice
- 1990 – Bill Gallagher placed third in the Concours Auguste Escoffier in Nice
- 1992 – Manfred Reinhard placed fourth in the Concours Auguste Escoffier in Nice
- 1997 – World Junior Chef Challenge – Gregg Oosthuizen awarded second place
- 1998 – Individual World Championship in Melbourne – won by Steven Benson
- Rainbow Cuisine by Lannice Snyman (S&S, 1998)
- Flavours of South Africa by Peter Veldsman (Tafelberg, 1998)
- Funa: Food from Africa by Renata Coetzee (Butterworth & Co, 1982)
- The South African Culinary Tradition by Renata Coetzee (Struik, 1977)
- Indian Delights edited by Zuleikha Mayat (Women’s Cultural Group, several editions between 1961 and 1996)
- Traditional Cookery of the Cape Malays by Hilda Gerber (AA Balkema, 1957) Cooking from Cape to Cairo: A Taste of Africa by Dorah Sithole (Tafelberg, 1999)
- Cass Abrahams Cooks Cape Malay (Metz Press, 1995)
- Treat the Troops (no editor credited, CUM books, Roodepoort, 1983)
- Simply South Africa by Elaine Hurford (Struik, 2000)
- Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa compiled by Eric Rosenthal (Frederick Warne & Co Ltd, London, 1970 – fifth edition)