The Springboks have not been the only national team flying the flag.
Earlier this month, the SA Junior Culinary Team competed in Cairo, Egypt, for the African Culinary Cup.
Despite its name, this prestigious annual epicurean event is open to national teams of young chefs from Africa as well as the Middle East.
It was founded in 2013 and is endorsed and judged by the World Association of Chefs’ Societies (Wacs).
On Wednesday, heats culminated in the top five teams – Egypt, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates – meeting in a final cookoff.
The South African team was made up of four talented young chefs, the oldest of whom was only aged 22.
Hope Mdakane, Njabulo Hlenwa and Calson Madlala hail from Gauteng, while Chantel Molnar is originally from KwaZulu-Natal.
Competitors were given three hours to create a three-course meal for 12 Wacs judges.
Compulsory ingredients, chosen by the host nation, included eel, fava beans, tahina, tapioca, dates and artichokes.
Team captain Madlala chose to see the unusual ingredients as “a challenge that pushed us to explore new tastes and textures in our food”.
“A good chef must be able to work with all ingredients, so getting some complex choices allowed us to show what we can do,” said Madlala.
Regardless of their unfamiliarity with eel, the South African squad created a superb feast.
Starters of Rooibos-smoked tilapia, topped with an eel skin tuile wafer and an exquisite chakalaka (which contained the compulsory fava beans) were followed by Soweto Gold beer-braised lamb shank with caramelised almond and prune stuffing on a magnificent morogo and barley ragout.
Dessert was a light-as-air tahina namalaka mousse on flourless chocolate sponge, with guava sauce, brown butter-date ice cream and a tapioca cracker garnish.
Each dish was not only assessed on taste and visual appeal, but also on the kitchen skills demonstrated during preparation and the team’s ability to display national identity in their food.
Competition was tough and the results were close, but ultimately it was the United Arab Emirates team who outcooked the rest to walk away with the top trophy.
South Africa came in second, with Egypt taking third place.
South Africa’s team coach, chef Siyabulela Kobo of Kobo Cuisine restaurant in Maboneng, Johannesburg, praised his squad’s performance.
“This is just the beginning. They have been together as a team for only three months, so this is an amazing result. They have worked so hard and grown so much in that short period of time. Their meal was beautiful and gave the judges a clear sense of who we are as South Africans. I know that they can take that expression of identity even further in the competitions to come.”
And so say all of us.
African eaters, at home and internationally, are extremely excited to taste their food in the not-too-distant future.
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