July 2, 2024

Courtyard Hotel Waterfall City wins Game of Chefs culinary competition

The heat of the kitchen, the pressure of the clock counting down, and the scrutiny of the judges and spectators – culinary competitions are not for the faint hearted! The team of four chefs from Courtyard Hotel Waterfall City proved they were up to the challenge and were named Game of Chefs 2024 champions, walking away with the winner’s trophy, gold medals, certificates, and a whopping R40,000 cash prize.

Game of Chefs is an invitation-based, World Association of Chefs Societies-approved national competition, now in its fifth year. It is open to teams of professional chefs from restaurants, hotels, lodges, catering companies, and chefs’ associations in South Africa. This event was also the international leg of the competition and was held in the EconoFoods Culinary Village during the Hotel & Hospitality Expo Africa and Africa’s Big 7 show on 11-13 June 2024.

The talented team from Courtyard Hotel Waterfall City included Executive Chef Natalie Schoonbee, Pastry/Commis Chef Ro-Anne Williams, Junior Sous Chef Erick Mbudu, and Chef de Partie Evans Mtombela. Together they created the winning menu from a mystery basket that included papaya, turnips, tuna, duck, beef short rib, and camembert, plus regular pantry items. On the menu was the following:

  • Starter: Tuna Tataki, with cucumber and kiwi fruit salsa, pickled ginger and teriyaki
  • Main: Seared Duck Breast, Duck Leg and Beef Short Rib Trio, with roast garlic mashed potato, pak choi, turnip, papaya and gooseberry gremolata
  • Dessert: Camembert Mousse, with coconut sponge, berry compote, and smoked vanilla condensed milk drizzle

Natalie says it was a team effort from start to finish. The group’s General Manager: F&B Operations, Trevor Boyd (also an international culinary judge and past member and manager of the Olympic Culinary Team) and hotel General Manager, Brendan Luttig, brought their wealth of experience, advice and mentorship to the team’s practice sessions. City Lodge Hotels sponsored their application, uniforms, and essential equipment, all adding to their success.

She says, “During practice sessions before the competition, we carefully followed the protocols and rules we would be judged by. We created our own mystery baskets, practiced making menus from random ingredients, and executed our dishes within the allotted time.”

Natalie Schoonbee says of the competition, “This was an unfamiliar but fun experience for me. It allowed me to bond with my team members in a casual yet richly rewarding way. Working with the team was wonderful, and I was proud of their enduring focus and dedication both leading up to and during the competition. I see incredible potential in the kitchen team at Courtyard Hotel Waterfall City and I trust this will not be the last accolade acknowledging the passion, dedication, and expertise our team is capable of demonstrating.”

Erick Mbudu adds, “Even though I practiced, I wasn’t too sure and was scared. Competing with other chefs in the country gave me cold feet. Then I remembered my grandma – she always believed in me, and that made me believe in myself. Preparation wasn’t easy, but on competition day as soon as I saw Chef Trevor I felt reassured and remembered to believe in myself. I saw him competing when he was my mentor, and I said to myself, ‘I will do this for Chef Trevor and my Grandmother.’ From there, the fear went away, and I told myself, ‘I will do exactly what I do in my kitchen’ and win or lose, I would be proud. Little did I know we would win and be crowned champions! Thanks to Chef Natalie, who also believes in me and encourages me to believe in myself.”

Ro-Anne Williams notes, “The Game of Chefs competition was absolutely nerve-racking for me; however, I quickly fell in love with the thrill – like the adrenaline we face in busy service when orders are piling up and prep is running out. It was truly fun and exciting and I am forever grateful for the experience! It motivated me to want to enter more competitions and to succeed further. To win the first ever Game of Chefs is a huge milestone and took me by surprise. It still feels unreal but now I am more confident and feel ten times more love and passion for the industry and the endless possibilities to come.”

Evans Mtombela sums up the team experience, “If we can do this on our first time competing, we can do anything!”

The eight competing teams were given 150 minutes (two-and-a-half hours) to gather ingredients from the EconoFoods on-site pantry to add to the compulsory products, write up their menus, cook, plate, and serve 15 individual servings of a three-course meal consisting of a warm or cold starter, main course, and dessert.

Scoring criteria complied with Worldchefs rules and regulations, for a total of 100 points awarded as follows:

  • 50 Taste
  • 25 Correct professional preparation
  • 10 Arrangement, presentation, innovation
  • 10 Mise-en-place
  • 5 Service

Judges included Rudi Mueller (head judge), James Khoza (tasting judge), Mahlomola Thamae (tasting judge), Trevor Boyd (tasting judge), Pieter Malan (kitchen judge), and Coovashan Pillay (kitchen judge), and Martin Kobald.

Other awards were presented as follows:

  • First Runner-up: Les Creatifs received a silver medal and prize money of R25,000
  • Second Runner-up: Sandton Sun and Towers received a bronze medal and R15,000
  • Best Hygiene Practice sponsored by Tork: Sandton Sun and Towers received a trophy and R5,000

Trevor Boyd says of the experience, “We conducted intensive training with mystery baskets during practice sessions followed by de briefing, competition tips, and preparation goals. Our chefs learned quickly and applied what they learned, and on the day I was so proud to see how professional they looked and worked – they represented City Lodge Hotels and their hotel well.”

He adds, “The judges could see that our team was well trained and mentored. They said competition standards were set high, the winners were outstanding, and did themselves and their hotel very proud.”

Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, Chief Operating Officer, notes, “We are so proud of our chefs for entering this competition, and then winning it! As City Lodge Hotels expands its food and beverage offering, we applaud our chefs for taking every opportunity to grow their skills and experience, knowing this enhances their careers and our service delivery. Culinary passion shows on the plate and this is all part of a top-notch guest experience in our restaurants.”