January 26, 2022

Joy as Asanda Khanyile wins Distell Inter-Hotel Challenge Chef of the Year

Shock then joy. That is how Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani chef Asanda Khanyile and Executive Chef Shaun Monro described their feelings after winning Chef of the Year and Mentor of the Year respectively at the 2021 Distell Inter-Hotel Challenge.

The Challenge, established in 2013, develops and promotes skills in wining and dining service as well as in cuisine. The 2021 event attracted an impressive number of entries from South Africa’s leading hotels, with 160 candidates competing across various categories.

Asanda, 24, said: “Till today I am still very much in disbelief. Yes, I do believe in my culinary skills but I never really thought I would win it. My heart is really full and I am really happy. It’s the best thing I’ve ever chosen to do.”

Shaun said he was overjoyed when Asanda won. “I was very pleased with what she put out. I always said it’s about participating and if we get placed it’s a bonus so I was overjoyed. When they announced she was the winner. I was actually in shock for a couple of seconds, we all were, and then we all jumped up and down.”

Shaun says that what makes the Distell Inter-Hotel Challenge great is that it is not a mystery basket, it allows teams to practice and work on the flavour profile of the plate.

“Practice makes perfect. We put a lot of time, effort and energy into the dishes and we got the whole team’s buy in. We got the general manager, the food and beverage manager and my sous chef tasting the dishes, so it really was a team effort getting her ready and allowing her to put out the best plate of food out. 

“Being a contestant over the years, I got to know what the judges looked for but taste rules supreme.. Yes, it’s got to look good and you’ve got to work well in the kitchen and yes, you’ve got to meet all those other judging criteria but you’ve got to make the food taste as wonderful as you possibly can and the process allows you to do that. We are able to really work on the flavour profile of the plate.”

The star ingredient of Asanda’s mains was Denny mushrooms. “I think I won because I made dishes that I would want to eat,” she said.

Asanda says Shaun winning mentor of the year is well-deserved.

“He was there from the day I started practising, tasting all my dishes, every time, even if I had to put it in a warmer for him to taste later. He gave me space to experiment with a lot of things and he never said no, don’t do that. It was like ‘Chef, what do you think about this type of thing?’ It was not telling me what to do. He was advising me and it was great. I wouldn’t have chosen another person to mentor me.”

Chef Shaun says: “I’m really, really excited to have won that. I have over the years put in a lot of time, effort and energy into getting the team ready for it and it’s just wonderful to be recognised for that. The organisers put so much work and effort into making this such an overall holistic competition, which is quite unique. Normally in a competition, there’s only a top chef, but in this one, there’s a prize for a team, there’s a prize for a mentor…to have that recognition and to bring it home for the team was wonderful.” 

Chef Shaun Monro and Team Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani.

Shaun’s prize is  a weekend at Lanzerac Hotel & Spa with flights, permitting by British Airways operated by Comair, while Asanda’s prize includes a three-week internship with Minor Hotels, at a destination to be confirmed. But for now her favourite part of her prize is the KitchenAid Artisan Mixer “because I really wanted it. I love it”.

Food doyenne and challenge co-founder Annette Kesler said the judges were both thrilled and moved by the palpable desire to succeed amongst so many entrants: “Their focus and application, their ambition and dynamism bode very well for the future of South African hospitality in promising visitors a top-quality experience.”

Distell’s HR and Corporate Affairs Director, André Opperman added: “The quality of work assessed by the judges, the range of skills displayed and the ingenuity and commitment of contestants this year was absolutely outstanding. It says to us that culinary, wine service and hospitality talent is flourishing across a wider swathe of South Africa than ever before.

“This represents a healthy, well-balanced cross-section of hospitality in the country. Many of these establishments endured immense hardship under the pandemic but remained undeterred in their commitment to excellence. That really is very good news for Tourism SA.”

The Distell Inter-Hotel Challenge 2021 winners include:

  • Wine steward of the Year: Sylvain Kapompa of Ellerman House in Bantry Bay, Cape Town.
  • Chef of the Year: Asanda Khanyile of the Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani in Durban.
  • Pastry Chef of the Year: Prenolin Naidoo from the Beverly Hills in Durban.
  • Baker of the Year: Chadwin Simmers from The Vineyard in Claremont, Cape Town.
  • Top concierges: Muchi Gubwe (Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel, Cape Town), Siphokazi Mhambi (The President Hotel) and Sihle Ngubane (Beverly Hills).
  • Best team overall: Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel, Cape Town.
  • Top achiever for the Cape Wine Academy and Sommeliers Academy examinations: Nomawonga Tibe (Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani).
  • ‘The Wonga Award’, presented to the most up-and-coming wine steward: Manduleli Solani from Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel, Cape Town.
  • Mentor of the Year Shaun Munro from Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani.
  • SHOWCOOK (WO)MAN OF THE MATCH: Maretha Langenhoven from Hartford House.

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