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Durban chef duo win R20 000 in young chef competition!

18 October 2023

Two Durban chefs were among the winners of the RCL Foods Young Chef and Baker Challenge competition held in Kwa-Zulu Natal recently, when 18 of South Africa’s top chefs under the age of 25 went head-to-head in a culinary showdown.

Ammaara Sulaiman from Greenwood Park and Lalana Santana Pillay from Verulam – both final-year students at Capsicum Culinary Studio in Durban and both aged 20 – took second place and prize money of R20 000.

Their winning three-course meal comprised of a vegetarian sausage croquette with pickled radish, crispy fried onions and a herb mayo for starters; a beef en croute with a roasted red pepper puree and a red wine and rosemary jus with grilled zucchini for mains and an innovative and show-stopping “pot plant” dessert which was made with a white chocolate basket with inside layers of vanilla sponge, lemon curd, passionfruit gel and avocado mousse and topped with a dark chocolate tree branch.

Sulaiman says her interest in cooking started when she was seven years old thanks to helping her aunt cook and watching cooking shows on television. Since then, it has always been her dream to be a chef.

Adds Pillay: “From a young age I was also interested in baking and I’ve always enjoyed eating food so I decided to pursue my dreams of making delicious food into a career. I chose Capsicum because it was one of the best-rated chef schools in South Africa. My time at the school has been the best; I’ve got to experience so many different activities and engage with different chefs and students.”

Sulaiman and Pillay first entered the competition in 2022 but were not accepted to progress further.

Says Sulaiman: “It was a matter of perseverance. We entered again this year and were delighted that our hard work paid off and that we took second place. The competition itself is an amazing experience. It gets stressful and it is a lot of hard work but the knowledge and experience that you gain from it is worthwhile.”

The two spent hours creating their award-winning menu.

Pillay says they spent hours looking at recipes and pictures to come up with inspiration and received much support from the chef lecturers at Capsicum: “We were delighted that our hard work paid off in the end. It was intense but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world!”

In five years’ time Sulaiman is hoping to be working and gaining experience in a restaurant or hotel overseas as well as saving up money to one day open her own small restaurant or cafe. It is a dream shared by Pillay who would like to open her own bakery.

And a few fun questions for the winning pair:

Name five things always in your fridge or pantry
Ammaara: Noodles, chillies, fruits, yoghurt and cheese.
Lalana: Samyang Buldak spicy noodles, eggs, chillies, flour and sugar.

What would be your last meal?
Ammaara: My last meal would either be chicken curry or spicy ramen noodles.
Lalana: I have three and I can’t choose. Probably mutton curry or chicken curry and rice and steak and mashed potatoes.

What do you not eat?
Ammaara: Offal.
Lalana: I eat everything.

If you had to cook dinner for five famous people, who would they be and what would you make them?
Ammaara: Actors Ed Westwick, Leighton Meester, Chace Crawford, Blake Lively and Michelle Trachtenberg.
Lalana: Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Zayn Malik, Florence Nightingale and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Both would cook the three-course meal they made in the finals.

Favourite kitchen utensil and why?
Ammaara: I don't have a favourite kitchen utensil as all of them are important.
Lalana: My chef’s knife, it comes in very handy and it’s very special to me.

Favourite celebrity cook?
Ammaara: Rachael Ray
Lalana: Gordon Ramsay