Dion Vengatass wins big at BIOApril 17th, 2012 by Susan Reynard | Categories: food, hotels, industry, people, products, restaurants, training
* (from left): Eelco Camminga (vice president of Unilever Food Solutions Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan), Dion Vengatass (By Invitation Only Masters winner from Mount Nelson Hotel) and Craig Elliot (Executive Chef of Unilever Food Solutions Africa, Middle East & Pakistan)
* (from left): Eelco Camminga (Vice President of Unilever Food Solutions Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan), Dion Vengatass (By Invitation Only Masters winner from Mount Nelson Hotel), Stephen Billingham (By Invitation Only Masters judge) and Craig Elliot (Executive Chef of Unilever Food Solutions Africa, Middle East & Pakistan).
Dion Vengatass has won the Unilever Food Solutions By Invitation Only Masters 2012 cooking competition. He is junior sous chef at the Mount Nelson hotel in Cape Town, and one of executive chef Rudi Liebenberg’s proteges.
The competition took place on 17 April and the winner was announced the same night at a gala auction dinner. Vengatass was the winner of the Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year 2011, which carried prize money of R15 000. This latest win carries a whopping R40 000 winner-takes-all cash prize.
The competition was held in the kitchens at the Centre for Culinary Excellence, with the gala dinner at the adjacent School of Tourism and Hospitality at the University of Johannesburg.
The competition kicked off at 10h30, when contestants were given their mystery baskets. They had half an hour to compile their menus for a three-course meal for three people. Cooking began at 11h00 and the first plates will come through to the judges at 14h05.
Contestants today have been invited to compete. Vengatass competed against Sharmaine Dixon, head chef at the 1000 Hills Chef School in Durban; Mervyn Davies, owner of Sublime Catering in Durban; Craig Cormack, head chef at Sofia’s at Morgenster in Cape Town; and George Georgio, executive chef at Silverstar Casino in Johannesburg. Vengatass was an automatic entrant as winner of the 2011 Unilever Food Solutions Chef of the Year competition.
The mystery basket contained 600g sole, three quail breasts, six prawns and 200g chorizo, as well as Unilever Food Solutions products Robertsons Veggie Spice, Knorr Jus, Knorr Tomato Pronto and Carte D’Or Panacotta. Chefs could add to this from a communal table of ingredients to produce their dishes.
The winning menu created by Vengatass was:
* Starter: Pan fried sole, prawn potsticker, sugar snap and corn salad, veggie spiced pickle onion, tomato veloute
* Main: Quail roulade, pan fried quail breast, quail tortellini, carrot and beet fondants, butternut puree, spinach toast with chorizo and quail jus
* Dessert: Raspberry steam pudding, strawberry parfait, white chocolate cream, pannacotta berry sauce
All the chefs reported that the Unilever Food Solutions products were easy to use, versatile and saved time. Vengatass said he added one of the spices to the pickle onion to achieve the correct piquant taste without having to use a number of different spices in the starter, the jus to enhance his quail jus and give it extra flavour and shine in the main, and the pannacotta to thicken the berry sauce and give it the right consistency to cling to the sides of the steam pudding.
Vengatass is 26 years old and has enormous energy and passion for cooking, which coupled with his perfectionist nature and willingness to work hard and learn from top chefs is a recipe for success. This win he dedicates to his grandmother (“Aunty Violet”), who passed away some two weeks ago. She shared her considerable skills in the kitchen with Vengatass (especially the mixing and preparation of spices and flavours) while he was growing up, instilling in him a food culture, and prompting his desire to become a chef.
He says: “Cooking is about family. If I create a dish, the main objective is to take you back to a memory, a memory that was special to you. It’s done with love and you can taste it.”
Judges include Stephen Billingham, president of the South African Chefs Association and principal of HTA School of Culinary Art; James Khoza from Sandton Sun Hotel and Sandton Convention Centre; Allister Esau from BOSASA; and Bradley Kavanaugh from Unilever Food Solutions.
Craig Elliot, executive chef of Unilever Food Solutions Africa, Middle East & Pakistan, says: “Every chef was a winner in his or her own right by virtue of the fact that they had been handpicked for their significant contribution to the food industry in their careers, as well as for their excellent reputations, their commitment to quality, and last but certainly not least, their outstanding culinary talent.”
Results were announced by Eelco Camminga, vice president of Unilever Food Solutions for South Africa, Middle East & Pakistan. While only one winner gets to walk away with the big prize of R40 000, all of the chefs – competitors in their own right and top chefs in their field – showed innovative and creative ways of using the various Unilever Food Solutions product. Camminga says that every time they run these competitions, they learn more about the lives of chefs and how to help them in their kitchen, with their guests and on their menu. “When you look at how these guys put things together, we see the commercial value and how to add value,” he notes.
This competition, together with the series of three Chef of the Year competitions later in the year, is designed to demonstrate how versatile Unilever Food Solutions professional products are, and how they can be used by chefs at all stages of their career, from junior to senior, in top hotels and restaurants, as well as in catering units and chefs’ own businesses.
Camminga says the competitions are the company’s investment into brand awareness of Unilever Food Solutions, as well as its various product brands. The four annual competitions are also important as they are a constant investment into the food service industry and help the company to better understand the needs of chefs and make it a better solutions provider.
The gala dinner also included an auction of 12 original food-related paintings – each one of a kind – that were specially created by various local artists for the Unilever Food Solutions calendar. Some R143 000 was raised towards the Bill Gallagher Young Chefs Study Assistance Fund, which is a financial assistance top-up fund that pays for books, cooking utensils and more for underprivileged students who are registered at reputable culinary institutions.
The dinner was prepared by chefs from Team South Africa, which is currently practising to compete in the Culinary Olympics later this year. They are led by manager Bruce Burns.