The One&Only Reaching for Young Stars held a cook-off for the final leg of its competition before the winner’s announcement in September.
The beverage service category, sponsored by Sanpellegrino with their fine mineral waters and Italian Sparkling Drinks along with prominent South African spirit brands and wine estates, tested students to a fine-dining level of service on everything from cocktail creativity, wine and water presentation to food and wine pairings. Students, mentors, and judges share their insights from the day.
South Africa, Cape Town, August 2021 – The intense focus on the young faces busy simmering and sautéing in the hot kitchen at the International Hotel School mirrors that of a restaurant kitchen pre-service, and the pressure is just as real, as students prepare their dishes in the cook-off. Delayed due to lockdown levels, the cook-off sees teams competing from seven Cape Town and Stellenbosch culinary and hospitality institutions. The organisers, Showcook.com have carefully designed categories to cover the full experience of fine dining, including baking, barista, and beverage service, as well as presentation of a three-course meal – and they’ve set the standards high.
Judging the beverage service, Penelope Horwood says, “We have exceptionally premium sponsors this year, with S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna mineral waters, KWV brandy and Cruxland gin, and some of our leading wine estates. It just shows where Showcook.com has placed the competition, to encourage young sommeliers and chefs to reach for the level they will need working in a five-star milieu.”
The seven schools – International Hotel School, Hurst Campus, CTIA, IHT Hotel School, CPUT, Capsicum Culinary Studio and Esiko – each field a team of up to five students to cover all the categories and are sponsored by a different wine estate, which the team visits to learn about and taste the wines. Mentored by the winemaker, the beverage student plays a key role in the team. “Deciding the wine pairings was part of my job description,” says Chrizaan Myburgh, Hurst Campus. “Our wine farm, Ernie Els, was 90 percent red wines with just one rosé and one chenin, so we adjusted our menu to the wines, the most amazing wines, beautiful styles, it was so exciting.”
In the beverage prep kitchen, the intense focus is as apparent as in the next-door hot kitchens, students practising their two creative cocktails, one based on Cruxland gin and one on KWV brandy, using Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks as mixers. Others are rehearsing their wine bottle opening and pouring skills, ensuring that their glasses are sparkling and chip-free, and preparing set up of their mise en place. Each student has 30 minutes to do a full presentation to the judges demonstrating their cocktail, wine and water service skills and knowledge.
The students start by serving judges, Penelope Horwood and sommelier Luvo Ntezo of One&Only, a choice of S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna mineral waters. “We look at the water service as if it’s a five-star restaurant, hotel or game lodge,” says Penelope. “We see how they offer us water as we sit down, we want to see the knowledge of the water. You receive your water before you decide on your wines, so it’s important.” A lot is in the detail, which side they serve from, and that they offer water refills throughout the service, but it’s also about people skills. “We learnt a lot. How to talk to the guests, to interact in those awkward moments, how to come to the table,” says Seth Walburg, IHS.
The workshop on mineral waters, with S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, at the launch of the competition in June was an eye-opener for most of the students. “Before that I didn’t know that water service was a thing, so it’s amazing to learn, to have water be an interesting story to tell,” says Lehana Zandberg, IHT Hotel School.
Water service also features in the barista category, “You serve a glass of water with your shot of espresso to experience all the flavour components of the coffee,” says Danae Uys, IHT, “I chose to use Acqua Panna still mineral water because it’s a nice palate cleanser and it’s smooth on the palate.”
With the cocktails the beverage students were able to let their creativity flow. As well as using the Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks for colour and flavour, they had created an array of infusions, syrups and other elements to add pizzazz. Smoke and chili caviar, salted caramel and rosemary-infused tea, rose geranium and lemon verbena were just a few of the aromas wafting around the prep kitchen.
Most of the students chose the Aranciata Rossa (blood orange) to mix with the KWV brandy, as the depth of flavour naturally complemented it, while they found either the Limonata (lemon) or Pompelmo (grapefruit) worked well for lighter gin cocktails. Zoe Stoffels, CTIA, found herself turning the obvious pairing around, “I used the Limonata for the brandy and the Aranciata Rossa for the gin. I’d infused the gin with some juniper berries and lavender and when I added that blood orange, it enhanced the drink just like that.”
Chrizaan also enjoyed the whole experience, “I’ve studied being a chef, so the beverage side was completely new for me. We did some beverage training at school, but this was a whole new world. I absolutely loved working with the Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks as mixers, they’re so natural and light and complemented the flavours perfectly. So easy to incorporate.”
Wine Service and Food and Wine Pairing
Pouring their wines, sharing their stories, and talking through their menus and wine pairings completes the beverage students’ presentation to the judges.
The actual food and wine pairings are tasted and judged separately. Here Guy Webber, winemaker at Hill & Dale, says he is looking for a basic understanding of what they are trying to achieve, “Actually getting the food and the wine to complement each other rather than just be food and wine. Secondly creativity in terms of pushing the boundaries.” This is the hardest skill for inexperienced students to learn and it’s all about practise. “You’ve got to trust your palate, you can’t google these things, you can’t read from a textbook.” Consistency is key, he says, “You need to have that taste in your head so that when you’re cooking the dish you know – the fact that you’ve tied this dish to a wine for a pairing means that the dish can’t deviate. It’s next-level cooking.”
A Learning Experience
For many of the students this was their first competition and they found it was a valuable learning experience. “It’s very motivating and great experience if you want to go into the hospitality industry,” says Wandile Mpakumpaku, Capsicum Studio.
Learning opportunities present throughout the competition. “I was very new to wine and to cocktail making,” says Liyanda Madikane who is studying hospitality management at CPUT, “Due to Covid, we have been unable to partake in much practical bar and restaurant experience, so coming to this competition meant a lot.”
Winners will be announced at a black-tie awards ceremony at the One&Only Cape Town Hotel on 2nd September. Sanpellegrino wishes all the participants the best of luck.