A life experience - Abu Dhabi, Global Chefs Challenges and the SIAL 2015

December 18, 2015, 5:26pm

By David Thomas, NCA

The Namibian Chef Association had the unique opportunity to send 2 chefs, David Thomas and Jo-Andri Pretorius, accompanied by our president, Sanet Prinsloo, to participate in the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) Global Chefs Challenge semifinals and Hans Bueschken Junior Chefs Challenge semifinals for Africa and Middle East. The Namibian team was escorted by chef Gregory Vissouarn, on visit directly from France, who used his visit to Namibia by helping and coaching the Namibian team.

The above mentioned semifinals concurred with the SIAL Middle East 2015. The SIAL is a gigantic food show, filled with stands from international suppliers and bringing serious professional culinary entertainments during its 3 days. New products, new trends, a display of fantastic halal products with Suppliers coming from Marocco, France, Cyprus, China, and many others countries. More than 420 chefs competed during the food shows, from bread and baking competitions, beef, lamb or fish cook-off's, ice carving, vegetable sculpture, fine dining buffet display, tapas, sugar work masterpiece and mouthwatering pastry creations. It was simply unbelievable to see so many young professionals competing, showcasing their skills and passion for the food industry. The food show was organized by the Emirates Culinary Guild in partnership with the local food authorities.

Yet our 2 Namibian chefs were primarily there to compete in the Global Chef Challenge semifinals. What an amazing set up: 16 stations / kitchens, full with equipment we Namibians dream of. A panel of more than 20 international acclaimed judges coming from Canada, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar and of course Namibia as our president Sanet was part of the team of judges.

Chefs David and Junior Chef Jo-Andri were respectively competing in the Global Chefs Challenge for the seniors and in the Hans Bueschkens competition for the junior chefs. It's an intense competition, allowing 3 hours to build up a menu for 4 or 6 people, including a starter, with Norwegian salmon, Norwegian white halibut, scallops and Wasabi, a main course using Dutch veal, with veal loin, veal blade and veal sweetbread, and a dessert, using dark chocolate from Valrhona and a selection of exquisite teas coming from Dilmah tea in Sri Lanka.

What a pleasure for connoisseurs with state of the art raw products offering an infinite palate of creativity. Yet first came the mission for our Namibian chefs to practice and train before the competition, mostly due to the unavailability of such products on the Namibian market. Practice sessions at home necessitated making plans and creating magic with the use of kingklip, game meat, beef fillet or even rib eye steak. This prepared them to proudly represent Namibian cuisine on the international scene with the correct ingredients with two beautiful, slightly technical and tasty menus for the two competitions.

Our chefs competed against countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Egypt and Qatar. A hand full of professional and sharpened chefs, ready to showcase the best food in Africa and Middle East. In the senior category, Chef David Thomas had a few technical issues, from a fight with equipment to a fall in the kitchen, the stress of the competition won and the victory and the seat for the world final went to the local chef from Dubai.

The Hans Bueschkens Junior Chefs Competition was mastered well by Junior Chef Jo-Andri Pretorius securing a silver medal to be brought back home while the young chef from Dubai took the gold. Due to a great combination of hard work and coaching that showed during the competition, she was awarded a wild card to attend and compete during the world final of the Global Chefs Challenge, in Greece in September 2016! It will be the first Time for Namibia to compete on such a level! This will be a huge achievement and a unique opportunity to go, learn and showcase our skills and culinary talents amongst Chefs coming from countries from all around the world.

The competition ended up with a beautiful gala dinner and price giving ceremony at the Shangri La Hotel in Abu Dhabi, with the chefs from the UAE taking the trophies in the senior, junior and pastry competitions.. We are looking forward to the next challenge, and our team will start working on it soon. A little bit more than nine months to plan and prepare ourselves the best we can.

During our stay in Abu Dhabi, we had time to see some of the highlights of the town. From ultra luxury hotels to huge buildings, state of the art modern architecture mixed with a strong Arabic influence was what we saw in the bit of free time. The busy local life, all day long, between traditional shops, the local fish market, offering a breathtaking selection of fresh fish from all around the Emirates, the harbour with the traditional fishing vessels or simply walking around, looking toward the sky to see the limit of the roof tops, while making sure not to be driven over by any kind of fancy luxury cars.

Our culinary escape to Abu Dhabi was really special. Far away from Namibia, in a modern and competitive environment, challenging us with a quick immersion into an intense and busy hospitality industry where quality, high end standards, professionalism, elegance and magic gave us a unique insight on what the future of the food industry should be looking like. This left us with a proper reality check upon the considerable amount of work we have to do in Namibia, pushing our involvement and commitment with the Namibian Chefs Association in bringing chefs together and working toward opening doors in the future for Namibians to experience what we saw during our stay in Abu Dhabi. As-salamu alaykum