Cooking contest opens doors for young aspiring chefs
Contestants share dishes that won them bursaries
Aspiring chef Palesa Ramalale had no idea what to make when she entered a national chef talent competition.
The 19-year-old decided to trust her sweet tooth and went for chocolate fondant with ricotta, a recipe she saw on a TV show a few years earlier and added her own twist.
It won hearts, leading to her being named one of six recipients of bursaries to study at one of SA’s culinary schools.
"I thought of cooking pasta but then I had to reconsider because anyone can make it and I needed to get to the finals. I then decided on something sweet because I prefer baking to cooking. I have a sweet tooth,” says an excited Ramalale.
Ramalale of Thembisa, on the East Rand, will study at Capsicum Culinary Studio with five other food enthusiasts after winning their share of R500,000 in bursaries.
Having matriculated in 2022, she took a gap year after she saw the tuition cost for her course.
“It wasn’t by choice, Capsicum was the only school I had set my eyes on but when I saw their fees, I had to take a gap year and come up with another plan.
“I was planning to apply for the advanced professional chef course again next year but I also had a plan B to apply at any university for hospitality management.”
She says her love for cooking was ignited while she was in boarding school in the Free State, where she would cook for her peers.
“I used to live in a hostel. My roommates and I would take turns cooking for each other. That is how my interest in cooking started. I realised that every time it was my turn, I would get excited, even if the options were just rice and chicken most of the time,” she said.
Ramalale hopes to become a head chef at a Michelin-star restaurant one day but says judges of the competition gave her guidance to chase other opportunities such as social media and blogging.
“I can become a social media influencer because I would have learned how to cook after the course,” she says.
Another winner, Rethabile Coplan of Randburg, Johannesburg, who is also a teacher, says she gets excited at the thought of cooking, and that is why she decided to enter the competition.
“I’ve always had a passion for cooking and a deep interest in culinary arts and after spending several years in the field of education, I was brought closer to the realisation that my true calling lies in the world of food and culinary creativity,” says Coplan.
“It allows me to combine my love for cooking with my desire to constantly learn and grow in the dynamic field of culinary arts.”
The 32-year-old says she dreams of owning a restaurant one day, where she will showcase her talent as head chef.
“I would be embarking on a lifelong dream of owning a boutique hotel with a Michelin-rated restaurant. This is something my best friend and I have spoken of ever since we were teens,” she says.
“The recipe I chose for this competition was a coconut chicken curry served with flatbread and pineapple salsa because it allowed me to present a dish that combined bold flavours, unique textures and a touch of tropical inspiration, which was a creative fusion of vibrant flavours and global influences.”
Capsicum Academic operations manager Candice Adams said the aim of the competition was not only to find the best untapped culinary talent in the country but also an excellent opportunity for aspiring chefs and pâtissiers to kickstart their careers and gain the necessary skills to become world-class professionals.
Rethabile Coplan recipe: Coconut chicken curry served with flatbread and pineapple salsa
Ingredients for the curry
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
2 large shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
½ tbsp curry powder
5 whole cloves
3-4 bay leaves
5 cardamom pods
½ tbsp garam masala
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 can coconut milk
½ cup water
1.5kg boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
Heat a large pan or skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of cooking oil and let it heat up before adding the chopped onions and cook until golden brown and caramelised. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Add cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods and stir for a minute to release their flavours and aromas, then add a teaspoon of the garam masala.
Add the chicken breast pieces to the pan and cook until lightly browned on both sides. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the tomato paste. Slowly stir in the water. Stir well to combine the ingredients and coat the chicken evenly. Pour in the coconut cream and season with salt to taste. Stir gently to mix everything together.
Cover the pan with a lid and let the curry simmer over low heat for about 20-25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Remove the pan from the heat and let the curry rest for a few minutes to allow the flavours to meld together. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve hot with fresh flatbread and pineapple salsa.
Palesa Ramalale recipe: Chocolate fondant with ricotta
Ingredients for the chocolate fondant:
170g 70% dark chocolate
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease 5 ramekins with butter and coat with flour and set aside. Melt the butter and chocolate over a double boiler. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until pale and thick. Add the flour and whisk until well incorporated. When the butter and chocolate have melted, slowly add it to the egg mixture and mix well. Pour the batter into the ramekins and bake at 180°C for 10 minutes. Remove and leave to rest.
Ingredients for the ricotta:
1½ cups full cream
3 tablespoons caster sugar
1½ tablespoons cottage cheese.
5ml vanilla essence.
Whisk the cream in a blender and gradually add the caster sugar. Add the cottage cheese and continue blending. Finally, add the vanilla essence and give a final whisk to incorporate.
Serve the fondant and ricotta on a plate and garnish with strawberries and a sprinkle of cocoa powder.
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