Durban’s young chefs plate up for success
Durban - Two young chefs from Durban will be jetting off to France and India to intern with some of the finest chefs in the world.
Sohail Seegobin and Ivana Ganesh from the Beverly Hills Hotel won the Pastry Chef of the Year and Hot Kitchen Chef of the Year awards, respectively, in the national Distell Inter-Hotel Challenge which sees chefs from four- or five-star establishments across the country competing for the top spots.
Seegobin will spend three weeks as an intern at the exclusive Château de la Creuzette in Boussac, France, while Ganesh will do her internship at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India.
They both entered the competition while working at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and have since moved to the Pencil Club in uMhlanga.
This week Seegobin, 22, who was one of the youngest winners in the challenge, said he developed his love for pastry growing up in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother in Verulam.
"Especially during Diwali, I would watch my mother and grandmother cooking up a storm with tables running from one end of the house to the other. They both played a huge role in my life. My mother is an expert baker and coming from a working-class home where my parents were working, I was looked after by my grandmother, who would sit me on the kitchen counter next to her.
“In the culinary world, I was drawn to patisserie as it’s so meticulous, you do it with your whole soul, you can't miss out a gram. It's needs finesse and an explosion of colours,” said Seegobin.
For the Distell Inter-Hotel Challenge, he created a Raspberry Delight – a spiced sponge layered with raspberry ganache, chunks of honeycomb and set yoghurt, garnished with tempered chocolate, as his dessert entry. His cake entry was a Battenburg cake with handmade sugar flowers ‒ the cake took 12 hours to make and the flowers took two weeks.
While the date for his trip to intern in France has not been set because of Covid, Seegobin said he was very excited about the opportunity and would taking the Canon camera which was part of his prize "to capture all those moment“ while at the luxury Château de La Creuzette.
Seegobin, whose favourite treat is a Madeira cake, said the secret to success in patisserie is to use the best ingredients.
"The top trends are all about simplicity, with citrus vibes for this season, whether it's a cake or dessert.
“I love reading and I always look to see what international chefs are doing and add a South African flair. For example, with Easter coming up, instead of traditional spiced buns, I’ll add in some rooibos and amarula glaze," he said.
Chef Ivana Ganesh won her title as Hot Kitchen Chef with her starter, Confit King Oyster Mushrooms, and mains, a Duo of Pork with a blueberry and bacon jam served with a carrot purée and parsnip purée, fondant potatoes and a blueberry jus.
"Right now people are very health conscious and it's about keeping it fresh and veg-oriented, it’s no longer those heavy starchy meals. For example, for my starter I used mushrooms instead of scallops. I love vegetables and it's a good way of eating, you can consume more with lighter meals and have a greater variety," she said.
Ganesh also grew up in the kitchen and said she was cooking meals by the age of 9.
"Initially I wanted to do pastry, but I found that I enjoyed the rush of a fine dining kitchen. I love making pasta from scratch and to see the end result is very rewarding," said Ganesh. Her kitchen knife is her “must have” tool, and she said fennel is her favourite ingredient.
Having never been out of Africa, she is also looking forward to her internship at the Taj Mahal in Mumbai, saying: "Apparently it's nothing like the cuisine we have here in Durban, they have some award-wining chefs and I'll also see how they run their kitchens."
Beverly Hills executive sous chef Hagashen Moodley said Ganesh and Seegobin had promising futures ahead of them. Moodley – who also won Mentor of the Year in the Distell Inter-Hotel Challenge – has been in the hospitality industry for 15 years, and said the challenge saw some of the best chefs in the country competing for the top spots.
"They (Ganesh and Seegobin) are both very passionate and promising chefs," said Moodley, adding that competitions helped chefs to keep the creative juices flowing.
"A competition is a different pressure from being in the kitchen. It makes you a stronger chef and often shows you how much you still have to learn. When you compete as a chef, that creative side of you awakens. This has been important, especially during this time of Covid, when the hospitality industry has been so impacted," he said.
The Independent on Saturday