Chef Chad Esau’s magic plates earns him top honours at annual Empact Group competition

Chad Esau out-cooked his competitors at the Final Cut competition in Gauteng. Picture: Supplied.

Chad Esau out-cooked his competitors at the Final Cut competition in Gauteng. Picture: Supplied.

Published Apr 29, 2023

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Johannesburg - Chef Chad Esau doesn’t cook that often at home but when he puts his apron on, he makes magic.

The Pelican Park, Cape Town, resident walked off with top honours at The Final Cut 2023, an annual Empact Group competition for their food service chefs.

The cook-off took place at Emperors Palace and chefs were required to create a dish using a mystery box of ingredients and replicate a demonstration dessert. This year, the top six chefs, two each from KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng, competed in a cook-off to see who would emerge as the winner.

The mystery box of ingredients had to be used in the main course and included a whole chicken, exotic mushrooms, whole potatoes and fresh sage. In addition to creating a signature main course, the chefs were required to replicate guest chef and judge, chef Andre Bezuidenhout’s demonstration dish, which was his signature dessert, lemon meringue spring roll. There was also a full pantry of ingredients which the chefs could access to build their signature main course.

Supplied image.

After an intense cook-off, Esau, was declared the winner with his chicken roulade stuffed with garlic and herb chicken mousse, served with a burnt onion purée on a bed of mashed potato and accompanied by balsamic pickled shimeji mushrooms, carrot points and finished with a wholegrain mustard chicken jus. Waynand van Rensburg, also from the Western Cape, took second place with his seared chicken roulade on a carrot purée served with fondant potato and sage cream.

Gauteng-based Themba Siyewuyenu’s grilled sage chicken breast served on mashed potato with a side of garlic roasted carrots and sautéed wild mushrooms was awarded third place. The winning dishes, all exuded quality, freshness, nutrition, creativity and most importantly, flavour, everything Empact Group is known for at their food service sites.

First prize was a R25 000 holiday voucher, second prize was a block set of German knives and third prize was a Le Creuset casserole dish

The finalists were selected by virtue of their entries to compete in the heats leading up to The Final Cut chefs showcase. Chefs were required to create a starter and main course for the judges making use of a mystery pantry. Each heat was judged by external accomplished chefs within the food industry.

Supplied image.

General Manager of Empact Group’s Centre of Excellence, Hanno de Lange said the culinary talent showcase, which allows their chefs to learn and grow, bears testimony to Empact Group’s ethos, “Doing right by you”, a corporate philosophy which is extended to not only their clients but their staff too.

“The brief to the chefs was to incorporate their take on global trends in the food service industry. Their culinary creations needed to stand at the forefront of menu innovation, demonstrating what’s hot in modern food. In addition to exuding quality and freshness, being nutritious, convenient to prepare, appealing to the eye and delectable to the palate; the innovative dishes had to inspire a plethora of tantalising tastes and sensory stimuli – all qualities for which Empact Group is so well-known in the food service sector,” he said.

And while Chef Chad thinks of himself as a background guy, his talents on the day really stepped to the fore.

“Talking to people isn’t always easy for me and so I like to stay behind the scenes. I do it when I need to. Rather leave me at the back,” he added.

Esau, a married father of three said although he prefers his wife’s cooking, his love for food started at an early age when he was just marinating meat for his parents.

“In high school, I did Consumer Studies and we had to cook. It almost came naturally to me. My wife always says that everyone thinks she’s the lucky one but she actually does most of the cooking,” Esau chuckled.

Esau received formal training at the Culinary Academy in Franschhoek and since his big win in Gauteng, he’s been inundated with requests to cook for friends and family and even to sample dishes created by other aspiring chefs.

“Even my parents are now saying that I never cooked for them and that I need to do so now. My friend of 10 years said throughout our friendship, he has never tasted my food. Now the pressure is on,” he added.

On his chances in the competition, Esau admitted that he didn’t think he would emerge victorious.

“I honestly thought Waynand would win. When I looked at the plates around me, I thought I didn’t place anywhere and when they announced my name, it was just unbelievable. I was in complete shock. I teared up a little because I doubted myself and was not happy with the food I presented,” he added.

And while he describes himself as a simple and humble man, the 31 year old said he hopes to one day open his own lunch bar where people can enjoy simple but tasty home-cooked meals in Constantia or Tokai. And with his prize, Esau intends to fly off to Thailand with his wife, whom he said is herself an excellent cook.

The Saturday Star

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