After wowing the judges in Dubai, Chef Vusumuzi Ndlovu is set to represent Africa and the Middle East region at the grand finale of the San Pellegrino Young Chef awards in Milan next year.

Vusumuzi Ndlovu in action
Vusumuzi Ndlovu in action
Image: Supplied

The first person that chef Vusumuzi Ndlovu called when he won the San Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 Africa and Middle East semi-final, was The Saxon’s head chef Candice Philip who Ndlovu says was instrumental in the conceptualising of the dish.

“Right after that my phone battery died,” says Ndlovu ,“but word soon spread.”

“Isicupho” is the name of the winning dish that the Marabi Club’s Pot Luck Club sous chef two months to perfect, before he left to compete at the International Centre for Culinary Arts in Dubai.

Vusumuzi Ndlovu
Vusumuzi Ndlovu
Image: Supplied

Following some input from Philip, his partner in crime Katlego Mlambo, and even a word or two from Marble’s David Higgs and Test Kitchen’s Luke Dale Roberts, he practiced each component for seven days straight.

“I didn't want to practice too much. When you do that you run the risk of getting bored of the dish.” 

Luckily the judges of the awards, Dubai chef Sascha Triemer, Martian chef Dominique Grel and our very own Marthinus Ferreira of chef DW eleven -13, didn’t find it boring either. It was a tough competition between the 10 competitors, five of whom were from South Africa.

But in the end, Ndlovu secured his spot to compete on behalf of the region at the global finals in June of 2018 in Milan, Italy. 

Each dish was judged according to five “Golden Rules”: Ingredients, skill, genius, beauty and message. We spoke to chef Ndlovu about what he did in each category that give him the edge:

Ingredients:I used aged duck crown, smoked duck leg "biltong", pumpkin and an assortment of grains. 

 “I wanted to highlight the lesser popular ingredients like pumpkin and grains. I really focused on their taste because, for me, that is more challenging than anything else.”

Skills:“Cooking the duck was the crown jewel of the dish: It takes a lot of timing and focus to get to where you need it to be. The grain porridge is easy but to get it to taste the way I want is also a mission, especially as it has to be done last minute. Plus the fermented pumpkin is also temperamental and needs a special touch.”

Genius:“[Laughs] I'm not normal per se, so I changed my mind with the components a lot. I think the pumpkin components are quite cool because I haven’t had anything like that before. I'm particularly proud of the pumpkin and kombucha sauce, as I have no idea where that inspiration came from.”

Beauty: “I'm a believer in "wabi-sabi" - beauty in imperfections; so I didn't want the plating of the dish to be perfect and cookie cutter. Instead I emulated farm life with a touch of elegance.”

Message:“My message was simple; I wanted to elevate things we ate on the farm without being to poetic about it. I wanted the judges to eat Isicupho and think of farm life without getting the impression that I was trying too hard - hence the techniques and proportions of the dish

Isicupho means trap, so we are capturing the moment after you "trap" the bird. I think that was well translated on the day.” 

You won, so we’re sure it was.

The winning dish Isicupho
The winning dish Isicupho
Image: Supplied

Congrats to all who competed and represented SA proudly, and especially chef Vusumuzi Ndlovu for bringing it home. We look forward to seeing what you will be cooking up when he represents the region at the global finals round to take place in June of 2018 in Milan, Italy. 

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