When South African celebrity chef Siba Mtongana was headhunted for a judging position in the new edition of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition for the Africa, Middle East, and South Asia region, her immediate reaction was “overjoyed” and “honoured to be part of the very first female-only jury panel.” Together with two other internationally acclaimed female chefs — Tala Bashmi from Bahrain and Selassie Atadika from Ghana — Chef Siba will be judging the signature dishes of the young chefs at the regional leg of the competition, set to be held in Cape Town in January 2023.
Of course, Siba Mtongana is no stranger to judging chef competitions, being a best-selling cookbook author, the creative engine behind SIBA The Restaurant at the Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town, and star of the award-winning Siba’s Table on the Food Network channel. But what tips the scales of excitement for her, in this case, is the immense scope of talent being put to the mettle and that South Africa, her home country, will once again be the host of such a prestigious competition.
So, what’s on the menu for Chef Siba? What does she most want to see from the chef finalists? Technical skill and finesse are important, along with thoughtfulness, creativity, and authenticity, which she believes to be the key ingredients for creating delicious, beautiful, and memorable dishes. But let’s not forget the taste!
“Ultimately, as chefs, we must cook food that people will love, enjoy, and come back for; and tell the whole world about!” Chef Siba explains. “So, I’m looking for a balance between all the key points of skill, creativity, presentation, authenticity, taste, and sustainability.”
However, when asked what particular skill or flourish would be most likely to impress her the most, given a technically perfect plate of food, Chef Siba points firmly towards using creative, out-the-box thinking to address some of the dominant issues facing the food industry today, such as the move towards sustainable and locally-sourced ingredients. She is also excited to see how finalists represent African and Afro-fusion cuisine to create something new, exciting, and elevated, which she believes to be a major upcoming trend in the world of gastronomy.
“It’s important that the finalists keep both local and international audiences intrigued when using ingredients that may not yet be known in the West.”
Of course, Chef Siba isn’t closed off to any particular theme or cuisine: “Overall, I’m looking forward to being wowed by these bright minds; to seeing pure and raw talent through these young chefs showcasing their skills. I think it’s important to impart and share our knowledge with the younger generation to inspire them to be the best now and in the future!”
We’re sitting on the edge of our seats to find out who the next S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy regional winner will be. Find out more about the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy and the competition at www.sanpellegrinoyoungchefacademy.com