Five Capsicum Culinary Studio students reaching for the stars

by Tia

If there’s one thing the chefs and students at Capsicum Culinary Studio are up for, it’s a challenge – whether it be cooking, baking, concocting cocktails or whipping up the best cup of coffee!

So to say that Chef Charl Botha and five of his Cape Town campus charges are excited about the forthcoming Reaching for Young Stars competition would be an understatement.

Now in its 16th year, Reaching for Young Stars, fosters and promotes entrepreneurship among Western Cape culinary students, demonstrating their abilities and ultimately earning recognition leading to career advancement beyond graduation.

Organised by, in collaboration with culinary expert Annette Kesler, the event not only celebrates culinary excellence but also focuses on the holistic development of young professionals. As part of their comprehensive prizes, the winners in the various categories will embark on an enriching journey to the United States and France, where they will participate in international mentorship programme, promising a life-changing experience that will shape their future careers.

Contestants from several culinary schools will vie for the top accolade in five different categories including Hot Chef, Pastry Chef, Baker, Barista and Beverage Student.

Ahead of the competition – which this year is being co-hosted by the Cape Grace and Century City Conference Centre & Hotels, we spoke to Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Charl Botha and the five students who will be representing the school.

How were the five students taking part in the competition selected?

They were selected in two ways. Huwitt Strydom, who will represent us in the Hot Chef category, is now in his 3rd year with us and was selected through observation and preparation in year one and two. He also competed last year for the Hotel he is working at in the Inter Hotel Challenge and did very well. Jordan Napier, who is already working at the Table Bay Hotel and showed promise, is our backup Hot Kitchen Chef and will have the opportunity to observe and learn so that he can possibly compete next year.

Mohammad Mollagee was back-up last year for the Pastry Chef and this year will be our Pastry Chef entrant. The other three were selected via an application process. Tristan Sutton is working as a bar tender and has experience with cocktails so has been selected to compete in the Beverage division; Alex van Zyl competed in cookoffs held last month and showed a lot of promise, so we asked her to be our barista and Ryan Flandorp was runner-up in the pastry chef cookoff, so we gave him the option of being our baker.

Was the competition stiff and how many students were eligible

It is normally open to all our students to participate. We like to encourage them to take part in competitions. For Hot Chef, Huwitt stood out as he has competed in competitions before while with the others it was really close. This is why I feel that we have an excellent chance to do well.

How much is it up to each individual to exceed what is expected of them?

As mentors we test and taste the products they make. We suggest and guide as far possible and help them to improve their skills and timing but mostly we like our students to create their own dishes and drinks and to showcase their talents.

Are the students encouraged to get advice/practice outside of the school?

Yes, they all attend workshops and like in the case of Huwitt, he is working with two chefs who are also team members of the South African Culinary Olympic Squad. It is all about learning and cultivating the talents of the learners.

Who chooses the wine farm for the food and wine pairing element of the competition?

Wine farms are given a number by the organisers ahead of the competition. On the launch day, the schools draw numbers from a hat and thus paired with the associated farm. In our case we have been partnered with Antonij Rupert, which is very exciting.

What is your overall role in the competition and what does it involve?

I am a mentor to the students and assist them in preparing and practicing. I also provide guidance and advice and support on the day and am also liaise with the competition organisers and ensure they attend as many of the workshops as possible.

The Reaching for Young Stars cook-off and service presentation is set to take place on May 11, with a high calibre panel of judges that includes Jocelyn Myers Adams, Debbie Hall, Elsa van der Nest, Lorraine Meaney, Craig Hibbert and Alexandre Barrière Izard (food); Penelope Horwood and Sommelier Marlvin Gwese (wine and spirit service); Wanda Cronje (CWM) and Winemaker Guy Webber (wine and food pairing); Julietta e Silva Overmeyer and Cody Dodgen (kitchen skills); and Tarryn van der Toorn, Wayne Abrahams and Paddington Chivare (barista).

Winners of the various categories will be announced on June 13 at the Century City Conference Centre in Cape Town.

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