Jamie-Lee Saunders (22), Commis Chef at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve outside Hermanus, was crowned the first ever ‘Chefs who share – Young Chef Award’ winner at this year’s black-tie charity gala at Cape Town City Hall on Thursday 10 September 2015. Beating six other finalists to the title, the talented young chef not only gained exposure to a high-profile audience on the night but also won a once in a lifetime trip to Europe.
Jamie-Lee comes from the Overberg region in the Western Cape. Prior to starting her culinary career in earnest she worked as a waitress in Hermanus and the USA, including two stints as a Cocktail Server at the Boca West Country Club in Florida. Not having had any chef training, she originally applied for a job as a waitress at Grootbos in May 2014, but when asked about her passion admitted that she loved to bake – and promptly found herself working in the kitchen. Grootbos GM Sean Ingles says that she is a natural whose talent shone through from the start: ‘Jamie-Lee had no formal training but we could see that she had a real passion for food. She loved the idea of working in the pastry kitchen and has, for the past four months, been mentored by our pastry chef, Christien Schreker.’
When an invitation arrived from the ‘Chefs who share – Young Chef Award’ organisers, asking restaurants around the country to put forward their most promising young chefs by submitting an innovative canapé creation, Schreker and Ingles encouraged Jamie-Lee to take the plunge. The aim of the award was to find emerging kitchen stars, who would win the chance to work with South Africa’s culinary elite at the ‘Chefs who share’ gala. Jamie-Lee realised that it presented a fantastic opportunity to step out of her comfort zone: ‘Regardless of my experience or position, I felt I could bring something unique and exciting to the competition’. Her delicious canapé, ‘Pink peppercorn macaroon with duck liver pâté and candied apples’, was one of 43 entries and stood out for the judges thanks to its artful presentation and tantalising sweet and salty flavour combination.
As one of seven finalists, Jamie-Lee was presented with a challenging three-day programme in Cape Town, which included a high-profile media event to introduce her canapé, as well as a morning spent cooking in teams at the Amy Biehl community kitchen in Rondebosch, where the young chefs, as part of the ‘Veggie Box Initiative’, worked together with staff of the Masiphumelele project to develop delicious and nutritious meals from the contents of ‘Veggie Boxes’ for 150 children from the township.
Throughout their time in Cape Town, the finalists were mentored by the South African Ambassador of the ‘Chefs who share – Young Chef Award’, chef and TV personality Lentswe Bhengu; and Swiss chef and Swiss International Air Lines brand ambassador, Reto Mathis, who acted as International Patron.
The experience culminated in a spot in the star-studded ‘Chefs who share’ kitchen on the night of the gala, where the finalists were teamed up with their culinary idols to prepare their canapés for the illustrious audience, served together with a glass of Moët & Chandon Impérial. Jamie-Lee was paired with ‘Team 6’ with renowned chefs Chantel Dartnall from Mosaic at The Orient and Scot Kirton from La Colombe. For the passionate junior chef this proved to be a highlight of her career to date: ‘It was a real honour to work with two of the big names in the industry, and so much fun. I was prepping and running around and actually forgot that I was in a competition!’
It was her unique canapé creation, coupled with her professional manner and vivacious personality, which ended up earning her the coveted ‘Young Chef Award’ title, as chosen by Mathis, Bhengu and the 14 chefs. The announcement left her speechless: ‘It took me a few seconds to realise they had called my name – it must have been the best feeling ever!’ The young champion’s once in a lifetime prize includes a culinary trip to Europe courtesy of ‘Chefs who share’, and with flights sponsored by Swiss International Air Lines, where she will spend several days cooking in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Germany before visiting the Moët & Chandon headquarters in Épernay, in the heart of France’s Champagne region. The Champagne house will host Jamie-Lee overnight and will present her with a VIP tour of the Maison, as well as the opportunity to participate in a workshop with a member of the Moët & Chandon winemaking committee and a resident chef.
Jamie-Lee is excited about further advancing her career in Europe, and keen to keep learning and growing upon her return to Grootbos. She says that she couldn’t live without her kitchen knives, nor chocolate as her basic kitchen ingredient, and that if she were to invent a new ice cream flavour it would have to be ‘Passion fruit & red wine’. As for the future, the ambitious young chef has a clear goal: ‘I would love to run my own restaurant/bakery one day, where I can design my own creations!’
About Chefs who share
‘Chefs who share – the ART of giving’ was created by Barbara Lenhard in 2013 to raise funds for youth development in South Africa. The gala has, in a short amount of time, become a not-to-be-missed event, drawing top chefs, sommeliers, artists, guests and contributors from across the country and raising almost R6 million for charity in the past three years. The third annual gala took place in Cape Town’s City Hall on Thursday 10 September 2015, presented by Mercedes-Benz and associate sponsors Deutsche Bank, Swiss International Air Lines, Bulgari, Chocolat Frey, the Century City Conference Centre and Taj Cape Town. Paired in seven teams, 14 of the country’s top chefs and seven acclaimed sommeliers lent their time and creativity to create a culinary feast for 252 guests, while some of South Africa’s leading artists donated exceptional, exclusive works of art which were auctioned off on the night. As in previous years, 100% of the money raised at ‘Chefs who share – the ART of giving’ via ticket sales, as well as all proceeds from the auction, has gone to two charities, carefully chosen by the organisers: the Make A Difference Leadership Foundation and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
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