(From left to right) Lucky Ntimane, Convenor of the National Liquor Traders, Chef Benny Maswekwameng, winner Bongiwe Zama Shange from Leon’s Tavern in Inanda, Chef Pete Goffe-Wood, and Distell Head of Main Market, Seelan Asoka.

Bongiwe Zama Shange from Leon’s Tavern in Inanda steamed into top spot in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial Mzansi Tavern Chef competition after serving up a lovingly prepared dish of mutton curry with steamed bread and salsa salad in Durban yesterday.

Shange learned to cook as a schoolgirl, helping her granny to feed their family of 17 when she got home from class in the afternoons, and went on to cook in a restaurant before joining Leon’s Tavern last year.

She cooked her way to top honours against a fiercely competitive field representing taverns from as far afield as Ladysmith, Colenso and Osizweni as the Chefs Training and Innovation Academy in Berea witnessed a masterclass in preparing authentic township cuisine under pressure.

The fifteen tavern chefs sliced, stirred and spiced it out in a close contest as they turned up the gas in the Durban heat.

The KwaZulu-Natal provincial final was the third leg in the Mzansi Tavern Chef Cook-off competition, following the opening event in the Western Cape, followed by the Eastern Cape.

The competition is a partnership between Distell, Nederburg and the National Liquor Traders, with each provincial winner scoring prizes to the value of R30 000 towards food serving in their outlets and the right to compete in the national grand final for the chance to win the ultimate prize of a tavern makeover to the tune of R100 000.

The Tavern Chef competition is the apex of a campaign by Distell to promote food serving in taverns as one of the measures to address binge drinking.

Eating food before and during alcohol consumption is a practical way to regulate consumption and avoid intoxication.

Food serving in taverns has the dual benefit of helping to moderate consumption and promote a responsible, more sociable atmosphere, while also creating an additional revenue stream for the outlet which can drive township economic development and employment.

Master chefs Pete Goffe-Wood and Benny Masekwameng were the judges, along with Jackie Olivier, Marketing Manager, Premium Wines, and kicked off proceedings with a briefing and handover of the competition aprons, before the competitors got cooking.

“We’ve been simply blown away by the standard of cooking we’ve experienced here today and picking a winner has been tough,” said Goffe-Wood. “We are discovering just how much cooking talent we have, which just needs the right encouragement and support to shine, and I hope this competition becomes a catalyst for township food culture to grow.”

Distell KZN Regional General Manager, Dave Cairns, said the competition builds on the company’s food-serving campaign through its Bansela customer rewards programme, in which taverners are rewarded with prizes and incentives for serving food and water, as well as complying with liquor license trading principles.

“Our aim with this competition is to amplify the message to drink responsibly and in moderation. From the talent on display here today and the standard of cooking we have seen, I can only say that tavern chefs in the rest of the country are in for a real battle for the ultimate prize of a R100 000 tavern makeover.”

Olivier said Nederburg was proud to support the Tavern Chef competition.

“As one of the country’s most known and awarded wine brands, deeply entrenched in South African wine and food culture, Nederburg is a passionate advocate of local flavours as well as the responsible consumption of wine and other alcoholic beverages. 

“We’re so excited by the interesting food the Tavern Chef participants have dreamt up to serve in their taverns! We have been inspired by their culinary creations as we continue on our Taste, Learn and Discover journey, enabling our valued consumers to get to know our range of delicious wines and how well they pair with a wide range of local South African flavours,” said Olivier.