(From left to right) Lucky Ntimane, Convenor of the National Liquor Traders, Chef Benny Masekwameng, winner Mandisi Dlokolo from M&N Place, Chef Peter Goffe-Wood and Monhla Hlahla, Chairperson of the Drinks Federation of South Africa celebrate after the Mzansi Tavern Chef Cook-off at Blue Ribbon Catering and Hospitality School in East London.

Mandisi Dlokolo from M&N Place in Motherwell has been crowned the Eastern Cape provincial Mzansi Tavern Chef champion after serving up a sumptuous dish of “Monday Chicken” at the Blue Ribbon Catering and Hospitality School in East London.

Dlokolo explained that he’s been cooking this dish for many years and serving it free to loyal patrons who visit his tavern every Monday.

Patrons love “Monday Chicken” so much that they come on other days to enjoy it and Dlokolo realised he was on to a winning recipe to grow his business.

Starting his career doing maintenance at a hotel in Gqeberha, Dlokolo showed an early interest in cooking, saying he used to visit the kitchen to help out and with his “sharp eyes”, this was how he learned to cook.

It was a last-minute decision to participate in the Mzansi Tavern Chef competition and now Dlokolo plans to move on to greater things. He established a fish and chips outlet before Covid-19 but the toll of load shedding forced him to close it recently.

Now, he plans to convert it into a restaurant.

The 60-year old cooked his way to top honours against a fiercely competitive field representing taverns from East London, Gqeberha and Mthatha as the Blue Ribbon school witnessed a masterclass in preparing authentic township cuisine under pressure.

The fifteen contestants turned up the heat with a mouth-watering array of dishes as they got their pots bubbling in the Blue Ribbon kitchens.

The Eastern Cape provincial final was the second leg in the Mzansi Tavern Chef Cook-off competition, following the opening event in the Western Cape in February. 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 Peter Goffe-Wood and Benny Masekwameng were the judges, along with Drinks Federation of South Africa Chairperson Monhla Hlahla, and kicked off proceedings with a briefing and handover of the competition aprons, before the competitors turned on the gas and 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.”

Masekwameng said Dlokolo’s dish of “Monday Chicken” stood out with a well-balanced combination of herbs and spices and perfectly cooked chicken, simmered to keep the pieces intact, tasty and juicy.

Distell Head of Corporate Affairs Southern Africa, Jolene Henn, 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.”