12 CHEFS AND 24 CREATIONS LATER HAS UGANDA GOT A NEW SILVERCHEF
(Posted 15th May 2017)
When the Gorilla Highlands first launched the Silverchef competition in 2015 was the initiative breaking new ground. Miha Logar, the main brain behind the Gorilla Highlands project and a group of close collaborators convinced of the validity of the concept, to promote culinary excellence in the South West of Uganda – it is only this year that Rwanda was brought on board when the geographical ‘reach’ of the Gorilla Highlands was expanded – wanted to promote the idea of having young chefs from resorts, safari lodges and hotels come together, start a network, test their skills and create a fellowship of young professionals.
(The 2017 venue of the Gorilla Highlands Silverchef competition)
The first to win the now coveted Silverchef title and hat in 2015 was Banis Ahimbisibwe from the Gorilla Valley Lodge in Rushaga, when the cookout was staged at the well known Travellers’ Rest Hotel in Kisoro. Last year’s winner – this year a valued member on the panel of judges – then was Levi Kato with the contest taking place at the Cephas Inn in the town of Kabale.
(A team from the Marriott Hotel in Kigali, including Executive Chef Eduardo Frausto who travelled to Lake Bunyonyi to support their own young chef Innocent Rutayisire)
The 2017 competition was held at the lakeside resort of Birdnest on Lake Bunyonyi (http://www.birdnestatbunyonyi.com/) and with access to facilities and hospitality towards the competitors, judges and dozens of guests second to none, was the stage set for this year’s cookout.
Ultimately 12 selected competitors from Rwanda and Uganda were donning their chef’s uniforms and after being balloted by the judges then allocated into a lunch and dinner group of six contestants each.
They found the kitchen at the ready, soon after the breakfast session for the resort was over as Birdnest was, predictably, fully booked for the entire weekend.
The indicated ingredients – all participants were informed what would be availed to them in advance – were all lined for them to choose from in preparation for their starter and main course. And no doubt was the kitchen promptly turned into a beehive of activity as the chefs selected a workspace, picked their ingredients and began their work, all done from scratch including the cleaning and carving of vegetables.
Within a short space of time were the ingredients turned into the foundation of what was to become the focus of attention of the 5 judges, your’s truly among them, as the contestants began to accumulate their points in various categories of judging with presentation and taste of course coming last.
(Chef Ruth Kamuteera, who works at the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa and competed as an individual entrant, allowed for being born in the highlands even though her place of employment was beyond the geographical area of the Gorilla Highlands)
The two main ingredients this year were crayfish, fresh from Lake Bunyonyi and fillet of Tilapia, to promote the use of these two local resources in particular in the Gorilla Highlands region where both were in ample supply.
(Part of the crayfish catch delivered fresh in the morning by the Lake Bunyonyi fishermen while the chillies too were freshly harvested as was all the organic produce used by the contestants)
(Birdnest kitchen hands and cooks keen to learn a thing or two from their more experienced peers)
(Eventual winner Allan Mukasa showed his determination to win this thing right from the world go)
(International brand names make their first appearance at the Gorilla Highlands Silverchef competition, seen here eventual runner up Innocent Rutayisire of the Kigali Marriott Hotel)
And when the final bell rang, at 1 p.m. and later again at 5.30 p.m. were some spectacular creations presented to the judges, turning the contest into one where the final results were separated for the top five by just a few points between the eventual winner, the runner up’s and all others.
Creativity, presentation and taste were all judged and it was the conclusion of all five judges that the aim to promote culinary excellence was once again fulfilled. Visitors to the lodges, resorts and hotels across the Gorilla Highlands can look forward to new menus very soon as the participating chefs were, just like the judges, keenly observing the results of their fellow contestants and will return to their workplaces inspired and motivated after measuring themselves against the very best in this part of East Africa.
(Allan Mukasa’s winning creation)
The cookout started at 10 a.m. in the morning and the chefs had three hours to complete their two course meal, comprising starter and main course though some went as far as even producing a dessert within the given time frame.
Concentration was high, work focused and yet was the atmosphere in the kitchen, apart from the ‘regular‘ heat, rather friendly given what was at stake.
The afternoon cookout commenced at 02.30 p.m. and the creations were presented to the panel of judges from 05.30 p.m. onwards, again drawing applause from the guests and audience who were also served samples of the dishes created, allowing them to also vote for the crowd favourites of the two sessions. The morning session was ‘won‘ by Chef Innocent of the Marriott Kigali Hotel, the eventual overall first runner up while the afternoon session produced a tie between eventual third runner up Sam Mbabazi of Bunyonyi Overland Resort and Chef Victoria of the Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge.
Congratulations to winner Allan Mukasa, First Runner Up Innocent Rutayisire, Second Runner Up Sam Mbabazi and those who earned themselves a Certificate of Quality Cooking, Chefs Geoffrey Mushabe from the Volcanoes Kyambura Lodge, Ramadhan Sindayigaya from the Akagera Game Lodge, Ruth Kamuteera of the Lake Victoria Serena who participated as an independent contestor, Victoria Namusubo of the Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge and last but not least
Paul Mulyampiti of the BirdNest Resort – Lake Bunyonyi.
Chefs Ambrose, Saturday, Philip and Julius were awarded a Certificate of Participation to acknowledge their efforts.
This correspondent, acting as head judge for the competition, subseqently suggested that Uganda should expand the competition across the country and then, drawn from all four corners, have the top three chefs from each region engaged in a national cookout competition in Kampala. There the country could showcase the talent which has emerged over the past years in the kitchens across Uganda and get on the global food tourism map.
The next stage then would be a regional contest, with fellow East African Community partners Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi – having gone through a similar process of selection – then presenting their own top three chefs to vie for regional honours.
Way to go perhaps but something to begin working on in order to promote culinary excellence for the whole of East Africa and make it a magnet for food aficionados from across the world.
Check out the YouTube interview with Miha Logar of Gorilla Highlands who gave a short interview about his projects and the 2017 Silverchef competition.