Talented young Namibian chef Elizabeth Isai left an unforgettable mark on the Africa and Middle East division of the Global Young Chefs Challenge semifinals held early this month in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
Her exceptional culinary skills and dedication propelled her to a well-deserved second place, securing a silver medal in a fierce competition that showcased the best aspiring chefs from the two regions.
The Global Young Chefs Challenge, renowned for unearthing emerging culinary talents, attracted participants from across Africa and the Middle East.
Isai exhibited her passion for cooking, captivating both judges and the audience with her outstanding skills and creative flair.
She described her experience in the country and competition as truly unforgettable and profoundly motivating.
“Throughout my journey, I not only honed my cooking skills but also had the opportunity to network with fellow culinary enthusiasts and industry professionals from diverse backgrounds, while immersing myself in new cultural experiences, and overcoming unique challenges,” she noted.
Isai further said her time in the UAE allowed her to establish meaningful connections and foster relationships with individuals who shared her passion for the culinary arts. These connections proved to be priceless as she exchanged ideas, learned new techniques, and gained insights into different culinary traditions.
“I am very proud of myself and the hard work I have put in during the competition. I could have won the gold medal but because of my plates, I couldn’t win. I used African plates and they wanted fancy restaurant plates which I didn’t have. But when it comes to all the dishes, I really put effort and I got compliments from judges,” she said proudly.
During the completion, Isai prepared Salmon Soufleed Halibut fillet on black berry beurre blanc, mashed potatoes, mange tout and coppert cress for starter. Main: Duett of Veal, butter roasted veal roulade in herb crust, veal jus, sauteed thick skirt on mushroom a la crème, vialone risotto, baby marrow pearls on its puree and glazed carrot cubes, Touilles. For dessert, Bahibe Chocolate torte, English breakfast tea infused cream, lemon jelly and strawberry coulis, sugar basket.
But all was not smooth sailing d u r i n g t h e competition for Isai who faced a significant challenge when her assigned helper had limited culinary skills, being only familiar with washing dishes. Undeterred by this obstacle, she took it upon herself to train her helper in essential culinary tasks such as cutting meat, cooking techniques, and other necessary skills.
As Isai moves forward in her culinary career, the memories and lessons learned from her time in the UAE will serve as a constant source of inspiration and motivation. She is eager to share her experiences and knowledge with aspiring chefs, empowering them to overcome obstacles and pursue their culinary dreams with passion and resilience.
A win would have placed her in the finals of the competition set for Singapore in October 2024.
Isai has won first place in previous competitions, including the best competitor award and overall winner at the World Skills Africa in Swakopmund in April 2022.
Her mentor Chef Ralf Herrgott, who has known her since 2019, said in the UAE, competitors were given three hours to prepare all their dishes and he was proud to see Isai taking charge of her helper and integrating her well into her planning.
“After three hours, the four plates of the starter were due to be delivered and Elizabeth was able to plate and deliver as planned, despite some small challenges, Thirty minutes later, she delivered the main course, and another 30 minutes later the dessert. Towards the end, her timing became better.”
“For myself, it is always very nerve-racking as one stands as an outsider and looks at the whole proceedings from far, without being able to give any advice to her. After all, it was done and everyone was relieved. Elizabeth has done very well and I am very proud of her,” he said.
Herrgott emphasised that competitions bring chefs out of their comfort zone and help them to go beyond the usual scope of what chefs would do. Furthermore, it showcases future talent and pushes everyone to try new things, thus making sure of the development of practices and skills, he added.
“I especially want to thank the Namibian Chefs Association for sponsoring this trio to the UAE and to believe in Elizabeth’s talent and secondly NUST for offering all the support throughout the years to me and Elizabeth to be able to train in their kitchens and giving all that is needed to their former student,” he said.