Namibian chefs Chandru Basson and Lize van der Merwe won two top awards at the 7th World Food Competition, held in India recently.
Basson scooped the Best Chef award and Van der Merwe the Best Cake Icing trophy.
They are both from the Purple Fig Cooking School in Windhoek, along with Pieter Bezuidenhout, who also competed in the amateur chef division.
Hosted by the Guru Nanak Institute of Hotel Management (GNIHM) in Kolkata, India, the competition took place from 21 to 23 February and brought together 160 chefs from over 20 countries.
“It’s a damn good feeling!” Van der Merwe told Youth Corner.
She highlighted the win opens a world of opportunities for her, adding that the industry unfolds itself to people who can perform under great pressure.
“I had to deal with the feelings that come with competitive pressure and with the spectacular enormity of the event. Contending in very confined spaces was also a challenge for me, and the heat in India played a huge factor when using and choosing ingredients,” Van der Merwe explained.
The young chef is already running a small business venture based in Swakopmund, called ‘Hello Harvest’, which she hopes will transform into something that can impact the local environment, benefit the community and inspire the culinary scene in Namibia.
“I hope it grants me more opportunity in the market; I’ve already had a lot more interest from potentially resourceful people, and I think this opens up a massive opportunity for Hello Harvest in the local scene,” she said.
Top chef Basson, also 21 years old, still relishes the amazing feeling the win produced, saying it is a confidence booster since he believes he was not the best cook there.
“I had to improvise on most of the stuff. I had to change and remove a few things as well because most of the ingredients were not there.”
Basson heaped praise on the Purple Fig Cooking School for showing him that hard work pays off and for strengthening his love for cooking.
“I want to thank Chef David Thomas for helping me with this. Also, my mentor Chef Roelien Esterhuizen, Chef Radley from Weinberg and the team who supported me and shaped me – and most importantly my friends and family for believing in me,” he said.
Basson’s goal is to finish school, keep on learning and improve his skills as a chef. He aspires to work in a Michelin-star restaurant.
Mentor Esterhuizen expressed extreme pride in her students and their achievements.
“They are truly very hard working, and seeing their personal and social growth in the past few years has made me realise there is so much potential in Namibia.”
Esterhuizen said their goal at Purple Fig is to keep on training young aspiring chefs in Namibia to become world-class chefs, adding that she realised as a mentor that there is a vast majority of highly talented individuals who do not have access to quality, affordable tertiary education in Namibia.