The South African Culinary Olympic Team – Team Masakhane – has returned victorious with three bronze medals as evidence of the years of dedication, passion, talent and skill they have invested into representing their country on the biggest culinary stage in the world – the IKA Culinary Olympics.

Held once every four years in Germany, the Culinary Olympics is the ultimate culinary competition, attracting around 1 800 participants, including 110 teams and roughly 800 individual competitors from 67 countries to compete in various categories. The most prestigious and highly prized category is the National Team category, which this year saw 29 teams competing for the goal of gold in the oldest and biggest international culinary arts competition, which was first held in 1900.

Competing in 22 professionally equipped kitchens built especially for the Olympics in Stuttgart, surrounded by thousands of spectators, constantly watched by jury members and cooking under extremely pressurised competition conditions, South Africa’s young team – one of the youngest among the 29 teams – rose to the challenge, overcoming many logistical challenges, and impressing judges and fellow competitors with their systems, discipline and spirit.

The Springbok squad competed in two categories; the Chef’s Table, entailing seven different dishes for twelve people on 16 February, and the Restaurant of Nations, a three-course menu for 110 people on 18 February. In both categories, visitors to the IKA Olympics paid to enjoy the dishes. The Team won a bronze medal in each of the two categories.

The third medal was won by individual competitor Nicolas van der Walt of FBI Culinary Studio, who entered the showpiece category with a work of art in sugar titled “King for a Day”, a spectacular representation of South Africa’s beautiful king protea.

In the National Culinary Team category, Team Norway was crowned the winner, taking home the Olympic gold medal. According to organisers VKD (Verband der Koche), Team Norway displayed precision and artistic craftsmanship. They were followed closely in second place by Sweden, who achieved the silver medal for their outstanding performance. Third place and overall bronze went to Iceland.

Says team captain Dion Vengatass, Chef de Cuisine, Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel – “What a rollercoaster ride the past three years has been. We went to show that South Africa can compete against the best. The response from the other countries clearly showed that we’re a force to be reckoned with. People were talking about us; we had Norway coming to ask us about our systems, and Sweden coming to take photos of us when we changed over our uniforms. We set a new precedent in terms of what this competition means for South Africa and how we want to execute. We followed a modern, new direction. As a team, we were aiming for gold, but bronze feels like gold because we had some challenges two months before the competition that put us at a disadvantage. We were one chef down in the Chefs Table category with a young, inexperienced team, and still, we managed to do our country proud. We have a strong system and a team that wants to stay in it for the next four years. We have a determination now to push for what will bring us gold. It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m so proud of each and every team member and their tenacity and willpower to strive for something bigger than us.”

Well done to our incredible SA Culinary team – I am so proud of you!

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