Meet the Candidates

Candidate Chef: Percy Leso Protea Hotel by Marriott Johannesburg Balalaika Sandton

“I am 28 years old,” says Percy. “In 2011 I began my orientation training learning about the industry. My initial focus was to be a hotel manager one day, but then I went into the kitchen and found this was truly where my passion was. 

Working with food is fantastic as not many of my friends knew how to cook, so when I would go see them on my time off I would cook for them and they would be amazed that I could do this. 

I wouldn’t tell them that this was a simple thing to make or that I spent all day every day making this, but loved that they like this of me. I went to the University of Johannesburg to study management and after failing I think this was the true push I needed to apply for a position in the kitchen and let this be something I would focus on. 

I enjoy what I do, but there are days when I am exhausted and wonder if I chose the right industry and then I meet a guest or a conference delegate who said that I must give compliments to the chef who had made a dish (and this was something I had made) made the long hours’ worth it as I had put a smile to a strangers face, and sometimes this becomes a regular face who asks for me and asks for his favourite dish. That is why we work in this industry. 

I recently became a father to a little boy, he is a month old and I know I am to be the best that I can for this child.

He is to look up to me as I guide him through life and partaking in this cooking competition will be a way I’ll show him what I did when he was small and why I wasn’t always around. I hope he will understand. This competition can change my life, change his life!”

Candidate Chef: Shane Vermaak Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa

‘When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving towards perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about’ – Thomas Keller 

“This is a quote I live my career by,” says Shane. “Seeing people enjoy my food is what drives me, what empowers me and what, quite frankly, makes me do this every day. 

Being a chef is all I know; always learning, always listening and always improving my skills and techniques. The industry is tough, but my passion makes it all so worth it. The team around me, my mentors and anyone that can bring a glimmer of inspiration are the ones that make me who I am. 

I am fortunate enough to be around positive reinforcement every day, fortunate to have a career as a chef and fortunate enough to know that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

I started my career in great ignorance; it’s not what it seems on television, but through introspection, I realised I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

The daily pressures, stress and time management of a kitchen is what I was lacking in my life. This industry allows me to meet amazing people, learn about different cultures, explore new horizons and venture into creative freedom.

It allows for amazing platforms to showcase the talent and in turn teach and develop those who are willing to learn. 

I have been privileged to have had some great opportunities and the courage to pursue them. I studied at HTA in Johannesburg where my placements took me to a broad mix of establishments from catering companies to different hotels and restaurants. 

After graduation, I spent about a year and a half working before setting off to the United States where I spent two seasons working at a hotel and golf club. 

I loved travelling, experiencing new things, meeting new people, but what I loved most about it was the fact that it made me realise how truly proud I am to be South African!

Upon my return, I started working immediately and after a year I had been given the unique opportunity to work at the Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa. Being able to work at one of South Africa’s most prestigious hotel is a venture one cannot turn down. 

I am eternally grateful for the career I have chosen. I am excited to see what the future holds and the opportunities that will prevail.

I know that every person I meet on this journey will in some way or another have a positive influence on my career.” 

‘I believe no chef becomes what he becomes
without having many people influence him.’ – Jose Andres

Candidate Chef: Ithabeleng Mathibe The Palace of the Lost City

“Hi, I am Ithabeleng Mathibe from Rustenburg. 28 years of age and a mother to a beautiful 2-year-old daughter.

My journey as a chef started at a tender age of 13, I was in grade 8 when I walked into the home economics class where the grade 10 pupils were baking, I recall saying “ I want to do that” … I believe this was a glimpse of my calling and my future.

After I completed my grade 12, I decided to get my higher education qualification at the Vaal University of technology, where I studied hospitality management, majoring in professional cookery.

I started my training at the Orion Safari lodge in Rustenburg where I was under the guidance of chef Ross Jurgen. I later decided that going abroad would broaden my knowledge and perspective of the hospitality industry. 2012 November I started a job at Slices restaurant in Abu Dhabi as a barista with an aim to eventually work in the kitchen, 2013 February I started working as a chef under the guidance of Chef Gavin Mitchel & Darell Guest and grew from a commie to a CDP where I was later given the opportunity to manage a small branch in Al Ain. I came back to South Africa 2014 December, started working at the Royal Marang Hotel as a CDP.

In 2017 March my journey with Sun international began, of which it has been the most challenging and exciting part of my career; I was part of the opening team for Sun Time square. My responsibility was to run and manage the kitchen operations (which included training staff on the menu) of Guy Fieri’s kitchen Pretoria Kitchen and bar.

2018 February I joined Sun City Resort at Cabanas hotel, in my time at Cabanas I have had the opportunity to act as an executive sous chef for a period of 6 months, where my responsibilities were running the whole hotel operations which consist of 4 outlets and heading NGC operations for the Hotel.

2019 February I joined the palace hotel under the guidance of Chef Hanroe Erasmus, the journey is still fresh but it is exciting, I have always wanted to work for The Palace of the Lost City.

I see myself becoming one of the best female chefs this country has produced.”

Candidate Chef: Nicholas Freitas Tsogo Sun Gauteng Team Sandton Sun

Candidate Chef: Nicholas Freitas and Candidate Baker: Ricky Ellis

“I’ve been in the culinary industry for five years now and my passion increases daily,” says Nicholas. 

“I have experienced cooking in contrasting kitchens with different cuisines and have learnt a lot along the way. 

I am currently a Chef de Partie at Sandton Sun and work under my Executive Chef Gerard Vingerling and Executive Chef Chad Bosman. I hope to increase and better my knowledge and skills in the future.”

Candidate Chef: Lerato Monagane De Hoek Country Hotel

Lerato is a young and enthusiastic lady, always up for a good challenge; she was once in the fashion industry as a store development coordinator with her day to day tasks sussing out finances for House of Busby, this after completing her studies at the Vaal University of Technology achieving a diploma in fashion…

In her spare time, she established her own catering company in Johannesburg doing all various functions, as well as sewing – which is also currently her biggest hobby alongside painting… 

After 5 years doing fashion, her heart and passion lead her to enrol at the International Hotel School to become a qualified chef.

Lerato is currently completing her 2 years practical at De Hoek Country Hotel in Magaliesburg and loves all the insights she is getting into the wonderful world of food. 

Lerato has a baby girl three years of age and tries to spend most of her off time with her and her family.
Lerato has a bright future with the attitude she has chosen to have towards life, and I wish her all the success.

Candidate Chef: Johandré Grobler Sun The Maslow Time Square Sun International

“My name is Johandré Grobler and I am 26 years old. 

I matriculated from Hoërskool Wonderboom, Pretoria in 2010. In 2011 I studied professional cookery through The Capital Hotel School and training academy and graduated in December 2012

In 2013 I studied in Italy at Alma la Scuola di Internazionale di Cucina Italiana where I gained my Diploma in Italian cooking. 

In August 2013 I started my career in the hospitality industry as a Demi Chef de Partie for the Maslow Hotel in Sandton and held this position for a year and six months and got promoted to Chef de Partie. 
In 2014 I departed to America to go work in 5-Star country golf club in Florida.” 

I am currently employed by Sun The Maslow Time Square as a Chef de Partie for the last two years and 1 month 

My career goal is to be Executive Sous Chef in five years time at Time Square.”

Lancewood Cheese
South African Pork
Rio Largo Olive Estate
Khoisan Natural Sea Salt
Bio-Wheat Flour
Avanti Coffee SA
Capsicum Culinary Studio
Protea Hotels by Marriott
Protea Hotel by Marriott Johannesburg Balalaika Sandton
Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa
Ithabeleng Tricia Mathibe
Sun International Palace Of The Lost City
Tsogo Sun
De Hoek Country Hotel
Sun International ~ Time Square South Africa

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