The Skills Exchange Development Programme took place from 17th – 21st August, with an outstanding line-up of on-line guest speakers, chefs, bakers, sommeliers and concierges from Cape Cod, Napa Valley, Singapore, Dordogne and Boussac in France, London, Scotland and Ireland – players that oil the wheels of the grand hotels chatting on Zoom to our candidates from the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge and One&Only Reaching for Young Stars!

When Louis Jansen van Vuuren and Hardy Olivier took their first tentative steps in restoring and bringing this magical château to the life they did it with huge enthusiasm and skill. Over 20 years La Creuzette has been an inspirational destination, one which encapsulates all the charm and elegance that France offers. A civilized exquisite way of living, one that we would all love to emulate. Both Louis and Hardy are passionate about what they do and the style in which they do it, which has made La Creuzette the paradise it is. 

“These are the keys to paradise” were the welcoming words when Château de la Creuzette was handed over to hosts Louis Jansen van Vuuren and Hardy Olivier in 2001. See more…

The Distell Inter Hotel Challenge Pastry Chef of the Year will be invited to a three-week internship, while the One&Only Reaching for Young Star Pastry Chef of the Year will have three months – both winners will be flown to France courtesy of Lancewood

For our winners, this is a ravishing prize where they will continue to broaden their culinary skills at the same time they will absorb incomparable French flair. #DistellIHC2020 #OOYoungStars

SKILLS EXCHANGE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME – Meet Louis Jansen van Vuuren, Hardy Olivier and the lovely DeVerra Auret of La Creuzette, Boussac, France here…
See more…

Elsa van der Nest is a homegrown South African dynamo in the food world and is a hugely successful international consultant and educator.

Over the years she has shone at both private appointments from a State Dinner in Honour of President Bill Clinton by President Mandela, and as the author of ‘Feast of Flavours from the French and Italian Kitchens’ and ‘Simply Entertaining’. In addition, Elsa has made many appearances on television and radio. Widely known for catering for many of the international greats in conjunction with Adagio Events from Rolls Royce and Mercedes to Diane von Furstenburg, Victoria Beckam, Piaget, Deutsche Bank, Tiffany & Co, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Lauren, Cartier and Rolex, and many other world-famous luminaries. 

Elsa’s approach is both grounded and at the same time intensely creative. It is a privilege to have her join the Skills Exchange Development Programme which was held in August 2020. 


See Fast Track with Elsa……/a.18478539186…/1855159887930871/…

Award-winning winemaker of distinction, Niël Groenewald, Managing Director of Nederburg, will be joining us on the Skills Exchange Development Programme in August, illuminating Distell’s global reach of their prestigious and diverse wine portfolio. Internationally applauded Nederburg, Durbanville Hills, and iconic Fleur du Cap, including other well-known brands, travel well and have made South Africa’s Distell a well-known player on the world stage.  

Niël, a marketing specialist, holds an MBA from UCT and a BSc Hons from Stellenbosch University. He tells us, ”I love winemaking as much as I do the business of wine.”His special area of interest is on how best to apply business intelligence to capitalise on fast-changing consumer and other market dynamics. “Education continues to be the key in this industry,” explains Niël. “We have a responsibility to train rigorously in all aspects of our business ensuring top quality service. Niël Groenewald, in his present role, continues to be an inspiration to the young and upcoming players in the wine industry. 


Distell Inter Hotel Challenge Wine Steward of the Year, 2018 Samantha Swartz, representing The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa, had the enviable opportunity of working with the sommelier team at 67 Pall and Eric Zwiebel MS at Summer Lodge, Country House Hotel & Restaurant in 2019.

Over the years, the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge successive Wine Steward winners have gone to spend time with the superb sommelier team at 67 Pall Mall, St James, London. How privileged they have been as Head Sommelier Ronan Sayburn MS has been in the wine business for 20 years, having huge experience and been enormously successful having worked for a number of leading companies. He was with the Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, Pied à Terre and wine merchant OW Loeb. He was also at the Greenhouse restaurant (which has the UK’s largest wine list of 3,400 bins), Director of Wines & Spirits for the Hotel du Vin group (14 hotels), and Gordon Ramsay group as Executive Head Sommelier for 8 years. He was Head of Wines for the prestigious Dorchester Collection, among them the 3 Michelin starred Alain Ducasse restaurant and Wolfgang Puck.

Ronan is a Master Sommelier, a previous winner of the UK Sommelier of the Year competition, and has twice represented the UK in the European Sommelier competition. He currently runs his own consultancy and wine training company – The RS Wine Academy, specialising in managing private portfolios, wine training to the trade and public and wine events.


Born in Alsace, Eric Zwiebel began his wine career early on by helping his parents in their restaurant. 
“After my two first years as training as a waiter my father sent me to a 3 stars Michelin Restaurant, Auberge de l’Ill at Hôtel des Berges in Alsace where Serge Buds was the Best Sommelier of the World 1989 – my love for wine was kindled!” says Eric.  
“I was exposed to good food and wine when I worked in Paris at Lasserre Restaurant, Le Doyen, Le Divellec and Drouant, all 2 stars Michelin before working as Sommelier for Le Pavillon Elysée Lenôtre in Paris.“
He decided to move to London to broaden his knowledge of the many different wine regions and to take courses offered by the Court of Master Sommeliers. Two years later, in 2001, Zwiebel achieved his MS qualification.
“I was mentored by the great Gérard Basset MW MS OBE / Best Sommelier in the World 2010, at Hotel du Vin to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude.” 

At Summer Lodge, Master Sommelier Eric Zwiebel and Chef Steven Titman host regular Wine Dinners featuring guest speakers. The wine dinners are held on a regular basis and feature wines from around the world. As a sommelier, Eric tells us that it is important to understand food preparation in order to make a correct pairing for the guest. 
“I’ve had a wonderful relationship with Steven Titman. It is important for the Chef to become involved with the wine experience, as this enables us to have fresh ideas on how we can match food with wine!” Eric Zwiebel MS.  

Follow Eric Zwiebel on Facebook
Do see Summer Lodge, Country House Hotel & Restaurant


The role of the Concierge in the great hotels of the world is a vital one. Often they are the face of the hotel, playing a most extraordinary part in giving the hotels that they serve an enviable reputation. Their guests are cosseted in the finest sense of the word. They always know the best-kept secrets, where to go, how to obtain the unobtainable, where to dine ~ ultimate gems that make every traveller’s experience a memorable one. 

Introducing Michael Leahy, the esteemed Concierge at Ashford Castle Hotel & Country Estate in Ireland

Mrs Beatrice Tollman President and Founder of the family-run, award-winning Red Carnation Hotel Collection with Johnathan Ragget, managing director of Red Carnation Hotels. The occasion was the 2019 staff appreciation party in London, where Michael Leahy was awarded Red Carnation Hotels Concierge of the year. 


Viviane Bauquet Farre could be described as a woman of all seasons, a most superb chef, farmer, photographer, host par excellence and a champion of gourmet-yet-simple home cooking.

Hailing from a French island in the South Pacific, Viviane has a richly diverse past; former fashion designer for top knit-ware company in New York. Her online magazine, launched in 2009, has won plaudits from home chefs the world over and been heralded both in print and across the web from, Vegetarian Times, and (which also crowned her site one of the “Best of the Web”). 

Her YouTube channel is spreading rapidly in size and visibility. Viviane is an aficionado of food and wine pairing with an Advanced Certificate in Wine and Spirits, from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. She sums up her philosophy as Flavor First! And… Food Is Love. 

Wonderful Viviane!


Nadia Graves grew up in South Africa having a passion for good food and, as her mother was French, admired the French Kitchen in particular.  

Although Nadia became a Chartered Accountant that was not her first love, a career in food was what she really wanted to pursue. So in her mid 20’s, she made her move to Paris, the equivalent of foodie heaven to Nadia who was part of the intensely vibrant food scene at the time attending the well-known Le Cordon Bleu School of Cooking. Finally, she opened her cooking school in Copenhagen and then continued teaching in Los Angeles for 12 years, moving to Dordogne in 2015 and later to sunny Côte d’Azur, where she enjoys the colourful and aromatic cuisine of this fabulous region. Today, she gives lessons from time to time on a one on one basis. 

We are delighted to be able to introduce Nadia Graves to our students and give them a little taste of one of the really great cuisines of the world, France. Nadia Graves 


As the doyenne of the African table, Dorah Sitole is an inspiration for a young generation of enthusiastic cooks on our Skills Exchange Development Programme.

“I cook to keep our food culture alive,” says multiple award-winning Dorah Sitole. The former editor of True Love magazine believes her food heritage will perish if she does not cook, and that heritage should be recorded for the next generation. As a travel writer, author and food stylist, Dorah tells us that she has noticed a food revolution within the food industry.
“It’s almost as though they have woken up to food, and I’m talking about the black community, as for a very long time it was just me on my own,” she says and explains that traditional African cuisine is becoming a trend and has made it her mission to keep their style of cooking alive. Dorah came into her own when she published her major books defining cooking on the African continent; Recipes with a Touch of Africa, Cape to Cairo, Cooking from Cape to Cairo, and currently working on her fourth. 
“I travelled extensively throughout Africa while working on these books – the first Cape to Cairo features 19 countries and the second one, 22!”


Ishay Govender is a freelance food and culture journalist, ex-lawyer, and explorer. Her debut cookbook Curry: Stories & Recipes across South Africa was selected as best cookbook overall to represent South Africa at the Gourmand World Cookbook awards this year. Find her stories in Saveur, Food & Wine, Lit Hub, Nat Geo, Food 52, Extra Crispy, Sunday Times Travel UK and local newspapers and magazines. She is the founder of SA POC at the Table


A superb line-up of guest speakers including Markus Färbinger of ‘île de païn’ fame on Thesen Islands in Knysna, South Africa.

In a country where artisan baking was in short supply, besides the excellent German bakers that introduced superb rye into Gauteng and the Cape’s much loved whole wheat loaf made from stone-ground flour, fortunately, Markus Färbinger, of île de païn has been an incredible influence for many aspiring bakers helping to spread the culture of artisanal baking far and wide. Today, we are fortunate in having a number of fine bakers producing superb bread and so the tradition will be continued.

Do see… Filmmaker Michael Chèze takes a unique look at bread making at the famed île de païn bakery on Thesen Islands in Knysna, South Africa. 

“Early Hours” is unstaged and so intimately filmed, one has the sense of being there with Markus Färbinger and the bakers as they are concentrated on their work. 

The film’s painterly atmosphere evokes the time-honoured art of the artisan baker and the mood of almost monastic contemplation.

Follow on… See more… Markus Färbinger


What a fabulous line-up!
See more – Part Two

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