Discovering young talent and fostering creativity, initiatives such as One&Only Reaching for Young Stars 2021, look to the future of the gastronomy and hospitality industries. We find out what the judges are looking for (spoiler alert – guest experience is a big factor), with a special focus on the beverage service component, which Sanpellegrino is sponsoring with its fine mineral waters and Italian Sparkling Drinks.
Eating a memorable meal isn’t only about how good the food tastes. Although that is of course essential, many more factors come into play.
A successful restaurant is about the whole team: kitchen and front of house, serving great food and drinks, and creating a warm and welcoming ambience. Thus the annual One&Only Reaching for Young Stars event, put together by Showcook and sponsored by a number of top culinary brands including S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, has many different categories and prizes to cover all aspects of the food and drink experience. Sanpellegrino have a long history in sponsoring such events (in addition to their own global competition S.Pellegrino Young Chef) promoting the future of gastronomy and the importance of nurturing and mentoring the next generation of chefs.
Anne Scott, GM of One&Only Cape Town adds another motivation behind their annual competition, “Sometimes in the hotel and restaurant operation we’re driven by the menu, by costings, or by operational protocols and processes. What competitions do is they say – never mind what our menu says, knock yourself out, here’s an opportunity to flex those muscles and be creative. It gives everybody an opportunity to win, whether it’s an award or because they discover something that is a new passion.”
The competition highlights all the service elements that go into the overall guest experience. Each of the seven participating Cape Town hospitality and culinary academies fields a team that includes chef, pastry chef, baker, beverage student and barista. Paired with a local wine estate, each team works together to create a menu inspired by those wines. There is a substantial learning and mentoring process built into the competition, with students visiting the wine farms, and a day of presentations and discussions at the initial Launch Workshop.
The Art of water service
At the launch workshop on 26th May, Neil Tabraham of Sommeliers Academy gave students a deeper understanding of S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna mineral waters. “People speak of terroir in wine, in water it’s very much the same case, as it’s the rocks and earth that the water travels through, where minerals are absorbed,“ he says. “It’s that kind of approach, identifying what the key mineral compounds are, and then the effect of those on the palate.”
He led students in a water tasting session, discussing the differences of each water category with food and wine pairings for each mineral water.
“It’s important for the guest experience that they have a water that really meets their needs. There’s no point serving a sparkling water with a light salad, it would mask all the delicate flavours, same as drinking red wine with fish.” He adds that with wine tastings, sparkling water isn’t a great choice either, “Acqua Panna is the water of the ASI, the International Sommelier Association, we use that when we’re tasting because it’s a neutral, palate-cleansing water.” Water pairing is as important as a wine pairing, he continues, “S.Pellegrino water is at its best when you have heartier, maybe fattier foods, beef, lamb, something to help break down the fattiness, to keep refreshing the palate, something a still water wouldn’t do.”
Hospitality student Leo de Smidt was intrigued, “I’d never done a side-by-side comparative water tasting and really the differences are stark and noticeable. Learning more about minerality, about how that water comes to be in the bottle, it gives one insight and adds to one’s appreciation and enjoyment of it.”
What the judges are looking for
One&Only Cape Town award a three-week assignment at one of their international establishments to the winning culinary student. GM, Anne Scott shares what they are looking for: “Sometimes we find young stars in the kitchen and they are great cooks, their food tastes plate-scrapingly delicious, but they don’t have a great set of people skills. Or we find people that are incredible at being part of a kitchen brigade and working together to create something exceptional, but their cooking skills are average. Occasionally you come across somebody who can do both – and that is what we are looking for.”
Luvo Ntezo, Head Sommelier at One&Only Cape Town, is judging the beverage students at the Cook Off on 3rd July and will be considering knowledgeable candidates with great people skills, “We are looking for someone who is presentable for a guest to engage with, who is friendly and accessible. I may be in a very bad mood, but they arrive with a smile and change the dynamics of the dining experience into something extraordinary.”
Tips for the beverage service
Each beverage student is tasked with making and presenting two creative cocktails, one based on KWV Brandy and the other on Cruxland Gin, both using their choice of Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks as mixers. They must also present their team’s three wines that inspired the menu and serve alongside S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna mineral waters.
On the wine presentation, Luvo has a wealth of advice, “I’m looking for someone who respects the space of a guest, so not someone who’s talking on top of me.” He emphasises the importance of sharing stories rather than too much knowledge. “If someone is out for dinner they are not out for an academic masterclass.” He says stories can be used to fill awkward moments, like when you are pouring wine for the guest to taste and the table falls into silence. “I’m looking for someone who uses that awkward moment to create a wow moment. They’ve been to the wine farm, they know something that I don’t know, Share the story. It’s the stories that as a guest I will remember and take home with me.”
On the cocktail side of the beverage service, Luvo says “Every ingredient used in a cocktail is edible, your working area has got to be clean, everything has got to be immaculate.” He emphasises balance in the recipe, not overwhelming the cocktail with too much alcohol. And he’s looking for creativity, “if you’re making a Bloody Mary, make it with your own twist. Share delightful information as you make the cocktail, it’s the wow factor.” This could be the origin of one of your ingredients, or what inspired your twist on a classic. Last but not least, Luvo says, “Share a little bit of interesting information of what you’ve learned about the brands with the guest. Acknowledge the sponsors.”
As well as the main awards in each category there are several additional awards and prizes, one of which is the Best Sanpellegrino Instagram Award, students are invited to share their best moments utilizing Sanpellegrino Italian Sparkling Drinks and/or S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna mineral waters as they prepare for the Cook Off.
A student’s perspective
Studying hospitality management at the International Hotel School, 3rd year Leo de Smidt is competing in the Beverage Service category, and has really appreciated the experience so far, “For myself and for any hospitality student it really gives you access to some of these great wine farms, like KWV, tasting their brandy and gin, and the opportunity to work with the range of products from Sanpellegrino, as well as the exposure to meet different people within the hospitality industry.” Inspired by the citrus brightness of the Sanpellegrino mixers, he is experimenting with the Pompelmo (grapefruit) and the Melograno E Arancia (pomegranate and orange) flavours to create his two cocktails, with focus on dehydration and some pyrotechnics, “It’s finding a balance, thinking about the colour and the whole sensory experience. I have to practice ensuring that the final product tastes good and the presentation comes together smoothly.”
Sanpellegrino wishes all the participants the best of luck for the Cook Off which will take place when SA returns to Level 3 and alcohol restrictions are lifted!