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Olympic glory beckons

Each dish they masterfully create and serve holds a special place in their hearts. For both men working in the culinary sector fulfils their lifelong passions and allows them to take diners on journeys through their decadent delights.

The kitchen is where Henrico Grobbelaar and Oscar Baard feel most at home and each new dawn presents the talented duo with the opportunity to further right the wrongs of the previous day and create magic with food.

Now the two chefs, who ply their trade at the restaurant at NH The Lord Charles Hotel, will also get the chance to showcase their culinary skills at the IKA/Culinary Olympics 2020 to be held in Stuttgart, Germany in February next year.

They are part of a six-person South African team that has set its sights on winning gold at the cooking spectacular, which will feature 5 900 chefs from across the globe.

Next year’s competition will be the third for Grobbelaar, but it’s a first for Baard, who is rather amped at the prospect of representing the country at an international competition.

The soon-to-be father, who is head pastry chef at the Somerset West hotel, attended the gruelling trials for selection in 2017, when he had to create two desserts and two petit fours. A month after the trials he received a call from the team manager that he had made the cut.

“This is a dream come true,” the 33-year-old says. “For the last three years I have been committed and dedicated to reaching my goal of being part of the team, and having chef Henrico with me is fantastic. I have always looked up to him through all the years we have worked together.”

Baard, a resident of Fish Hoek, is a native of the city, growing up in Kensington, where he spent many an hour in the kitchen baking with his mother. After matriculating from Kensington High School he went on to complete a baking and pastry course at Milbake. “Cooking was never really my passion,” he says. “I’ve always had a strong affinity with baking. Give me flour, sugar and chocolate, and I will whip up a special dish.”

Grobbelaar, the skipper of the team and one of the country’s most creative and celebrated chefs, was first selected to the SA team in 2005 and won seven medals in all at previous Culinary Olympics, but a gold medal still eludes his growing collection.

“Since my first inclusion in the team, I have grown so much up to the point where I have mentored other team members,” the 40-year-old says. “Achieving a gold medal at next year’s competition will be the end of a long journey.”

The Somerset West resident, who holds the role of executive chef at NH The Lord Charles for the last 19 months, was born in Caledon, but his family relocated to the Helderberg when he was a toddler. He attended Hendrik Louw Primary School and matriculated from Bellville Technical High School before embarking on tertiary studies in the engineering field.

Grobbelaar holds an honours degree in polymer engineering, but never entered the field as his passion for cooking kept knocking on his door. He entered the cooking world in 2001 and completed a higher diploma in culinary arts and pastry at the South African Chefs’ Association in 2004, and hasn’t looked back.

Grobbelaar has won many national and international awards and has cooked many a dish for celebrities and dignitaries, and has featured on cooking programmes such as Chopped SA, where he won the series, and My Kitchen Rules SA, in which he appeared as a guest judge in season 2.

“Food has always been an interest for me and today it’s still my passion,” he says. “There’s just a rush in the pressure of working in a kitchen. You need to be fast and think sharp on your feet, as you don’t know what could happen. You need to be prepared and plan for the impossible tasks to make it possible.”

Grobbelaar and Baard first crossed paths when they were both employed at Twelve Apostles Hotel in Camps Bay with Grobbelaar as executive chef and Baard his head pastry chef.

Baard also gained invaluable experience during a spell at a restaurant in Kuwait.

On returning to SA he received a call from Grobbelaar asking him to join him at NH The Lord Charles, so their partnership has come full circle with their joint inclusion in the SA team.

It has cost them hours of hard work and dedication in preparing for the competition, set for 14 to 19 February. For the last four years, the six-team members have been training at the HTA Chef School in Johannesburg for a few days every month, while still performing the gruelling duties in their various restaurants. Team SA will compete in the Restaurant of Nations and Chef’s Table categories of the competition, which will be held on separate days.

In the Restaurant of Nations round, the six will have six hours to prepare 330 dishes – 110 starter, 110 main and 110 desserts – from scratch. The more gruelling Chef’s Table round will see them afforded five hours to create butters and dips, six tapas, a seafood platter for 12, a vegan course for 12, a main course for 12, a dessert course for 12 and three petit fours.

At all times they will cook in a confined glass space, where four judges will have free access to the kitchen to scrutinise their cooking methods. “But it’s not just about the cooking,” Grobbelaar emphasises. “The judges also keep a close eye on cleaniness and techniques. One mistake will cost you points.”

Both chefs are in agreement about the support they have received from family, friends and colleagues at NH The Lord Charles during their long training and preparation phase of the competition.

“Very few people know the dedication it takes to be part of Team SA, which is recognised by government,” Grobbelaar says.

“We also wear the green and gold, and want to perform in such a way that there is hope for younger generations. On the opening day of the competition, the Olympic flame is lit and all the team’s are introduced . . . It’s a proud moment for any chef to be standing on stage and representing your country.”

And its the role that they can play in mentoring young, up-and-coming chefs in the kitchen and keeps them diligently returning to the kitchen each day. “Through the years I have learnt new techniques, which I am able to share with young chefs who are eager to learn,” Baard says, adding that he has worked hard to achieve his dreams.

Says Grobbelaar: “Being in the position I am today allows me to groom new chefs entering the kitchen. It is most rewarding when they call me years later, inviting me to eat at their restaurants.

“While I am most passionate about food, I am equally as passionate about furthering culinary arts through other human beings.”

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