SA top of the food chain

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South Africans love to eat. Across the country, we have award-winning restaurants – some with Michelin stars – and now we have the world’s best female chef. Chef Chantel Dartnall of Restaurant Mosaic in Pretoria was awarded the honour at the recent international Best Chef Awards.

SA top of the food chainChef Dartnall has won a number of awards over the past few years, including the title of Chef of the Year at the Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards (twice). She was also placed at number 32 in the Best Chef Awards Top 100 list for 2017. This makes her the highest positioned woman and one of only three to make the top 50, and she is the only South African chef listed in the top 100.

Dartnall beat globally acclaimed chefs such as Elena Arzak from Spain, who won the title of Best Female Chef in 2016. She runs the three Michelin-starred restaurant Arzak. Other formidable contenders were Emma Bengtsson, who is at the helm of the two Michelin-starred Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit in New York; France's Anne-Sophie Pic, who gained three Michelin stars for her restaurant, Maison Pic in France, as well as Clare Smyth, the first and only female chef to run a restaurant with three Michelin stars in the UK with her establishment, Core.

Dartnall isn’t the only shining star on the South African food scene. Chocolatier Stephanie van Vuuren recently won a silver award at the International Chocolate Awards in London. The competition recognises excellence in fine chocolate making and in the products made with the chocolate, and van Vuuren won with her milk tart ganaché chocolate.

Van Vuuren, who recently quit her job as director of an engineering company to become a full-time chocolatier, is the first African to enter and win an award in the competition. In fact, she hounded the organisers to allow her to enter as there is no national competition in South Africa.


VALIDATION: Stephanie van Vuuren Pictures: Instagram and Facebook

Van Vuuren’s moulded bon bons were sampled by a range of tasters: pastry chefs, food journalists, bloggers, sommeliers, chefs and a Grand Jury from around the world.

“I wanted to do something South African. So I made a cinnamon ganaché white chocolate and then I candied naartjie peels and added a sweet pastry biscuit at the top.

“That is all of the elements in the milk tart and the naartjie is to add texture and a citrus flavour.”

The criteria includes checking the consistency of the ganaché, the thickness of the shell, the type of chocolate used, flavour combinations and presentation.

The chocolates are also lab tested to ensure the accuracy of the type and amount of chocolate used. The samples are blind tested with an entry number attached.

“Winning the award was good not just for my personal validation, but also for my business. South Africans want to buy something that is internationally recognised, so from a business perspective it was important that I had been recognised internationally and there is a high standard.

“With the exception of sugar and cream, all my ingredients are imported. My chocolates are all handmade and individually painted. They are all like my babies,” Van Vuuren says.

Van Vuuren’s award-winning chocolates can be ordered online at

After nearly two years of “begging” the organisers to allow her to enter the competition, she was allowed to send 40 samples of her milk-tart chocolate to compete in the first round of the competition in Budapest. She was disappointed when her name wasn’t included in the shortlist after the judging had been completed, but was then told that she couldn’t be listed as a European winner.

Despite this, she was awarded a European gold, which allowed her to qualify for the World Finals in London. Her silver award is “awesome”, she told the media, and she hopes to build on this success and is already planning her entry for next year’s competition.

These tremendous achievements prove that South Africa is not the culinary wasteland some have accused it of being, and that traditional fare such as milk tarts have a place in international food circles.


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