The 2018 Distell Inter Hotel Challenge Winners announced at Gala Dinner

Monday, 6 August, 2018
After six months of hard work, lectures, product workshops, intense menu planning and ultimately the stress of the regional cook-offs, the national winners of the 6th annual Distell Inter Hotel Challenge were announced at a glittering gala awards event at the Belmond Mount Nelson in Cape Town.

The event was attended by representatives from the tourism sector of government including Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom, Director General Victor Tharage and all of the competitors who together represent 33 hotels around the country. They took their place at this – the “Oscars of the Hotel World” – alongside their mentors and management, executive chefs and sommeliers, vintners and hoteliers to hear who walked away with the highly contested awards and ultimately, the 2018 “Chef of the Year” and “Wine Steward of the Year”.

The challenge itself, the only national competition of its kind, has become a red-letter event for the hospitality industry, drawing in big name sponsors, food and wine suppliers and the South African tourism industry. Behind the fun of the competition and the glamour of the contending hotels, lies a serious intent to establish a strong mentorship programme within the hospitality industry. The primary objective of the competition is to partner with the industry in order to create and sustain a strong national base of top quality chefs, bakers and wine stewards. This in turn plays a huge role in South Africa’s tourism industry.

Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom was the keynote speaker for the evening. Since taking over the portfolio of tourism, he has focused his attention on attracting even more tourists to this country citing the hosting of major conferences as one of the areas of growth. In order to bring success to this approach, he is only too aware of the role that the hospitality industry plays, in particular the hosting hotels.

According to the UNWTO, the World Tourism Organisation, global tourism grew by 7% in 2017. Hanekom is quick to point out that tourism is the world’s fastest growing industry with over1,3 billion people travelling internationally. Marketing is only part of the solution. Sustaining a hospitality industry that offers the very best in quality experience is critical.

To sustain that level of delivery, requires a long-term vision and that means the creation of a strong foundation of young talent to be our hospitality stars of tomorrow.

“Tourism employs more people than the mining sector and continues to grow. With our natural beauty and diverse offering South Africa makes a compelling long haul destination,” says Minister Derek Hanekom.

Ahead of the regional start to the Inter-Hotel Challenge, each competing hotel staged a rigorous and highly competitive in-house search for their own best young chefs, bakers and wine stewards before putting forward one from each category to compete against the other hotels.

The Distell Inter-Hotel challenge commenced at the beginning of the year and continued with events over a six month period. The young apprentice professionals – all of them employed in various capacities within the hotels – were put through comprehensive and thorough orientation workshops. Within their regions, they experienced talks, demonstrations and lectures from senior lecturers from various culinary academies, top executive chefs, sommeliers, bakers, food authors and hospitality industry experts who have already found success in South Africa and around the world. They also met the partners and judges behind the Challenge and interfaced with the farmers and producers who supplied the food ingredients – all indigenous South African, rigorously selected for their adherence to the best local quality can offer – along with wine and spirits from Distell before being given a specific brief for the June cook-offs, that were staged around the country.

“We selected only local farmers and producers for our ingredients as well as our wine and spirit partner,” explained Annette Kesler. “It is important to us that our future generation of chefs and sommeliers are in tune with everything this country has to offer in the way of cuisine. We encouraged the candidates to be creative, as long as they used what grows indigenously and is created in this country.”

The critical point in the challenge was when each of the candidate teams were put through their paces in a tough cook-off. All the months of planning and practice came together in a series of regional morning events during which the chefs and their assistants cooked and presented three courses within a timed four hour period before their efforts were set before a critical panel of top judges. During the same event, the winestewards presented a cocktail of their own creation, paired their partnered estate with their dishes and the candidate bakers delivered three different breads to brief.

Richard Rushton, managing director of Distell, the primary partner in a suite of big names, also believes that the young candidates who go through the InterHotel Challenge, ultimately play an important ambassadorial role for the wine industry and the hospitality industry in general.

“We firmly believe the Inter Hotel Challenge is an important platform to expose our young South African talent to the hospitality industry, and in particular the wine industry.”

It is not just the winners who benefit from the rigorous Challenge. During the years, every candidate who competed benefited from the knowledge and experience gained. Importantly, by participating on a public platform such as this, watched closely by the cream of the hospitality industry including chefs, hotel management and sommeliers, many have gone on to enjoy promotions within their current places of employment, others by taking up posts in international hospitality venues or by taking on positions in South Africa’s leading hotels, safari lodges, restaurants and other hospitality outlets. Over the six years of their mentorship programme, the organisers have seen young candidates make a real name for themselves within the industry, by becoming ambassadors for the hospitality industry abroad and often by becoming authors, television personalities or leaders on social networks. Importantly, many of them go on to mentor their own new intake of youngsters who want to do well in the industry.

The Distell Inter Hotel Challenge is in every true sense of the phrase, a programme of far-reaching social responsibility objectives. In many ways, it is in their hands that the future of our hospitality industry lies, not only as a valuable source of national income but also as one of the key contributors to the international brand that is South Africa.

Guest speakers; Jeff Rosenberg, Chairman FEDHASA Cape Region shared the aims of FEDHASA while John de Canha, former GM Beverly Hills with his wealth of experience was passionate in his motivation of hospitality becoming a lifetime career. Ubuntu; “I am because we are!”

The winners of the 2018 Challenge, announced:

In the Wine Steward Category:

WINE STEWARD OF THE YEAR: Samantha Swartz (The 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa) (Plaisir de Merle & Van Ryn’s)

  • BEST WINE STEWARD 1st RUNNER UP: Alvezo Abrahams (Cape Grace) (Nederburg and Bunnahabhain)
  • BEST WINE STEWARD 2nd RUNNER UP: Axolile Pupuma (Marriott Crystal Towers) (Pongracz, Alto and Scottish Leader)
  • MOST PROMISING’ WINE STEWARD: Victor Mofokeng (De Hoek Country Hotel) (Fleur du Cap & Scottish Leader)
  • MOST UP & COMING’ WINE STEWARD: (‘THE WONGA PRIZE’): Fabrice Ntundu (Ellerman House) (Fleur du Cap & Cruz)
  • BEST COCKTAIL: Fabrice Ntundu (Ellerman House with Cruz)
  • BEST FOOD & WINE PAIRING: Siya Molefe (One & Only Cape Town) & Darren Claasen (One&Only Cape Town) with (Durbanville Hills & Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky) 

Cape Wine Academy Examination Results written during Grape to Glass ~ Tied 1st Place: Alvezo Abrahams (Cape Grace) & Veronique Booysen (TAJ Cape Town)
 2nd Place: Darren Claasen (One&Only Cape Town) 

3rd Place: Xolani Mzileni (Protea Hotel by Marriott Durban Edward) 

In the Chef Categories:

CHEF OF THE YEAR: Siya Molefe (One & Only Cape Town)

  • BEST CHEF 1st RUNNER UP: Xhamela Marawa (Tsogo Sun joint team Western Cape: Southern Sun Waterfront & Southern Sun The Cullinan)
  • BEST CHEF 2nd RUNNER UP: Bevashen Naidoo (Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani)
  • MOST PROMISING CHEF 2018: Marlie Carina Pretorius (De Hoek Country Hotel)
  • MENTOR OF THE YEAR 2018 (new competition category): Sandi Richmond Chef de Cuisine Reuben's One&Only Cape Town
  • BEST STARTER: Rosvern Petersen (Belmond Mount Nelson)
  • BEST N1 MAIN COURSE: Bevashen Naidoo (Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani)
  • LANCEWOOD BEST DESSERT: Siya Molefe (One & Only Cape Town)
  • SCANPAN EXCELLENT KITCHEN PRACTICE” AWARD: Dumezweni Sibanda and Assistant Aphiwe Mgqunguza (Marriott Crystal Towers)
  • BEST MENU PRESENTATION (New competition category):Adrienne Fromage (F&B Manager NH The Lord Charles)
  • MOST PROMISING BAKER: Allessandria Jordan (The Palazzo)
  • BIO-WHEAT BAKER OF THE YEAR: Michael Pakati (Belmond Mount Nelson)
  • BEST BAKER 1st RUNNER UP: Willem Verwey (Cape Grace)
  • BEST BAKER 2nd RUNNER UP: Devin Sampson (The 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa)


  • SHOWCOOK MAN OF THE MATCH: Rudi Liebenberg (Belmond Mount Nelson)
  • BEST TEAM: Awarded jointly to the teams from the Belmond Mount Nelson and Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
  • BEST TABLE DECORATION: “The GM’s VIP Guest” to Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. “Most Wish to Dine At” to Belmond Mount Nelson and “The Most Elegant” goes to Tsogo Sun Gauteng Team The Palazzo & Sandton Sun as judged on the night by Jay Smith, Debbie Hall, Hilary Prendini Toffoli and John Jackson.

THE PANEL OF JUDGES: A formidable and highly experienced panel of judges judged all three categories for the competition. The regional food judges; Heinz Brunner (JHB, CT & KZN), Marieta Human (JHB, CT & KZN), Kevin Gibbs (CT) and Fatima Stanley (KZN). Wine Stewards service by Sandy Harper (JHB, CT & KZN) and Sommelier Germain Lehodey (JHB, CT & KZN). The Regional Food, Wine and Spirit Pairing were judged by Chris de Klerk (JHB, CT & KZN), Kristina Beuthener (JHB), Craig Cormack (CT) and Karen Bloom (KZN). The regional bread judges include Marieta Human (JHB, CT & KZN), Adam Robinson (KZN) and Jac Kolver (Cape Town). Julietta e Silva (JHB, CT). The regional kitchen judges; Casey Wigmore and Amanda van Rooyen (KZN).

These Cook-Offs were hosted at Capsicum Culinary Studio in Cape Town and Johannesburg while the International Hotel School hosted in Durban.


Overall sponsor. Distell.
Suppliers of superb local ingredients throughout the competition;N1 Restaurant Suppliers, Lancewood, Rio Largo Olive Oil, Bio-Wheat, Khoisan Sea Salt and Avanti

EXCEPTIONAL PRIZES:With special thanks to Dr Susanne Reuther of KitchenAid Africa for her generosity in presenting ALL the candidates with iconic KitchenAid accessories and more…

The ‘Chef of the Year’ will be flying the royal way with KLM to Amsterdam to take up a three week intense mentorship experience with the cream of the NH Collection- The highly sought after win includes a week in the Vermeer Restaurant under the wing of Michelin star chef Chris Naylor at the Barbizon Palace hotel, a week at the legendary culinary museum and Restaurant, D’Vijff Vlieghen and finally a week at the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky at The White Room where Jan Boerma leads the team that carries out his vision in Amsterdam; led by the young yet experienced Chef de Cuisine Arturo Dalhuizen, Maître Richard Eerhardt and Sommelier Isabel van Bueren.

The ‘Wine Steward of the Year’ will win an enviable travel experience with Distell, exploring the world of wines and spirits embarking on a brilliant ten-day trip to London, guest of Red Carnation,The Montague on the Gardenswhile working closely with the 67 Pall Mall sommelier team - the most exclusive wine club in the heart of St James then on to Scotland with visits to top Distell distilleries including Deanston and Bunnahabhain,to France; Cognac and Bordeaux.

For the ‘Best Bio-Wheat Baker’ a legendary Artisan Mixer by KitchenAid Africa! Their hotel wins a commercial Professional Design Mixer!

For the ‘Most Promising Baker’ a brilliant two week stage at the Belmond Mount Nelson, working closely with their team of highly skilled bakers, headed by Craig Hibbert, Head Pastry Chef. The flights courtesy of British Airways, operated by Comair. 

Awards and generous prizes from Lancewood for the “Lancewood Best Dessert”.

For the mentor of the ‘Chef of the Year’ ~ A two day idyll spent at exquisite Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, a unique floral and marine eco-paradise on the southern tip of Africa.

Meaningful bursaries that were awarded at the National Winner Gala event have been contributed by The Hospitality Property Fund, Cape Wine Academy, the International Hotel School and by Distell to attend the South African Sommeliers Association.

Prizes include superb kitchenware from iconic KitchenAid Africa, highly desirable ScanPan Cookware and Global Knives SA from AL&CD Ashley. Cash prizes from N1 Restaurant Suppliers and Avanti.Books from Penguin Random House, Platter’s Wine Guide and Von Geusau Chocolates.

To raise awareness and funds for the StreetSmart campaign this year; the raffle that was drawn at the gala awards at the Belmond Mount Nelson included a star-studded line-up of prizes from Ardmore, Belmond Mount Nelson, BMW, Cape Grace, The Diamond Works Institute, Ellerman House, The Hall Collection, The Jay Smith Collection, Sun International Table Bay Hotel, Tsogo Sun Southern Sun Waterfront, The Royal Portfolio - The Silo, The Westin, and the cherry on the top a fabulous win from Minor Hotels; a sojourn for two to the stunning Royal Livingstone Hotel, Victoria Falls, Zambia generously awarded by Anantara part of the Minor Hotels Group. The flights courtesy of British Airways operated by Comair.


The Distell Inter Hotel Challenge has become a red-letter annual event on the hotel industry calendar. 2018 is the sixth time this event is being held. It is a unique event, being a first in Cape Town, a first in South Africa and worldwide. It’s success has labeled it as the 'Oscars of the hotel world' and the entire programme that is staged over the best part of six months, climaxing in a glittering national event where the grand-winners are announced in August, has been described as a defining event for the hospitality industry in South Africa. Although a competition of glitz and glamour, its true role has serious and deep-rooted repercussions in that it provides a vehicle and a public platform for creating an environment of mentorship for the country’s hospitality industry.

The creative duo and business partners behind Showcook are Annette Kesler and Chania Morritt-Smith. The high-energy organisers and founders of the Distell Inter Hotel Challenge programme, believe the most important achievement of this annual event is that hotels are persuaded to great lengths to encourage and mentor young talent in an industry that plays a crucial role in the South Africa’s tourist industry.

To mark the sixth consecutive year of the hospitality industry “Distell Inter Hotel Challenge”, co-founders Annette Kesler and Chania Morritt-Smith have published a commemorative book Winners All, published by Media 24 Dedicated to this country’s exceptional hotels and the exceptional people that serve in them. Probably the most glamorous of all South African industries simultaneously offering insight into the sheer gritty hard work that goes on behind the scenes away from “front of house”.

“The hotel industry is the heartbeat of tourism,” says Kesler. “It is essential that we maintain the high standards of our hospitality industry but we also have to make sure those same high standards are maintained going into the future. In order to ensure that, we need to have a strong and sustained skills and upliftment programme where our young talent are mentored and given the opportunity to grow.”

“The Distell Inter Hotel Challenge contributes tangibly to the hotel industry itself,” says Morritt-Smith. “It is a unique event where hotels become a unified force. Although the industry is highly competitive from within, at the end of the day they all want the same thing – to ensure a strong and viable hospitality industry to encourage a strong brand South Africa. Our best chance of achieving that is by doing it together.”


Chania Morritt-Smith

Cell: (079) 113-8329


Judy Brower

Judy has been running alongside her hubby Kevin Kidson since 1996. She takes photos, attends functions, writes occasionally, sells services, is Mrs HR at the company, cooks yummy lunches from time to time and generally is the glue at

Samantha Swartz - Winning Wine Steward - 12 Apostles Hotel
Samantha Swartz - Winning Wine Steward - 12 Apostles Hotel

Siya Molefe - Winning Chef, Fred Hart, Sandy Harper & Wine Steward Darren Claasen (One&Only)
Siya Molefe - Winning Chef, Fred Hart, Sandy Harper & Wine Steward Darren Claasen (One&Only)

Fred Hart, Alvezo Abrahams (Wine Steward Runner-Up) & Sandy Harper
Fred Hart, Alvezo Abrahams (Wine Steward Runner-Up) & Sandy Harper

Rudi Liebenberg - Man of the Match (Belmond Mt Nelson)
Rudi Liebenberg - Man of the Match (Belmond Mt Nelson)

Fred Hart, Fabrice Kalenga Ntundu & Sandy Harper
Fred Hart, Fabrice Kalenga Ntundu & Sandy Harper

Thobeka Nkwenkwezi & Axolile Pupuma(3rd Place Wine Steward - Marriot Hotels)
Thobeka Nkwenkwezi & Axolile Pupuma(3rd Place Wine Steward - Marriot Hotels)

Fred Hart, Victor Mofokeng & Sandy Harper
Fred Hart, Victor Mofokeng & Sandy Harper

The Grootbos Gangsa Team
The Grootbos Gangsa Team

The Grootbos Table
The Grootbos Table

DG Tourism Victor Tharage  & his wife, Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom & Jean Vincent Ridon
DG Tourism Victor Tharage & his wife, Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom & Jean Vincent Ridon

The Grootbos Winning Team
The Grootbos Winning Team

Richard & Tracy Rushton  (MD Distell)
Richard & Tracy Rushton (MD Distell)

Sandy Harper (CWM) & Chania Morritt-Smith
Sandy Harper (CWM) & Chania Morritt-Smith

Prizes galore
Prizes galore

Stunning tables
Stunning tables

Grootbos & Mount Nelson winning teams
Grootbos & Mount Nelson winning teams

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