How fate intervened to ensure that young Krugersdorp baker’s dream came true

Johannesburg – The winner of the inaugural RCL FOODS Young Baker competition, Simthandile Nomandla, almost never made it to the contest at all.

But fate intervened after her Uber to the airport ran late as she was on her way to the finals in Durban earlier this month.

“I actually did miss my flight and had to get on the next one available, but I am very lucky I made it in time,” the young baker told The Saturday Star this week.

“Most of all, I am just grateful that the organisers and judges were understanding, and I did not end up disqualified over that.”

Despite the travel delays, Nomandla managed to hold her composure, made up the time at the contest, and went on to win the competition.

“I am extremely excited, and I still cannot believe I actually won,” she insisted.

As the first-ever winner of the RCL FOODS Young Baker competition, the youngster from Honingklip in Krugersdorp walked away with top honours and a cash prize of R20 000.

The Young Chef silver winners were Matthew Van Heerden and Shanuel Zimba from 1000 Hills Chef School in KwaZulu-Natal, who each won R10 000, and the bronze winners were Kelly Fletcher and Kara Venter from Silwood School of Cookery in Western Cape, who won R7 500 each.

For the finals at the Coastlands uMhlanga Hotel & Convention Centre in the coastal city, young chef competitors submitted recipes for a restaurant main course and an innovation dessert course before the competition, which they then cooked in the finals. They all had a mystery basket starter, and the young baker competitors submitted recipes for two types of bread and two types of baked confectionary, which they baked, along with a mystery basket element of six cupcakes and a flavoured butter cream.

One of the RCL FOODS Young Baker competition judges, Chef Brad Kavanagh, was thrilled with Nomandla’s, from FBI Chef School & Patisserie Academy in Gauteng, win.

“Simthandile missed her flight from Joburg that morning, but despite her late start, her passion and determination saw her not only catch up but win the top RCL FOODS Young Bakers Challenge prize,” he said.

“We’re very proud of her excellent baking skills, as well as her problem-solving ability in the face of an extremely stressful situation.”

Nomandla told The Saturday Star that all her competitors were really good bakers, but she reckons her mentality gave her the winning edge.

“When the competition was over, and we got to discuss how it went, some of them mentioned that they got flustered and ended up making silly mistakes on specific items,” she said.

“I obviously made a few as well, but I managed to keep a level head, and I think I was able to score relatively well on all my products instead of doing extremely well on one and very poorly on another.

The West Rand youngster’s love for the culinary arts started at a young age.

“I have always loved cooking and baking, so it was only natural for me to go to culinary school immediately after high school,” she said.

“It was during my training there when I realised I like pastry more than the hot kitchen, although, at the time, my cooking was better than my baking, but now I am doing a shorter course, only focused on pastry because I want my career to go in that direction.”

Nomandla said that baking competitions, like RCL FOODS Young Baker, have opened many doors in her young career.

“I only realised during the finals just how great of an opportunity this was, and I feel that these competitions are extremely important because not only do you compete for a prize; you get to meet so many amazing people and learn so many things.

“You get to interact with chefs who are established in their careers and hear their feedback, and we also get to meet some people from marketing and see how they work, which can help if you have a business or you want to market yourself as a brand.”

She added that some of her fellow competitors already have businesses, and she got the opportunity to hear about this experience from them.

“I have gained a lot from this experience, and I believe this is going to help set a solid foundation for my future in the industry.”

Nomandla’s advice to young bakers is simple: “Do not let opportunities pass you by, enter competitions and put yourself out there; even if you don’t win, the experience will be beneficial,” she said.

“When competing, focus on your own work. If you were chosen as a finalist, that means the judges believe you are just as capable as everyone else, so don’t doubt that. Try to be inspired by your competitors instead of intimidated. Make friends, have fun.”

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