The winner of the 2012 Eat Out Woolworths TASTE Bursary was announced at the prestigious Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards in November last year. Hard-working, passionate and keen to learn, Damien Stemmet was the obvious choice as recipient of the culinary bursary to the Silwood School of Cookery.
Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly said at the time of his win, “Damien is so passionate, which is shown through his absolute commitment to working in the kitchen over weekends and during school holidays, starting work in the early hours to bake bread. And what I loved about meeting him is that he just can’t stop talking about food.”
Damien is now in the thick of his first year of his diploma course at Silwood. We caught up with him to find out what’s cooking.
“My average day consists of waking up at 5am to be ready by 5.51am to catch a train to Rondebosch station, with all my ingredients for the prac for the day – cooking, baking or icing,” he explains.
In the afternoon, there’s a demo for all the students. The first year will follow this structure; Damien’s next year will require five ‘in industry’ shifts per week at a fine dining restaurant or hotel, as well as Monday lectures at Silwood.
“I’ve learnt so much since last year, but what really opened my eyes was my icing classes. They have given me creativity and an open mind – not just in icing, but in baking and cooking too. My favourite aspect of the course is the practical.”
Damien is hoping to do two weeks of industry exposure this year at five-star luxury hotel Taj Cape Town, but he might be leaning more towards private catering for the future. “I really enjoy catering more than working in a restaurant; I like having a different function each time.”
While it may be Damien’s dream to host Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, for dinner (and cook her recipe for linguine with shrimp scampi), when it comes to inspiration closer to home, Damien looks up to Reuben Riffel. “He has the most amazing taste for combining foods. He plays with flavours and allows a new exploration in each meal,” he enthuses.
Damien’s favourite restaurant is The Pot Luck Club at the Old Biscuit Mill – though he hasn’t eaten there yet. “I fell in love with the menu the first time I visited there with Silwood. Their combinations are out of the box.”
When we last spoke to Damien, he expressed his love for baking, especially pastries. He said was grateful to his grandmother for her belief in him, and for teaching him how to bake.
Now Damien is enjoying making new pastries each week. “I’ve learned lots of new recipes and techniques. I recently made a banana loaf for my grandmother and she loved it. She said she can taste the difference since I’ve started at Silwood!”