Once a year, the French chocolate brand Valrhona hosts the world’s preeminent dessert competition. That’s right – a sports tournament, but for chocolate called C3. Chefs from every continent will descend on Paris this September to out-cook and out-dish each other and this year, for the first time, a South African chef will be in attendance.
We caught up chef Manika Harduth, senior chef de partie at Chefs Warehouse at Maison in Franschhoek, and chatted about everything from Bradley Cooper to her favourite chocolate bar and how she planned her qualifying dish.
Where is your hometown, and where are you based?
I am originally from Johannesburg and grew up in the humble town of Lenasia. I then moved to Stellenbosch in January 2016 to take a position at Rust en Vrede after qualifying at HTA. I am currently based in Franschhoek and have been part of the Maison family for the last year and 8 months.
What’s your favourite chef movie?
Burnt, not only because Bradley Cooper acts in the movie! I enjoy the movie for the fact that it displayed how truly competitive our industry is. And I believe it was the truest reflection of what it is like to cook in a professional kitchen – I have always aspired to work in a kitchen just like the one portrayed in Burnt!
The C3 competition is a big deal – a huge international competition for pastry chefs. Have you ever competed in a cooking competition like this before?
I have competed in smaller competitions throughout my career; however, none of this calibre before. I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in such a prestigious competition, but I know I still have a lot of planning and preparation ahead of me. I think with a competition of this scale it is hard not to feel nervous, but I welcome the challenge with excitement.
Tell us about your preparation and planning your entry dish.
I started working on my dish at the end of the May. A lot of planning and time went into this dish. I had a white board with a time plan for the month of June. I thought about flavour combinations and what elements I wanted. Then it was planned that on a Tuesday, when the restaurant was closed, I would go into the kitchen and work on the elements. When I started planning the dish in my head, it was not exactly the beauty of the creativity that pastry and chocolate gives us.
I spent two weeks perfecting the dish until I was able to make the idea in my head become a reality. Most of my preparation came together at the last minute, as there is nothing more motivating than the pressure of creating a unique and perfect dish on a tight deadline. I struggled with the plating of my dish once all the elements were prepared, and after a lot of
experimenting and a good night’s sleep I finally plated my dish on the Wednesday morning. I decided to enter this year to give myself a challenge and to boost my passion.
And you’re travelling to Paris for the competition! Do you have plans to eat at any restaurants while you’re there?
I am so excited to be going to Paris; it is one of my favourite cities in the world. The city intrigued me – I have travelled to Paris before, but this time I am excited to focus my energy towards the culinary experience that the city of lights has to offer. I have been doing a bit of research on the food markets in Paris and I am definitely going to tantalise my taste buds at
a one Michelin-starred restaurant. I am also planning to have a picnic on the lawns of the Eiffel Tower, as it is something I have always wanted to do.
What’s your favourite South African chocolate bar?
I would choose Twix. My mum and I share a love for this simple chocolate bar and whenever we went out shopping, we would treat ourselves to a Twix at the end of our day. It is the perfect chocolate bar for this occasion, as Twix has two fingers, perfect for sharing.
What’s your fondest childhood memory around cooking and being in the kitchen?
One of my fondest memories growing up was the abundance of home-cooked food at family gatherings. I love how our family shared laughs and stories of our lives over a warm plate of delicious dishes. But my love for food and cooking started before I was old enough to run around at these family gatherings – I remember sitting on a small mat in my grandmother’s kitchen playing with her pots and pans, cooking up a storm. Or I would be standing on a chair insisting on stirring the pots as my Gran cooked.
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