In 2015 the Gorilla Highlands Silverchef Cooking Competition debuted in Rwanda, East Africa to bring together culinary brains and hands of the East African region to showcase their skills in preparing various foods, and for the good of improving the African tourism experience.
The competition attracts chefs, mainly young and mid-career personalities from the hotels and lodges in three neighbouring countries of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
For this year the organizers had planned the first-ever All-Africa Competition at the Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel in Musanze on 21 November 2020 right under the Virunga volcanoes.
The pan African competition is for winners from the five previous East African editions who will vie for honours alongside preliminary winners from the rest of Africa.
The inaugural African edition wasn’t to be due to the pandemic. But hopes are high that in 2021, the hopes will be realized as people begin to freely travel across the continent and internationally since effective Covid 19 vaccines are reportedly coming through.
“GH Silverchef is an opportunity for the invitees to meet their colleagues from tourism, media, and development fraternities while sampling excellent food. For Africa, it is a chance to showcase the quality and variety of her rich food, unearthing culinary excellence that may well surprise its visitors. To chefs, GH Silverchef means an event to challenge them creatively, help them benchmark, and learn from each other. We give them unprecedented attention by providing a platform to present their skills and familiarization trips that take them out of their kitchens,” says the website of the competition organizers Gorilla Highlands Initiative.
“GH Silverchef has been taking place since 2015, inviting chefs from an ever-widening geographical area. We started in Kisoro (2015) with competitors from southwestern Uganda, in Kabale (2016) we added Rwanda’s districts of Burera and Musanze, at Lake Bunyonyi (2017) everyone from Gisenyi to Queen Elizabeth National Park was invited, and in Kigali (2018) and Musanze (2019) we expanded the scope to all of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.
“After five years of preparing an ever-growing event, the 2020 All-Star edition would have gone continental with the winners of quality cooking certificates from previous years automatically qualifying, and those brave enough to face them may earn their admission through preliminaries.”
The organizers say that while being open to the entire continent, the competition remains rooted in East Africa.
Signs that the future looks bright though for GHSC, which has been successfully held over five editions so far since 2015 include huge interest by other African countries to organize preliminary competitions, global interest for African tourism attractions (evidenced by long haul passenger flights into several parts of Africa that have resumed as lockdown restrictions eases and borders open), the launch of several new accommodation facilities, and investments into the growing travel and tourism industry, among others.
The competition which invites chefs to network and compete is an idea of the Gorilla Highlands Initiative (GHI), which, according to founders seeks to “globally brand and promote the transboundary region shared by Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo” as one highly attractive and rare visiting focal point for the visitor, in particular those in search of gorillas and the utmost wildlife experience and more.
“Instead of a short stop-over to see mountain gorillas, we want to position it as a region that has a lot to offer and should be a destination by itself,” says the joint founders of the cooking competition MYL Holdings, a company from Kigali, Rwanda, and Edirisa, a social enterprise focused on cultural tourism from Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda.
As explained by the managers and founders of the tourist area, Innovative solutions are used to tell the world a positive story about this part of Africa and bring about economic development specifically targeting the poor, as evidenced by the focus on the aspects of the Batwa indigenous people, who are known to have inhabited this area since time immemorial.
Through the efforts of the Gorilla Highlands Initiative, the story of the Batwa has since begun to be re-told and spread into the far corners of the globe. In the process helping to bring a new dimension to how tourists are educated, informed, entertained, and drawn to the region – to see wildlife such as gorillas and help the indigenous people earn an honest and sustainable living from the revenue raised from tourism.
“The main approach of GH is to bring the private sector of the three countries together, create business linkages and personal networks. The central annual event of the initiative is the Gorilla Highlands Silverchef cooking competition, an opportunity for all GH partners to meet their colleagues from the tourism, media, and development fraternities while sampling excellent food,” said GHI.
“To chefs, GH Silverchef means an event to both challenge them creatively and instill confidence. They learn how to benchmark and adapt to different situations and environments. We give them unprecedented attention by providing a platform to present their skills and familiarization trips that take them out of their kitchens. They respond with cooperation and camaraderie that makes the event less of a competition and more of a learning experience for every chef involved.
“For the Gorilla Highlands region, this is a chance to showcase the quality and variety of her rich food, unearthing culinary excellence that may well surprise its visitors. GH Silverchef has been taking place since 2015, inviting chefs from a wide geographical area. We started in Kisoro (2015) with competitors from southwestern Uganda, in Kabale (2016) we added Rwanda’s districts of Burera and Musanze, and at Lake Bunyonyi (2017) everyone from Gisenyi to Queen Elizabeth National Park was invited.”
Connecting with global brands:
Each of the Gorilla Highlands Silverchef Competition is colourful and vibrant, tapping into participants that come from global brands such as the Marriott in Kigali who were hosts of the fourth installment of the competition in 2018.
This particular edition ran from 28 to 29 April 2018; and owing to the spacious nature of the facility, especially its well-appointed and several kitchens, inspired the organizers to quickly re-arrange their plan to accommodate more chefs (maximum 16) for that particular event.
The Marriott Kigali was represented by as many participants, as well as invitations extended to nationals from other restaurant or accommodation providers within the respective catchment area of Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC.
In 2018 the event was also a tougher challenge as it was a gear up with surprises. After three years of providing competitors with lists of available ingredients, which worked to offer them the chance to do their homework in advance, no chefs were allowed to know in advance the type of ingredients they were to use. This brought the element of ingenuity in addition to encouraging quick imagination in serving up sumptuous dishes.
Attendees usually cut across professionals including owners and senior managers from tourism, media, and development, government sectors for networking and tasting purposes.
To top the fun, and on a separate date, foodies are also invited to the competition amid activities such as live music, swimming pool access, kids’ sports, and bouncing castle activities, and more.
With travel experts predicting at least four years before the numbers of tourists return to pre-pandemic levels in most parts of Africa, the introduction of the competition’s preliminaries and the All-Africa grand finale competition augurs well to re-boot travel to neighbouring countries and across the African continent.