Silverchef 2017 Delights, Secrecy to Challenge the Best in 2018

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Selection of Silverchef 2017 dishes (bottom left: winning entry); photo by Vincent Mugaba and Isabelle Masozera

Twelve chefs and dozens of tourism industry leaders from Uganda and Rwanda came to BirdNest Resort – Lake Bunyonyi last weekend to see who would win the coveted silver hat. There could be only one winner of the regional cooking competition, but an unlimited number of friendships, partnerships and business connections were to be made.

Majority of Silverchef 2017 participants; photo by Enock Luyonza

That is the actual reason for Gorilla Highlands Silverchef, not just competing but building networks. It provides an attractive reason for people from the tourism fraternity to come together and socialise. The most important of each Silverchef affair is the Saturday afternoon meeting about the Gorilla Highlands initiative and informal sharing.

Presentation about what is new with the Gorilla Highlands initiative; photo by Vincent Mugaba

“Silverchef helps improve the quality of services in the hotel industry, chefs who attend go back better professionals, but to me personally the networking side is most precious,” said Eng Ivan Mbabazi, Uganda Wildlife Authority Trustee and Director of Rushaga Gorilla Camp and Bunyonyi Overland Resort.

Guests and chefs tasting second shift Silverchef 2017 entries; photo by Vincent Mugaba

We also want chefs to feel appreciated, thus there are Sunday fam trips organised for them and Silverchef guests. At Lake Bunyonyi, after some being a little scared of dugout canoeing, they chose to try out the Supreme Adventure Park on Nature’s Prime Island.

Chef Rama (left) and his new friends testing their courage

“When we were told we could experience the nature of the lake and we might use a canoe boat, I was very scared because I fear water and storms (fortunately Bunyonyi is quiet). I slept in the night thinking how I was going to die before old age, ha ha! But a big surprise occurred in the morning when they informed us that we were going to use motorboat, and I was the first to wear a lifejacket! The adventure park was very challenging, I was very scared, my hands were red because of climbing on a cord but because of protection I was safe. At the end I realised that I might zip in order to reach the other side, oh my God!! I thought it was my time to fall in the water, but after doing that I shouted: WOW!” said Ramadhan Sindayigaya of Akagera Game Lodge.

Old Rules

Silverchef entrants competed in two 6-person shifts, getting 3 hours in the kitchen each. This was quite the last time in the history of Silverchef that competitors received a list of available ingredients emailed in advance…

Bunyonyi’s speciality, checked by judge Nash and served as a starter; photo by Vincent Mugaba

After rabbit in 2015 and chicken in 2016, the “meat” side of it in 2017 was Bunyony’s famous crayfish or fish fillet. The vegetable list was pretty exhaustive (beans, peas, onions, garlic, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, green peppers, avocadoes, cauliflowers, pumpkins, matoke, eggplants, spinach, lettuce, sweet corn) and fruits went a bit beyond what is easily available in the Gorilla Highlands region (pineapples, apples, passion fruits, yellow bananas, mangoes, lemons). Unlike in 2016, chefs couldn’t come with own spices/herbs but had to use what was listed (salt, black pepper, white pepper, chilli, fresh basil, turmeric, curry powder, coconut powder, tarragon, lemon grass, coriander, spring onions, rosemary, parsley, celery, bay leaves, dill, white wine, red wine).

Silverchef 2017 ingredients ready; photo by Vincent Mugaba

As always, they had to prepare one starter and one main dish; one of these courses had to be vegetarian.

“I found the instructions clear but the ingredients list was initially incomplete, so I emailed the organisers some additions,” said Ruth Kamuteera who competed as an independent participant and paid her own fees (USD 100) after her hotel was reluctant to officially send her to Silverchef. “Being a part of the competition was fun even for an outsider. I’m looking forward to a time when we are asked to do a three-course meal.”

Ruth with her father as a special Silverchef guest, and our second Lady Chef Victoria; photo by Enock Luyonza


Silverchef 2017 judges; photo by Vincent Mugaba
Sylvia Kalembe (Uganda Tourism Board)
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thome (leading travel blogger, head of judges)
Allan preparing his winning entry – this was the main course; photo by Isabelle Masozera

Silverchef 2017:Allan Mukasa, Buhoma Lodge

Quality Cooking certificate:

Innocent Rutayisire, Marriott Kigali Hotel
Sam Mbabazi, Bunyonyi Overland Resort
Geoffrey Musabe, Volcanoes Kyambura Lodge
Ramadhan Sindayigaya, Akagera Game Lodge
Ruth Kamuteera, independent
Victoria Namusubo, Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge
Paul Mulyampiti, BirdNest Resort – Lake Bunyonyi <- click for a video of Chef Paul making a 4-course meal

Competition entries waiting to be served; photo by Isabelle Masozera

Successful Participation certificate:

Saturday Matayo, Rushaga Gorilla Camp
Phillip Bingi, Mutanda Lake Resort
Ambrose Turihohabwe, Ishasha Wilderness Camp
Julius Tibeijuka, Cephas Inn

Silverchef 2017 competitors and judges, with winning Allan Mukasa in the centre; photo by Enock Luyonza

New Rules and Expansion

When we organised the inaugural Silverchef at Kisoro’s Travellers Rest in 2015, the concept was new and the challenge possibly daunting to some. We wanted to make the competition as accessible as possible, allowing chefs to prepare for the event weeks in advance.

Everybody is more experienced now, the Silverchef idea has spread among cooking professionals, and we believe it is time for a real creative challenge. At Silverchef 2018 in Kigali ingredients will be secret until the moment chefs start to cook, forcing them to think on their feet and improvise.

“That’s what I have been waiting for, the secret ingredients!” said Allan Mukasa, Silverchef 2017, when he heard of the plan. While every winner gets the honour of being a judge next year, he is excited enough to want to compete instead.

Silverchef 2017 winner Allan Mukasa of Buhoma Lodge with judges; photo by Vincent Mugaba

Each year of the competition we expanded the catchment area a little, but now we will go full-blast: Chefs from any Rwandan or Ugandan place (including restaurants) will be welcome to compete in 2018. Kigali Marriott is interested in hosting this event, a hotel with several big kitchens, so we will likely be able to accept more candidates than so far.

Mission Accomplished

In many ways, the third annual Gorilla Highlands Silverchef  had a “Mission Accomplished” quality.

Another selection of Silverchef 2017 dishes; photo by Vincent Mugaba

It was at BirdNest Resort that the idea of a regional cooking competition came about in December 2013; the lodge just introduced an impressive new pastry menu and we wondered: Is this possibly the best eating place of the Gorilla Highlands region? In May 2017, BirdNest finally hosted the ultimate event answering such questions.

Charles Kalyango and Pablo Timbao, hosts of Silverchef 2017; photo by Enock Luyonza

Prof Dr Wolfgang Thome and Barrett Nash were among the pioneers who began developing the competition in 2014, yet it was only this year that they actually managed to attend Silverchef, as judges of course. (Years ago we lost any hope of ever getting our super-busy Simon Kaheru, another pioneer to ever raise a fork.)

We always wanted to add Mutanda Lake Resort and Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge to our rather comprehensive roster of competitors, and this year they attended at last. And further, to have a big brand like Marriott and the only lodge of Akagera National Park present, was a special honour.

Rama of Akagera Game Lodge and Innocent of Kigali Marriott competing side by side at Silverchef 2017; photo by Vincent Mugaba

Chef Sam Mbabazi of Bunyonyi Overland Resort twice competed without success. The certificate of quality cooking seemed to always escape him. At his third Silverchef, however, he was in Top 3!

Unlike the previous years when chefs stayed outside of the event venue (even camping in 2016!), this time they enjoyed the comfort of BirdNest Eco Overseas. Financial support from Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) for the first time ever allowed us monetary prizes, among other benefits.

Miha Logar of Gorilla Highlands thanking veteran Silverchef judge Sylvia Kalembe of UTB; photo by Enock Luyonza

The UTB representative, Sylvia Kalembe, who was on our judging panel for the third time in a row, said: “The competition shows great improvement in taste and presentation. Food is so crucial in ensuring that one has value for money and greatly contributes to the enjoyment of one’s holiday, adding to the bigger picture of tourism experiences.”

Silverchef 2017 judge Aline Kiberinka at Supreme Adventure Park Bunyonyi; photo by Enock Luyonza

text: Miha Logar