When Mandrè Campher was thirteen years old, his parents started a non-profit organisation (NPO) known as Hagar’s Choice. Its aim – to provide a safe haven for children at risk and babies awaiting adoption and a place where their immediate needs can be met. Seven years later Hagar’s Choice is still going strong and the 20-year old Campher is making a name for himself, having been placed in the top three Best Young Chef of 2020 category at the One&Only Reaching for Young Stars awards recently held in Cape Town.
So where and when did his love for food and cooking begin? “When my parents started Hagar’s Choice, my three sisters and I pitched in to help, and I very soon realised there was an opportunity to take up the responsibility of preparing meals for everyone. That soon developed into an appreciation for good food that not only looked great but was nutritious too.” After graduating from high school, Campher – who hails from Bellville in Cape Town – chose Capsicum as his culinary school of choice because “I found it to not only be affordable, but also sophisticated in that they offer the option of an international City and Guilds qualification.”
Campher’s Reaching for Young Stars highly praised dishes was a starter called Six Mushroom Delights. “I was fortunate enough to win some fantastic prizes, including some amazing kitchen equipment, utensils and a food carving set.”
“The prize also included an overseas placement position at Winslow’s Tavern in Massachusetts in the US but, due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions, it was cancelled,” he says: “I was devastated as it was something I was really looking forward to, but I have since received funding to continue studying and I am aiming to achieve merit awards for the patisserie course at Capsicum.”
Proving his worth as one to watch, Campher was also a finalist in the reality series Sjef Huis which was broadcast on VIA on DStv last year.
Presented by Bertus Basson and Crystal-Donna Roberts, the show saw talented young chefs competing for R50 000 and the chance to work in one of South Africa’s top restaurant kitchens under the mentorship of Basson. Even though he didn’t win, it afforded him invaluable experience and the confidence to work harder and get better and it seems to have paid off as since then he has had the opportunity to work as a private chef. “After I’m done with my studies, and once the restrictions around this pandemic eases, I would like to travel to as many places as possible to experience the preparation and delivery of different food in different countries,” he says.