• Quiet determination and the need to constantly improve on her skills make Megin Meikle one to watch

    Oh, to be 21 again – moreover, to be 21 and know what makes you tick. It’s a rare advantage but Megin Meikle’s got it and is showing no signs of letting it go. A graduate of the two-year diploma programme at the HTA School of Culinary Art – owned and run by Stephen Billingham, president of the South African Chefs Association – Megin was a co-winner of the 2011 Sunday Times Chef Schools Challenge and earned a respectable third place in last year’s Sunday Times Young Chef of the Year, where she competed against restaurant chefs.

    Says Stephen, “Megin is naturally gifted in competition work, which is one of the ways of testing a chef’s abilities to perform under pressure and still maintain a high standard. Even more so, she’s now in a position, through her job, to start showing the other students the ins and outs of competitions. She’s younger than some of the students but, because of her natural artistic flair, the students stick to her and flock around her.” Towards the end of her course at HTA, Megin was approached by chef Arnold Tanzer to be part of his production team on MasterChef SA in Cape Town – an offer she couldn’t refuse.

    Megin then returned to HTA to work on a project, after which she joined Gay Mitchell at Food Creations. She has also gained work experience at the Saxon and the Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel under David Higgs. When I ask Megin why she enjoys the competitive arena so much, she says, “Working on a day-to-day basis, you don’t get to test your skills at that level where you have to bring in time versus lack of preparation – not in the sense of not being equipped, but in thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to be cooking today.’ This gives you the opportunity to see how far you’ve come in both your skills and in the way you think about food.”

    And there’s no doubt that bettering her technique and getting ahead is a large part of what drives Megin – as Stephen attests, she considers it no sacrifice at all to give up weekends to shadow high-profile chefs and soak up as much learning as she can.

    “My dad once said to me, ‘If you want to be a great footballer, you must clean the boots of legends’, and this is what Megin is about – she’s cleaning the carrots of great chefs and, if she continues in the same vein, she will one day become a great chef,’ says Stephen.

    Megin adds enthusiastically, “When I did the Sunday Times Young Chef competition last year, the judges asked for our opinions on the advantages and disadvantages of competing. Each of us said it’s not about outdoing the person next to you, it’s about outdoing yourself – at the end of the day, the photographs you receive are not about comparing dishes and saying, ‘look how much better my food was than that person’s’; it’s about saying ‘look how awesome this dish is in comparison to the one I did last time’. It makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere… you can actually see how much you’ve grown.”

    With wisdom like this at such a young age, I think it’s safe to say the world is her oyster.

    Follow Megin’s step-by-step guide to seared tuna with a Niçoise salad, herbed white bean purée and balsamic reduction.

    HTA School of Culinary Art is a leading training institution. For more info, call 011-285-0937 or visit www.htatrain.co.za

    Dylan Swart

    By Andrea Pafitis-Hill