CHEF WANDILE MABASO

Chef Wandile Mabaso was in Joburg recently and partnered with the JHB Culinary and Pastry School in Maboneng where he prepared a seven-course meal with the students
Chef Wandile Mabaso was in Joburg recently and partnered with the JHB Culinary and Pastry School in Maboneng where he prepared a seven-course meal with the students
Image: Supplied

I grew up in Soweto and was always fascinated by ingredients. I'd cook with my mother and when I was 17 I was making the Sunday lunch. By 18 I had an idea of what I wanted to do with my life. My mother approved of my choice of career as a chef, but my dad was hesitant.

My first job was in Miami, Florida, in the kitchen of a golf resort. I started at the bottom but by the time I left I was chef de partie (a chef in charge of a particular area of production in a restaurant).

 I took a chance and moved to New York to start my dream of learning to be a classically trained French chef. I went from door to door to the best French restaurants in the city and French chef Olivier Reginensi, who became my friend and mentor, took me in and trained me in classical French cuisine.

It was Reginensi who introduced me to Alain Ducasse, the owner of Le Meurice in Paris, where I have been working for the past year. 

Training to be a classical French chef is tough and the only thing that will keep you going is to have a goal. It's part of the process to get where you want to be. Every day I picture it over and over and it keeps me mentally strong.

In the kitchen of Le Meurice I'm one of 15 chefs. We rotate every four months so everybody gets to know every part of the kitchen.

What stands out about Michelin star chef Ducasse is that he is humble and smart. He has a desire for quality; he's all about quality in ingredients, presentation and training and has high standards. He has 22 restaurants around the world.

In Paris you do not follow trends. Here chefs have their own identity.

I come across as a calm chef but in my head I'm not calm; a million things go through my mind all the time. I'm someone who can control my emotions; I've trained myself to be calm.

Anyone wanting to be a chef should ask themselves if they are sure they want to be a chef because a lot of people get into the industry for the wrong reasons. They think they will be a superstar and that it's a glamorous job. The only reason to be a chef is if you have a real passion and love for food - because it's not about money.

Part of every chef's job is to taste food, but in my position I never get any good sleep as I'm always working. Everyone in the restaurant is skinny because the level of cooking is always stressful and there's lots of pressure. Normally after a shift we eat fresh baguettes with olive oil and good butter.

I've been away from South Africa for seven years and enjoy coming back to see my family and cook for my seven-year-old nephew, who has an incredible palate. This time I made him a mushroom risotto which he loved.

I plan to return to South Africa permanently. Working in a Michelin-star environment is stressful and my dream is to work for myself, share my skills and give people good food - and improve the local culinary scene in Johannesburg where people are hungry for good food.


CHEF SHANE SMIT

Chef Shane Smit originally hails from Springs
Chef Shane Smit originally hails from Springs
Image: Supplied

I have always been intrigued by food and I would go out with my father on family holidays and pick mussels from the rocks, which we would take home and steam and even pickle. My love affair with food continued while I studied to be a lawyer and in my third year I realised I needed to pursue this burning desire to be a chef.

I set my sights on the UK to learn how to become a chef. I met Jamie's Italian's first head chef, Marcos Georgiou, who took me under his wing and I worked at Jamie's Italian in Oxford.

A qualification in anything can be a ticket to travel the world, but a positive attitude fuelled by passion can take you places you've never dreamed of!

My best kitchen memory/inspiration was working at Jamie's Italian in Oxford alongside chef Genarro Contaldo and experiencing his love and respect for ingredients.

I would prefer to forget a couple of kitchen injuries as I can't deal with blood!

I came back to South Africa because I missed our beautiful country, the people, the culture, the cold beers and the weekend braais. I really wanted to come back and embrace what we have to offer as a nation and work with that - in my own back garden.

For any young person wanting a career as a chef I advise them to be open to learn as much as they can, stay humble, follow advice, and most of all get their mind set on becoming great. If you have a burning passion to succeed, anything is possible.

In 2008 I had an opportunity to do a trial shift in Jamie's Italian kitchen and nailed it - and became part of an amazing "family" in Oxford. I'm addicted to Jamie's ethos of "family". It makes working with a team so much better.

The opportunity to open the first Jamie's Italian in South Africa came about because of my having similar values. It's not about titles, but working together as a collective towards the same goal of such an amazing brand.

My three favourite ingredients have to be Parmigiano Reggiano, pancetta and a good chianti wine.

The quote I live by is: "Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with complete abandon or not at all."

TRY SHANE'S RECIPE for Crispy cauliflower, pea & pancetta salad.

South African chef Shane Smit has worked under both Gennaro Contaldo (left) and Jamie Oliver. He now heads up Jamie's Italian in Melrose Arch, Joburg
South African chef Shane Smit has worked under both Gennaro Contaldo (left) and Jamie Oliver. He now heads up Jamie's Italian in Melrose Arch, Joburg
Image: Dave Benett/ Getty Images for Jamie Oliver Group

Jamie's Italian in Melrose Arch, Joburg, is open Monday-Sunday, 12 noon-11:00pm. E-mail IBookings@jamiesitalian.co.za

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