Frequently asked questions:
Chef Schools: I am often asked which cooking school do I choose to send my child to.
The great thing is that we have loads to choose from. The negative is that most of them are expensive. I think it is important for you to make sure that your child truly wants to pursue this as a career. To succeed in this industry they have to be 100% dedicated and willing to work very long hours. If possible, let him or her find a restaurant where they can work for a week or two during a holiday. Waitering over weekends will also give them a very good idea of what the job involves. Even just a bit of job shadowing will help. There is nothing like first hand experience and there is no place like the kitchen to gain the necessary insight. Even if they decide afterwards that they are not cut out for such a life, no harm would have been done.
When deciding on schools there are however a few important things to ask and look for:
- Firstly, we are all different. As I have said, there are many schools to choose from, so take the time and visit as many as you can. Meet the people who are going to teach your child. Make sure there is a good energy between your child and the tutor, etc.
- Secondly, check the credentials of the person actually tutoring your child. Make sure they are qualified to do so. And make sure they have the experience.
- Thirdly, look at the facilities. Make sure there is enough and proper equipment available to teach the number of pupils in the class. If things start looking a little domestic, as if someone is trying to run a cooking school from their home kitchen, alarm bells should start ringing.
- Fourthly, make sure the curriculum is balanced between theory and practical classes. Ideally a curriculum should provide equal opportunity for theory and practice. But some people are more practically inclined and if that is the case with your child, choose a more practical environment and vice versa.
Also make sure the pastry/baking element is sufficient. If your child is better in a more practical environment choose something that has a strong practical element to it and vice versa. You can also check with respected chefs in the area on what they're thoughts are. But they can sometimes be biased so trust your gut.
It is the most incredible industry to be part of. Once you are qualified, there are so many exciting opportunities, from a career in fine dining to industrial catering for the airlines. There is always something for everyone and the world truly becomes your oyster.
Lastly, and maybe the most important thing to remember, is that the right attitude and a true passion for what you do is a key prerequisite for success. If your child does not possess these two elements, you can't blame the school for doing a half assed job.
Our profession is not easy and don't let anyone tell you it gets easier. The older and more experienced you become, the more responsibilities you have.
Here is a list of schools you can check out:
You can also contact the South African Chefs Association for more information.
Success of a restaurant: What makes a restaurant successful?
I have come to believe that a restaurant and hotel's success not only has to do with food and wine but really the crucial deciding factor is the relationship that you build with your guests and the sevice you give them. As South Africans, we are naturally warm and hospitable people and so we should treat our guests with warmth and respect. We all make mistakes, we are human, but if you have not treated your guest with respect you have no chance to rectify anything.... (Now you can elaborate on the question.)
Knives: Which knives do I buy for home use?
There are a number of brands available but knives are a personal thing for me.
Most importantly, when you buy a knife of real value, make sure that you buy a honing steel as well. Knives, even expensive ones need regular honing. It freaks me out when people have a great set of blunt knives. (It's actually one of my favourite gifts to buy, a honing steel with a lesson on how to use it!)
A great entry level knife is the nylon handle Victorinox knives. They have a great edge, are easy to hone and are light and comfortable in the hand. We always suggest young cooks to start with these.
Global knives are also very popular, with a great edge which holds longer than normal.
They also look great in the kitchen ☺ The Dreizack brand is also very well known in SA.
Listed here are a few shops you can pop into if you want to browse and become familiar with the different brands. Be warned, none of them are cheap, so I will advise you to take a credit card with.