Continued from my ‘Where it all started’ post, if you missed it you can always catch up HERE
So as time went by, I began to understand the workings of kitchens and Chefs. There was a world full of flavour ahead of me, technique and skills I yearned to learn.
It felt like the beginning of a long journey. Remembering that, I was a kid off the street I turned up at the back door of some forgotten restaurant looking for a job. Chef gave me an apron, nodded over his shoulder and wished me luck – I thought I was going into battle.
To be honest, some days that last statement isn’t that far from the truth.
So my 100-foot journey began, my first real Chef gig started in Southern Africa, a Head Chef and close friend of mine named ‘Cookboy’ had a huge booking for a function to cater for a 1000 VIP’s and three and half thousand other guests over three days at South Africa’s most prestigious Horse Racing event of the year – The Durban July.
Even with minimal experience, he took a chance on me, he took me under his wing and began mentoring me. Probably unbeknown to him, I still to this day hold him in the highest regard and truly appreciate the opportunity he gave me, he laid the foundation for what I was to build on in future.
He explained many basics from how important Time & Temperature was; to Seasoning from the base. The fundamentals of cooking. He also called on Local Restaurants and Chef Schools in the area to assist with staff, oh boy I was in my element, it felt comfortable, it felt like this was exactly where I belonged. The buzz was shattering, all stations were firing at full speed, deliveries were coming in, knives were out and rapping off like machine guns against the chopping boards, the Chefs milling around behind the stoves and I still remember the beat and clang of the whisk from Pastry. The Scullers were like magicians appearing and disappearing, all the while calling ‘Behind’, ‘Backs’, ‘coming through Hot’. As Fast as the deliveries were coming in to replenish the stock it was being allocated and processed into beautiful canapés, wholesome roasts, amazing desserts, and substantial meals.
After a solid couple days of preparation, we were in the next phase of the operation, from memory it took an army of refrigerated trucks a good few trips to make the short drive down to the Race Course. What an amazing venue I can still recall a light mist and the smell of freshly cut grass in the morning, we were set up in these massive marquee tents in the centre of the grounds, there were live cooking stations, grazing tables, and servers circulating with our freshly assembled Canapés, huge Buffets and thousands of beautiful people ready to devour all we had created. Every single Chef had to be proud we all came together and pulled it off. It was symphony orchestrated by one man. Cookboy and I worked a solid 27 hours straight a short break in between quick trip home for a shower and to grab a fresh pair of jocks, jacket and apron.
I was lit, buzzing off the experience. Next stop for me was culinary school. I wanted to get a solid grounding a sound knowledge of the basics. Which led to my next dilemma, where was I going to get the funding to afford the fees? Honestly, that was a minor issue given my background in wheeling and dealing, I’ve hustled my entire life. I was sure I could make this happen. I had the vision, I had clarity and to me, if you have at least one of those – nothing is impossible. So with that in mind, I started to hustle, working 3 different jobs to bring in the income I needed. I landed a day time job in Retail selling paint and art supplies to artists by day, Served tables for tips by night and a few evenings a week I would volunteer in my local Thai restaurant to learn a few skills.
It took a while to get there, but eventually, I did. All the cash I was earning I was stashing in rolls in my mattress. I saved up every cent I had. When I wasn’t serving tables or working in kitchens I was immersing myself in technique, reading about food, educating myself, developing my tastes for different celebrity chefs and TV personalities. At this point, I was living in my brothers’ house and using them as my guinea pigs, like some evil conjurer of spells. Some nights we would only get to eat after 10 pm because I was either trying to master knife skills or something would completely flop or burn or just have way too many contrasting flavours or textures and it would be deemed inedible. It would take me what felt like an eternity (which in fact probably was!) to brunoise carrots. I was learning, I made a lot of mistakes, I was so immersed in trying to get every little dice perfect and consistent a perfect 2by2.
You have to learn the process. You learn it through endless repletion. Until you own it until it belongs to you. I wouldn’t realize how much time had passed until I would look up to see the Family, staring at me with Hangry eyes! Thank god there weren’t Uber eats around. As I would probably still be eating that lasagne. Strange how I am still so excited about cooking and ingredients as I was then when I hadn’t a clue. All those experiences have made into the Chef I am today. I guess that’s the beauty of our profession One will never learn all there is to learn about Food. Food is fluid forever changing, Chefs are trailblazers. There is always something new to learn new horizons to discover.
And my silver lining was just weathering on the next storm…
To be continued…. stay tuned for the next instalment