Striving to be a great chef

SIMANGA Ntombela discovered the pressures and joys of cooking last week when he took part in the latest leg of the Ticket to Life Bursary Competition.

It was organised by the prestigious International Hotel School.

If he wins, Ntombela will scoop one of two internationally recognised diplomas worth more than R140,000 from the IHS.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to prepare my own menu in such a fantastic cooking environment,” Ntombela says.

“It was a real thrill and has just made me more ambitious to become a great chef. It is also nerve-racking to know that I’m on the verge of fulfilling my dream of training at one of the most prestigious culinary institutions in the country.”

The competition was open to Matric pupils.

They were required to prepare chicken fillet and a non-alcoholic cocktail. The competition included a cook-off, table set-up and food and wine services.

The 18-year-old and four other finalists will go to a boot camp, that takes place nationally between September 26 and October 2 at the IHS. They will spend the five days working in various departments, such as food and beverage, kitchen, front office and housekeeping. On the final day each pupil’ s scores will be tallied and they will face an interviewing panel .

A full-time hospitality management or professional cookery and kitchen management bursary will be awarded to the winner in each region.

The Randfontein High School pupil’ s name was forwarded by his principal after he manned a school anniversary event where he had to be head chef and serve 150 people.

Ntombela put together a delicious four-course menu and headed a team of waiters and waitresses .

“I really enjoyed putting my own menu together and this was a great opportunity to entertain 150 diners with my style of food. These events are a great opportunity to give budding chefs a chance to shine. The excitement of the evening has made me want to fulfil my career even more,” he says.

Ntombela says his knack for cooking began when he realised that nobody was able to cook to his satisfaction and taste.

“I am a lover of food. I love eating only the best. I decided to choose hospitality at school as one of my subjects to be able to cook for myself,” he says.

The self-professed foodie says his family have supported him and are encouraging him to follow his first love.

He grew up in Diepkloof, Soweto, and says where he grew up men who cooked were dismissed as sissies.

“I enjoy cooking for my family and friends. Some people view culinary expertise as a thing for women, but I have outgrown all those things,” he says confidently.

The young chef says he is intrigued by every facet of the culinary world and dreams of travelling internationally, soaking up the culture and cuisine of places like Spain, from Madrid and Segovia to the southern tip of Costa del Sol, to Seville, Portugal, Morocco in North Africa and Alaska.

“My favourite family cooking tradition is that the food is done in no time, yet it looks as if it took forever to cook, plus it tastes heavenly.”

What has he learnt through this competition experience?

Ntombela says he has learnt that there is always a secret ingredient waiting to be discovered. He says he has also learnt that food or cooking is an adventure or a mystery waiting to be known.

What are important food trends?

“People are more health conscious and this has changed their way of eating. Vegetables, fish and poultry are the healthier and more popular options.

Organic food is also very popular. It’s good that people watch their eating habits in this day and age. Life has become very stressful,” he says.