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Culinary school a real labour of love

Kelvin and Jarlyne Joel.
Kelvin and Jarlyne Joel.

Pastry chef and entrepreneur Kelvin Joel and his wife Jarlyne didn't know how they were going to pay the rent in the "suicidal" first six months of opening the Johannesburg Culinary and Pastry School in 2012.

To help get the business off the ground, Jarlyne resigned from her job as an insurance broker and used her pension in the business.

"It's been very difficult and very interesting. It's really built us quite a bit, this whole journey that we have been on. Starting out wasn't easy at all. the rent was extremely high, though we had the pension money. At some point we started looking at Kelvin's pension money," Jarlyne says.

"We had to sacrifice a lot of our creature comforts. At the point we opened the school, we had our four sons, a bond and a car we were paying off.

"The first six months was suicidal. We weren't sure how we were going to generate the money to pay the rent."

Students hard at work at the the Johannesburg Culinary and Pastry School.
Students hard at work at the the Johannesburg Culinary and Pastry School.
Image: Supplied

But they were driven by their passion for the project and soldiered on.

"When we started the school his [Kelvin's] biggest goal was to make a difference to the industry and to produce chefs that are productive, employable and dependable."

The school has since had more than 600 black graduates. Most of them have gone on to work at The Hyatt, The Saxon Hotel and African Pride hotels, among many others. According to the Joels, some of their students are also working overseas and others have started their own businesses.

"Ultimately we'd like them to come back to the school and inspire our current students."

They felt a connection to the Maboneng precinct.

"The energy in the precinct was amazing, just the ethos, the idea of what the intention is - to take back the city and rebuild, to bring the light back into the city and I really eagerly wanted to be a part of that."

Their fairytale in the Maboneng precinct ended recently, though. The Joels were worried about the safety of their students after the flare-up in xenophobic attacks in Jeppe, and about the building they occupied.

Student Mitchell Chan and lecturer Mashudu Masinya.
Student Mitchell Chan and lecturer Mashudu Masinya.
Image: Supplied

So they packed up their tools and moved into the Banking Hall on Commissioner Street in the CBD.

"We now need to re-market ourselves and also think about maximising the space. We relaunched on February 13 and we actually unveiled three of our practical classrooms and we named them after people who are really dear to us."

Jarlyne says that their culinary school is different in that they see their students every day, they're hands on and are transparent with their students and potential students.

The Joels also have personal talks with each student on what their aspirations are and help them navigate the world of entrepreneurship as well.

"The first thing we ask is whether the potential student is doing this for themselves or for a parent. We need to know that this is something the child is passionate about, that they will be committed, that they will have the energy for it."

Tuition at the school is R65,219 a year for the three-year diploma with a separate fee of R7,200 for a starter kit which includes a set of chef's knives, uniform and a tablet with your full curriculum in it.

The international qualification with City and Guild allows the holder to work internationally as well.

A student prepares her mixtures to bake.
A student prepares her mixtures to bake.
Image: Supplied

The Joels have also started a scholarship foundation called the Seabiscuit Foundation.

The two are no strangers to receiving a helping hand themselves. A few years ago, they took out a loan with the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) to invest in catering equipment for a new coffee shop called Cinnamon Patisserie, where students work for practical experience.

"We registered this nonprofit company as a sister company to the JHB Culinary School. At this point in time we still need a lot of funding from corporates and individuals because a lot of people do approach us and ask for assistance.

"At this point in time we've probably assisted 15 to 20 students that we have funded out of our pockets."

The Joels would like the community and others to help with funding of this NPO. One of the foundation's success stories is Mashudu "Lucky" Masinya, who is a pastry lecturer at the school and serves as an inspiration to the other students.

- Dlomo is a content producer at SowetanLIVE. Contact her at dlomol@sowetan.co.za

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