Passion is what drives this chef

HOW did a young, black man from the streets of Germiston become head pastry chef in a leading restaurant? Passion!

HOW did a young, black man from the streets of Germiston become head pastry chef in a leading restaurant? Passion!

That is what pastry chef Patrick Ngobese is all about.

From being a waiter, Ngobese rode his passion to soar to serving celebrities and VIP guests at Punchinello's, a "high-end" restaurant at Montecasino.

After two years as a waiter and barman, the 24-year-old's quest for knowledge sent him to Durban to do a learnership at the swish Elangeni Hotel.

Ngobese says he was a very shy person and working as a barman and a waiter helped him "come out of my shell".

"I heard people talking about learnerships that were offered at Elangeni Hotel.

"When I submitted my application, it was on a closing date. The lady who was collecting the CVs was so kind that she took my application. A few days later I was called to come and start working," Ngobese says.

"This is where my career took off. I met my mentor, chef David van Staden. He is the best pastry chef in the world and that is where I got all this experience.

"He is the one who taught me everything I know about pastry. I used to watch him do chocolate work. I fell in love with his creativity and his views on pastry. He is a dessert artist."

After working in Durban, Ngobese moved to Johannesburg, where he became part of the staff who opened the Hyde Park Southern Sun Hotel.

He then transferred to Punchinello's, where he has been a leading dessert specialist.

"My dream is to impart my skills to others. I want to create new black pastry chefs. I want to teach and coach young students to succeed in national and international culinary competitions."

What skills does a pastry chef need?

Ngobese says culinary art is important to any chef's training, but a pastry chef must possess an eclectic set of skills.

"Pastry chefs must be able to work in a team and alone, work varied hours, remember multiple task instructions, be creative, precise and scientifically inclined to some extent," Ngobese says.

He says most people are unaware that science and technology play a major role in a pastry chef's career, yet this is what sets them apart from the standard gourmet chef.

"Both baking and pastry rely on the chemistry of the ingredients used. While creativity and artistic ability are essential to this career, those are not the only skills required of a pastry chef.

"It is not only important to know how to create dishes, but to understand the basics behind the functions of ingredients in baking as well."

For those interested in doing what he is doing, Ngobese says: "The best thing to do is to talk to chefs and bakers, study pastry cook books to learn what you will likely be preparing.

"Also, go to the library and read about the culinary industry and, finally, look into multiple educational opportunities to determine which programme will benefit you the most."

What are other pastry chef career options?

Ngobese says a pastry chef can work in restaurants, bistros, large hotels, casinos and bakeries. Meet with the various chefs in restaurants to discuss menu planning and the pairing of desserts with entrée and appetiser selections.

What skills are needed?

Ngobese says you need a particular set of skills to excel as a pastry chef. These include the following:

l Culinary ability and creativity

"Pastry chefs need to be able to bake. They also need to have artistic ability and creativity to produce pastries and desserts that look as good as they taste."

l Attention to detail

Small changes in a recipe can make a big difference. So pastry chefs need to pay attention to what they're doing, even while performing routine tasks.

l Customer service

Some pastry chefs might supply other businesses with baked goods, while others serve their confections in their own neighborhood shops. Pastry chefs need people skills in order to establish thriving businesses.

l Stamina

More physically demanding than many people realise, a pastry chef's job often requires long hours on your feet. Many pastry chef jobs require exceedingly early morning hours - starting at about 3am or 4am. There is often also some lifting (of ingredients) involved.