Written by: Thislife Online magazine
Article source: www.thislifeonline.co.za

South African foodies are still basking in the glory of home-grown restaurant Wolfgat being named Restaurant of the Year by the 2019 World Restaurant Awards in Paris. But while the country’s eating spots become ever more amazing, few would disagree that chefdom involves a long, hard slog. So what inspires someone to take it on? Shirley Fairall spoke to trainee chef Ayanda Matomela, currently completing a three-year Cordon Bleu diploma at Cape Town’s famed Silwood Kitchen, and discovered his dreams and view of shouty chefs

Ayanda (23) was born in Mtatha and moved with his parents to Port Elizabeth when he was four. His mother was a domestic worker, his father a nurse and he has a sister and a brother. He lives in Rondebosch, Cape Town, and is currently serving an internship at the Cellars Hohenort’s prize-winning Greenhouse Restaurant

Why did you become a chef?
At school I chose consumer studies as a subject and one day my teacher said that if I took cooking seriously I’d go far. I’d never been given such encouragement! I had thought I would study law, which my mom was very keen for. She said I could become a chef after I got my law degree, but three weeks into my first year of law I knew I didn’t belong there! I went looking for a job and ended up at Shoprite Butchery

That was brave! What next?
I started understanding food and moved on to various catering companies. I contacted a chef called Jonathan Hodder at the Radisson Hotel whom I’d been following on social media. He took me on as a volunteer and gave me a realistic view of what it meant to be a chef. After three months the Radisson employed me. I asked a lot of questions and learnt so much

‘If you serve a carrot, it must taste like a carrot,’ says Ayanda, who has learnt by asking many questions  |  Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

How did you get into Silwood’s School of Cookery?
I realised I needed to study to become a chef. In 2016 I saw a bursary to Silwood being offered by Woolworths and was lucky enough to win it. One of the great things about the diploma is the internships you get to do. I’ve been lucky enough to work at some of Cape Town’s greatest restaurants including The Greenhouse at Cellars-Hohenort Hotel, the Test Kitchen in Woodstock, and La Colombe in Franschhoek and Constantia

What do you love about cooking?
The fact that there are no boundaries, plus I’m passionate about ingredients. One single ingredient can trigger many different dishes. At the moment I’m playing around with quinces and discovering all the things I can do with them

Top culinary tips?
Don’t overcomplicate it! Keep it simple. And keep an open mind to the cuisines of other cultures

What’s your favourite food?
Ooh, this is a tricky question. Umm… I guess prawn risotto is a dish I would eat any day

Your current favourite dish in Cape Town?
The tuna sashimi at Chef’s Warehouse on Beau Constantia wine farm

‘I thrive on urgency and adrenaline’. Captured here with team members at The Greenhouse in Constantia, Ayanda has also had the good fortune to intern at other top Cape Town restaurants such as the Test Kitchen in Woodstock, and La Colombe in Franschhoek  | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

What makes a good chef?
Being true to yourself and respecting the ingredients. If you serve a carrot, it must taste like a carrot. Provenance is important, too: it matters where the ingredients come from

Why are some chefs shouty?
That’s such old-fashioned behaviour. Nowadays you have to work harder and be a nicer human to get the best out of people. Margins in the restaurant trade are very small and it’s a highly competitive field, so I guess some chefs transfer the pressure they feel to their staff. But I really don’t appreciate that kind of behaviour: I’ve seen abuse in my own family, and that’s more than I ever want to see. When it happens in my presence, I put my head down and ignore it

To be a good chef you must be true to yourself, respect ingredients and know where they come from, Ayanda believes | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

Grossest thing you’ve seen happen behind the scenes in a restaurant?
I couldn’t possibly say…

Pros of the work?
The urgency and adrenaline: I thrive on it

The cons?
The long hours combined with being on your feet the whole time. It makes for a very strenuous job!

What do you do in your time off?
Play basketball and walk around Rondebosch Common to breathe. I read a lot, too. At the moment I’m reading a book about King David. I love learning about his honesty with God. On Sundays I go to Common Ground Church in Rondebosch

How did you come to believe in God?
My parents’ marriage traumatised me, but I only really felt this after their divorce. One night I believe I heard Jesus saying, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. This resonated with me. Today, I believe God is constantly showing me that He’s real

Perk of the job: Ayanda met South African president Cyril Ramaphosa while working at The Cellars-Hohenort Hotel in Cape Town. ‘He was friendly and amusing.’ he says  | Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

How did you come to meet South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa?
In March he brought his daughter to The Greenhouse for her birthday. Our head chef surprised us by asking for a group photo with him. He was friendly and shook all our hands. And he surprised me by showing that he’s an amusing person

What do you cook at home when you’re tired?
The chef’s anytime favourite – bacon and egg!

Your dream restaurant?
I want not just to serve food but to do it in a great environment. My ideal restaurant is on an organic farm where diners can see where we rear their meat, and grow their fruit and veg. It would have great vegan and vegetarian options too. And I’d want it to be sustainable, built out of old shipping containers and powered by solar panels and wind turbines. And of course we’d harvest rain water. I think this is the way we have to respect nature now in South Africa’

‘I believe God is constantly showing me that He’s real,’ says Ayanda, who found his faith in difficult family circumstances  |  Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

Ayanda’s dream restaurant? ‘A solar-powered, organic farm where diners can see where we rear their meat, and grow their fruit and veg’  |  Photo: Ronelle de Villiers

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Date published: 18/02/2020
Feature image: The power of words: a schoolteacher’s encouraging words set Ayanda Matomela on the path to chefdom | credit: Ronelle de Villiers
Thislife Online magazine publishes stories of hope from Cape Town and beyond.

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