City Press: Flour power

At the Masonic Centre in Pinelands, Cape Town, a small miracle is taking place in 12-week intervals, thanks to an imaginative group of people and a passion for the food industry.

The skills the recruits learn range from kitchen hygiene to making a great loaf of bread and a whole lot in between

The Infinity Culinary Training, established by Zimbabwean-born chef Spencer Moyana and American screenwriter Barry Berman two years ago, aims to train South Africans from some of Cape Town’s most impoverished communities, enabling them to obtain jobs in restaurants.

The idea of the school came about during one of the hours-long discussions the two friends had on how to contribute towards positive growth in South Africa.

They were obviously aware that most of their students would have no knowledge of, or experience in, professional kitchens. They also knew that no one, no matter how impassioned, could be moulded into a chef in 12 weeks.

The curriculum therefore was designed to train people for ­entry-level positions, to supply the foundations of food theory, the basics of practical experience and the essential lessons of hygiene, safety, and conduct required in the professional kitchen.

From there the student would have a launch pad to control his or her destiny.

So far 36 people have graduated from the programme since 2009, all have jobs, among them Shepherd Mutendera who works at 95 Keerom, Bongile Ngxingweni who is at The Bay Hotel and Aidebell Van Niekerk who is with Willoughby & Co.

The 12-week course, run three or four times a year, draws applicants from all over the Peninsula – including Khayelitsha, Manenberg and Gugulethu. They are intensely interviewed by Chef Khululani Jobo, herself a graduate of the school, and Berman.

“We are looking for people who don’t necessarily have the aptitude, but who possess the right attitude to succeed. They must learn that they are not alone in the kitchen, that it is a team that makes things happen and without your fellow workers the whole thing will collapse,” explains Jobo.

One of the new recruits, Fundiswa Nxiba, from Khayelitsha, says: “I have always longed to cook professionally… it is the one thing I am focused on.”

The cooking world is very important; everyone has to eat and they should be able to have food that is properly cooked and interesting to eat.”

They start off every morning with a series of physical exercises because a chef’s job requires a high degree of fitness.

Some of them tell heart-breaking stories of never having had enough to eat and their impoverished backgrounds, but these are no charity cases. They are all focused and energised, and have their eyes firmly on the goal.

The school places them all in the commercial environment while they are training and teaches them pride in their accomplishments. When they succeed – which they do – it is through their own endeavours and no one else’s.

What they have been given is a chance to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps and they are doing it, thanks to the vision of school’s supporters.

Who knows, there may be an Eat Out Chef of the Year among their numbers. Only time will tell.

– Greg Landman

– City Press