South African cuisine reflects the country's diversity and forms part of peoples' heritage.
Mpho Phalane, head chef at Food, I Love You, recently sat down with her industry peers at the iconic Constitution Hill in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, to explore the country's melting pot of rich flavours and creativity.
Phalane, an ambassador and mentor for Vuma's My Community Cooks initiative, in partnership with the Soweto Wine and Food Festival, shared her experience in the industry, from trading in her advertising job to pursue her passion for people and food, challenges aspiring chefs should expect to face, and advice to help navigate the high-pressure environment.
"We're so thrilled to be able to empower some of our country's finest young creatives to realise their potential and achieve the extraordinary through the power of connectivity and by sharing stories of success," says Lianne Williams, Head of Marketing at Vuma.
"This platform aims to provide all aspiring creatives in any field of interest with the springboard they need not only to grow but also to connect with others and inspire to create and innovate."
Start with a plan
Phalane pursued her passion for people and food after spending countless weekends cooking and hosting friends and family.
She encourages aspiring chefs to take time to learn about the culinary industry and its demands before diving into the profession.
"To succeed in this industry, people must first grasp the basics and apply them to their businesses. There will be opportunities, but without the fundamentals, young chefs are at a disadvantage," says Phalane.
Find your 'why'
Phalane also mentions how crucial it is for young chefs to figure out their 'why' and avoid chasing microwave success. "In the book – Find Your Why – Simon Sinek discusses defining your purpose and why you are doing what you do. Defining this will help guide your journey."
Phalane says her 'why' has always been people, and despite working in the culinary industry, her purpose is to create memorable moments that connect people through food.
Phalane admits that the culinary industry can be a high-pressure environment with little room for error.
To deal with this, she advises young chefs to learn to think on their feet, adapt to changing situations, and be creative.
"The industry requires people to think outside the box, especially when things don't always work out as planned. The show must go on, come rain or shine."
Don't be a technophobe
Phalane acknowledges that technology has played a significant role in creating and maintaining connections in the culinary industry over the last couple of years.
She says chefs could expand their reach and adapt to changing and challenging environments thanks to it.
"I used to be technophobic, but I've come to realise the value of technology and how it's helped us as an industry navigate everything we've experienced recently.
Without connectivity, the effects of the pandemic would have been so much worse."
Phalane says the ability to shift gears and keep moving forward is a skill every young person should have. She says aspiring chefs need to understand that there will be challenges along the way but shouldn't give up.
"I recently went to visit my great aunt in Diepkloof, where her family has run a spaza shop for over 40 years.
The community has been without electricity for around two months, and part of the shop burned down earlier this year, but they continue to work and push through those challenges. Seeing that made me realise what resilience is all about."
Phalane hopes that sharing her story will inspire others to keep going the way others have inspired her.
"It wasn't until Vuma's My Community Cooks initiative that I realised I represented Soweto, and that has made me incredibly proud.
I get to be part of something that's helping people in this beautiful community share their stories."