By Chef Wandile Mabaso
Workaway International hosted a presentation at my Culinary School a few years ago. They were looking for young, ambitious cooks to send to five star country clubs in the USA. I saw a great opportunity but I never imagined that it would be the beginning of a long and hard but fruitful journey - and not in a million years did I think it would take me this far in life!
Three months later, I arrived at the Miami International Airport, ready to start my journey in Florida, USA. My first season was at the BallenIsles Country Club. I started at the bottom of the kitchen and made a lot of friends and experienced new things. I then received an opportunity to work in New York at a popular French restaurant.
I worked my way up within the French restaurant scene in New York, going from one restaurant to the next, looking for new challenges and searching for new knowledge and techniques. I moved on, to work in French-Korean fusion and French-Japanese Fusion restaurants. I was in the circle of the great French chefs and I was not searching for jobs any more. It was now a game of referrals.
After a long, hard four years in New York, I managed to reach executive sous chef level for a famous legendary French chef. I was working for a huge French restaurant group that was expanding. I was part of the team that helped open seven restaurants in two years. In between everything else, I trained in Michelin 2 and 3-star restaurants such as Le Bernadin. Then, I was introduced to the great chef Alain Ducasse. I worked for him during his promotional dinner for his book "Je T’aime NY". At the time, he was looking for a candidate to represent French cuisine in regions like South Africa. After months of talks and planning, I moved to Paris to work at the prestigious Michelin 2-star Le Meurice restaurant. After a year of extremely hard work, I felt ready to move to the next level.
Things were finally starting to pay off as there was a buzz about my cooking and my story around South Africa. I was getting a lot of attention from the media. The French ambassador then invited me to be the guest of honour at the Good France event at the French residency in Pretoria. This is where it all began for me – I had great ideas and lots of business opportunities waiting for me in South Africa.
My mission now is to revolutionize the way people dine in South Africa, share knowledge with young cooks and inspire others. If a kid from the dusty streets of Soweto can do it, you can do it too! No excuses. I never forget where I started or where I came from so I am grateful to Workaway International for being part of the journey.