The sky is the limit when it comes to food

2011-09-17 00:00

PASSION for food and a deep-seated determination have helped South African chef, Citrum­ Khumalo, to climb the ranks of the culinary industry from dishwasher to executive chef.

But far from resting on his laurels, this gifted chef believes in giving back and is teaching a group of township youngsters the art of cooking at his culinary school, Culinary Passions School of Hospitality, in Midrand, Johannesburg­.

Khumalo, who was born in Bergville and grew up in Ladysmith, didn’t set out to be a chef when he was young.

Although he loved cooking as a creative outlet and finding inspiration for new dishes in the pages of foodie magazines, he opted to study metal engineering when he left school.

“But the metal industry wasn’t my passion, so I sat down and thought about what makes me really excited .

“Food is one of my passions, so I decided to try and make it in the culinary industry,” he said.

With no money to study, he started on the bottom rung of the ladder — as a cleaner in a Bedfordview restaurant.

He was determined to absorb every skill possible, and he soon progressed to waiter, barman and then found himself in the kitchen.

After completing a diploma in catering and gourmet cooking at Intec College and with some practical experience, he soon moved on to bigger and better restaurants and hotels, including the Mount Nelson in Cape Town.

Then the corporate world came calling and Khumalo worked at Vodaworld, the Mercedes-Benz head office, and Virgin­ Atlantic where he was clubhouse manager and executive chef in the first class lounge at O.R. Tambo Airport.

He has since travelled around the world and once shared the stage with British chef Ainsley­ Harriott.

“I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and to meet the right people,” he says modestly, adding that he feels incredibly lucky to be living his dream.

Having opened his own catering company, Asidle (Let’s Eat), in 2003 and having worked with a Cape Town company on a successful range of spices called Chef Khumalo’s Africa in a Bottle­, he believes in inspiring young people to start their own businesses, especially within the tourism industry.

It’s a message he’s taking to the National Tourism Careers Expo (NTCE), which takes place at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban from Friday to Sunday.

During the expo Khumalo will be giving visitors a “fun but inspiring glimpse into the field of culinary art”.

But he’s keen to stress that being a chef is only one of the scores of career choices which the tourism­ industry can offer.

“I want to inspire young people to be part of the tourism industry,” Khumalo said.

“In this industry the sky is the limit and I want to help youngsters to realise that.”

That said, he’s also determined to do his bit to get more young African chefs into hotels and culinary establishments in the country.

“I’m training a group of young chefs from the townships. I want to help them to learn skills that will allow them to care for their families,” he says.

“Transformation in our industry is still on a long journey and I hope to be able to bring forward more home-grown talent.”

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