Celebrity chef in the soup

2015-08-15 14:19
Jackie Cameron.

Jackie Cameron. (Jonathan Burton)

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THE knives are out for a celebrity chef, with two wealthy Pietermaritzburg ­families claiming she took advantage of their daughters at her prestigious cooking school.

The Hilton-based Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine is locked in a contractual dispute with the maverick owner of softdrink Frankie’s Mike Schmidt and Pietermaritzburg contractor Dominic Dass whose daughters had attended the school with a price tag of R203 000 for an 18-month course.

But Cameron, an award-winning chef with her own cookbook and chef apparel clothing line, has dismissed all the claims and has defended her school which she says has met all the ­requirements of the South African Chefs Association and the globally ­recognised City and Guilds.

But both families are demanding the return of fees already paid to the school including a portion of the R94 000 upfront payment which included a R70 000 “non-refundable course commencement fee”.

While the families still hold out that the dispute will be mediated outside of court, both signed contracts, seen by Weekend Witness, stipulate they could be liable for the entire year’s fees regardless of completion of the ­18-month course, six months of which include practical training.

The contract among other aspects outlines the fee structure and ­“classroom conduct” that included addressing the lecturer as “Chef”, “no alerting of time on the clock”, “no banging on windows” and, bizarrely, “no paper aeroplanes”.

The contract also warns the students to set their clocks to “Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine clock time”.

“The contracts that the students signed are binding. I have instructed my attorneys, Mason Incorporated, to represent my interests. I therefore fail to see why the parents wish to ventilate a factual dispute through your paper and not in the correct forum to settle disputes,” said Cameron.

She said she was “not concerned” about a civil claim as it is the parents’ right to do so.

In a series of e-mails seen by Weekend Witness between Cameron, Dass and Schmidt, both fathers claimed the school had verbally abusive staff, that their daughters were cleaners rather than student chefs, that their daughters were taught little about cooking and spent hours assisting Cameron’s self-promotion campaigns.

“We sent a letter last week and gave her an opportunity to reach a settlement. We have given her an opportunity to go that route. We want the massive deposit to be mediated and a part payment to be repaid,” said Dass.

“We’re not here to destroy this lady. But she needs to understand that she is running a school and that this is very different to a typical chef’s environment.”

He said in the four months his daughter Rai-Teree attended the school, and in comparison to a Durban chef school, she was “far behind” in course work.

“This has caused such stress in my home. I told her [Cameron] she was unprofessional. I told her I am not paying her to use my daughter, but to teach her,” said Dass.

Schmidt, whose company successfully took on retail giant Woolworths on the claim that they imitated his product Frankie’s Olde Soft Drink Company packaging, flavours and branding, said Cameron was more concerned about boosting her personal profile than the students.

“They are trying to create a pseudo Gordon Ramsay celebrity chef environment which is not working. The staff were effectively the five girls. On one occasion my daughter Emily had to scrub old cement stains left by builders on the floor.

“On another occasion my daughter was told she can’t go home and that she must clean the braai which they had never used. The girls even washed Cameron’s personal dishes.

“At one stage my daughter had to scrub a wall with a nail brush,” said Schmidt.

He said he was not paying R203 000 for his daughter to be “her [Cameron’s] staff” and that he was concerned that the course started two months late instead of the initially agreed upon February.

“They were there to learn. I have no objection to learn a level of hygiene but they should be taught to cook. This is not a college, school or training kitchen,” said Schmidt.

Cameron said the claims that her students were cleaners was “completely incorrect”.

“The students are just that, students, they are not personal servants. There are numerous kitchens at the school and after a lesson the students are required to thoroughly clean the venue they have used. My students need an all-round education in an industry that has by necessity high standards of cleanliness. This is made clear to the students right from the start,” said Cameron.

She said both Schmidt and Dass interfered with one of the parents, while not naming who, who apparently tried to “run my school for me”.

“In any professional environment parental involvement is frowned upon. I am prepping my students for an industry that is both highly pressurised and extremely competitive,” said Cameron.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  chef

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