Losing a leg did not deter Franco from his dream of becoming a chef, writes Grant Bushby
Franco Buys had just landed his dream job in Qatar when he mysteriously lost the use of one of his legs and thought his culinary career was over.
Buys, who trained at Capsicum Culinary Studio in Johannesburg, had always wanted to be a chef, and was determined to walk again and get his goal back on track.
Now a sous chef at the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff in Johannesburg, he tells his story, which he says “has more action than the Rocky film franchise and more drama than a soapie”.
You lost the use of your leg while in Qatar. How did that happen and did you think that your dream was over?
I learnt that your life can change in one moment. I woke up one morning and couldn’t move my leg and was in excruciating pain.
I had numerous tests over the months that followed. It was only later that an MRI scan found that I had necrosis in my hip. By then, the damage was done and I needed surgery, which I underwent back home in South Africa. My rehabilitation took two years. I had a lot of time lying flat on my back to think about what to do next. The answer remained the same – I wanted to be a chef. Dreams only end if you give up on them.
What was your journey through Capsicum Culinary Studio like?
It was a stepping stone to my future. I walked into Capsicum with one goal – to work hard. Capsicum showed me exactly what to expect in the real world and how to prepare for it.
Why did you want to become a chef?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved eating food. Also, people will always need to eat, so you will always have a job. My childhood on my grandparents’ farm in Polokwane, Limpopo, also moulded a large part of my journey.
What is your best food memory?
When I was asked to create a menu for the South African ambassador and 200 of his guests in Qatar for National Day. That was the day I knew I was on the right path.
How do South African chefs and restaurants compare with international ones?
We can hold our own and we’ve proved it. South Africa is such an awesome mashup of culinary deliciousness – that’s why people always come back for more.
What do you do to stay current on new trends?
I do what every normal chef does. After a long shift in the kitchen, I go home and go on to YouTube and Instagram – following, reading, questioning and soaking up all culinary knowledge and information. All it takes is one moment, one idea to ignite the fire in your food soul.
What are some of the latest industry trends?
I love the current “farm to table” and “head to tail” trends because that’s how I was raised – spending every summer holiday on my grandparents’ farm learning where food came from and how to harvest it.
We want future generations to enjoy what we have and, to do that, we must keep it sustainable. It is vitally important for people to know where their food comes from.
What would your advice be for those considering studying cooking or hospitality?
Find someone to mentor you (if you can’t find someone, ask me) and never stop learning. This is the toughest, most gratifying job on the planet. Find your passion and don’t stop until you’ve won.