Cape Town chef opens a free culinary school in his community – 'Our people lack skills'

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Vincent Ngwenya is a qualified chef who is now teaching people in his community for free.
Vincent Ngwenya is a qualified chef who is now teaching people in his community for free.

He started at the bottom. Day in and day out, washing dishes and mopping the floors of the restaurant he first worked for. But now he's a qualified chef and runs his own business.

Vincent Ngwenya (37) grew up in the Free State and moved to Cape Town when he finished high school to live with his uncle.

“When I got to Cape Town, I saw that there were a lot of career options, but I was more intrigued by hospitality. I got hired at a restaurant, working in the scullery, washing the dishes. I worked at that establishment for 16 years, but I worked myself up until I became a kitchen manager. That’s where I fell in love with cooking.”

After 16 years, Vincent moved to a popular food retailer which offered to pay for his cooking course, and now he is a qualified chef.

He works as a head chef at that food retailer and says that his expertise and experience are what motivated him to want to help his community.

“I am very honoured by what they did because studying towards a qualification in hospitality is very expensive.”

Five months ago, Vincent opened a free culinary school in his community of Nomzamo in Strand. It already has 46 students.

The chef also partnered with a fashion designer and high school tutor to help in skills-development in the community. The three of them started an organisation called Pure Mustard Seed and they hope that it grows to be something that they can extend to provinces such as the Eastern Cape.

“I recognised that people don’t have skills. The work is there but people lack skills. I saw that, instead of our youth concentrating on harmful things, I would rather help them learn new skills.”

Vincent is at work at 6am and gets home around 4pm. By at 4.30pm he's in class, teaching, every day.

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“We take students between 16 years and 45-years," he says, adding that there have been many programmes aimed to uplift the people in the community, but they do not seem to last. Vincent is thrilled that his school is growing and people are eager to learn.

“We tell them that they don’t have to get hired in order to find employment, they can open their own businesses. It wasn’t nice seeing that I went to work, and people would see me carrying plastic bags while they couldn’t buy anything for their families. And so I hope that they use these skills to uplift themselves.”

Vincent Ngwenya
The chef works for a popular franchise restaurant during the day, then goes home to teach.
Vincent Ngwenya
Vincent Ngwenya is a qualified who is now teaching people in his community for free.
Vincent Ngwenya
Vincent Ngwenya is a qualified who is now teaching people in his community for free.

He believes those who can make a difference, should. "We cannot depend on the government. Every time I see my students, I feel fulfilled. Every time we do practicals, I take them to restaurants for them to get a feel of the environment.”

Vincent is proud of the work his students are doing and he sees them having a bright future in the culinary world.

“My students tell me how special I am and that brings me to tears. They speak encouraging words to me, especially because we are still struggling in terms of equipment, and we don’t have a bigger venue to accommodate more students. Next year, we will be taking in more students.”

Vincent also owns a pizza restaurant called Vinnie’s Pizza and his two sons love helping him out there on the weekends.

“They can do everything in the restaurant because I am busy all the time. I don’t spend as much time as I would like with my sons. It’s difficult. I only see them after 7pm when I finish everything.” 

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