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Getting it right with food and people

Even a salad needs spicy skills in taste and in talking.

COOKING can be regarded as both science as well as art.

It takes passion, love for the craft and skills to put together a variety of ingredients in the hope of creating a culinary masterpiece. Once a recipe is perfected, and the chef understands which food items play well with others, the result is a memorable meal. Food then becomes an art when it is presented in such a way that those who receive it not only share the delectable view (on social media platforms) of the dish, but savour every bite. Such moments are some of the most enjoyable pastimes as loved ones gather around a table, either in their homes, in a restaurant, guest house or hotel to bond over a meal.

It is for these reasons and due to the basic human need to eat that the food and hospitality industry is one of the largest globally. It has ample opportunities for all those involved, employs millions of people and feeds even more. But in most cases, eating is far easier than actually cooking and presenting a meal.

The Star recently found this out the hard way when this reporter, with photographer Nonhlanhla Phillips, participated in a chef and drink challenge at the Capital Hotel School in Pretoria recently. Without any hospitality qualifications and just their mediocre domestic skills to rely on, they competed against other media houses in a cook-off. The task – a Caesar salad, with a homemade salad dressing and a side dish – might have sounded easy. But the challenge was to set the dish apart from those of the competitors using only limited ingredients. After a brief cooking and presenting tutorial with the school’s chef and facilitator, the charismatic Alicia Giliomee, the competition began.

The first step was to debone an entire uncooked chicken and cut it into quarters. The Star team then proceeded to place butter, garlic and herbs under the skin of the bird while the rest was marinated with paprika, lemon zest and cayenne pepper. After a quick pan fry, the quarters were then left to bake in the oven alongside bacon bits, sprinkles of Parmesan cheese and onion.

The next steps were to make the salad dressing using mustard, cheese, anchovy and egg. The side dish was more bacon bits placed in dissolved sugar in a saucepan and a dash of apple cider vinegar. Although chef Giliomee admitted that The Star’s presentation needed some work, the media house won the cooking challenge and, thanks to the photographer, a self-professed gin enthusiast, also walked away with the top honour for the best drink. As with the meal itself, the secret weapon in the gin cocktail was a hint of spice.
If this meal was learnt in just a couple of hours, a full course or even part-time course from this facility and others like it can offer students and the hospitality sector great opportunities.

Capital Hotel School managing director Ronel Bezuidenhout explained that the reason why the tertiary education facility was able to expand over the years was because it had always been intent on teaching students additional skills. These could either be school leavers or even those who have been in the industry for several years but might not have the necessary qualifications.

“Hospitality is a big industry globally and greatly contributes to the GDP (gross domestic product). Opportunities are ample but we need people who are trained.”

She explained that while most of the students are young people who have just completed school, there was now an even greater demand for courses by those already employed.

“We realised there is a need in the industry for courses for people who have been working in the industry for years, either in the kitchen, reception or even housekeeping.

“They never had the opportunity to get a full qualification, and businesses couldn’t
afford to give their staff time off to go get a qualification.”

The school offers a course with parts of the curriculum done online while practicals and assessments are done with lecturers.

“The more research we did, we realised there is a way of doing this through blended learning, an online course but with face-to-face assessments.”

She said the face-to-face element was imperative in the hospitality industry, and while technology was important
for all businesses, the school prided itself on “real life” communication.

“In our industry you have to actually interact and speak to people,” said Bezuidenhout.

“The enterprise that gets the business is the one that pays attention to the guests.”

This too is true for full-time students, usually school leavers who complete some of the syllabus online too.

“We had to look at our fulltime programmes and see how much time we spend on ourfull-time course and actually spoon-feeding students when they can actually do some of the work themselves,” Bezuidenhout said. With the self-study completed, students can actually do more valuable learning in the classroom, which, again Bezuidenhout insists, requires face-to-face communication.

“We will use the human element because we feel it is very important.” She added there was such a need for hospitality skills that they recently opened a new campus, situated in Rustenburg, North West. “The launch was successful and we had so much interest. It was overwhelming and we didn’t realise how excited the industry was about this.”

Source: The Star
Article written by Karishma Dipa
karishma.dipa@inl.co.za