HOW LESDACHEF CHANGED HIS CAREER AND BECAME A CULINARY SENSATION


We talk to LesDaChef (Lesego Semenya) about changing his career path, cooking for Warren Buffett and taking the snobbery out of food.


YOU HAVE A BCOM DEGREE FROM WITS AND YOU WORKED AS A PROCESS ENGINEER FROM THE AGE OF 20 FOR SIX YEARS. WHAT FLIPPED THE SWITCH FOR YOU AND WHEN DID YOU REALISE CORPORATE LIFE WAS NOT YOUR DESTINY?
At the age of 20, your biggest goal in life is getting away from the nest and becoming your own person. At the time I started working I honestly didn't consider my goals and passions but instead went where I knew a paycheque was guaranteed. It was during those 6 years when I started to realise my passion didn't lie in working in the corporate world, but rather in being in a creative environment. My doctor at the time also diagnosed me with mild clinical depression and I knew I had to make a change. I love travelling and exploring and so I quit my job and travelled South Africa for about nine months. While I was travelling in Port Elizabeth, I decided to enrol at a chef school and work towards being a chef and having a business in the hospitality world.

DID YOU HAVE FOOD IN MIND WHEN YOU QUIT, OR AT WHAT POINT DID FOOD BECOME YOUR FOCUS?
I honestly didn't have food in mind. I knew I wanted to work in an environment that stimulated my creative side and would be different every day. I chatted with my friend, Refilwe, who was a magazine editor at the time, and we decided to both quit our corporate jobs and focus on building a business in the hospitality world. I didn't know how I'd do it but I knew to make a success of it I would need to first understand what the industry was all about. This was the main reason I went to chef school. Food and cooking, although I enjoyed it, wasn't truly my passion. My main goal was to build knowledge and understanding of the culinary world.



WHILE STUDYING AT PRUE LEITH’S CHEF’S ACADEMY YOU CREATED A PIE THAT WAS NAMED THE OFFICIAL PIE OF THE 2010 FIFA WORLD CUP BY THE BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION. YOU SAY IN YOUR BOOK THAT IT WAS BASED ON A KOTA (A QUARTER LOAF OF BREAD WITH TASTY FILLINGS) FROM SOWETO. WHAT WAS IN THAT PIE?
The pie was an ode to the original township kota I grew up eating. A typical kota has processed cheese, tomato sauce, mango achaar, processed meat and chips. I took those elements and twisted them around and made a sun-dried tomato sauce, French-style butter sautéed potatoes, mature cheddar, cubed sausage and chopped achaar. The flavours of a kota were in the pie but it had been turned into a fine dining creation.

YOUR PRIZEWINNING PIE GOT YOU A TRIP TO LONDON AND THE CHANCE TO WORK AT RICHARD CORRIGAN’S MICHELIN-STAR RESTAURANT. HOW LONG DID YOU WORK THERE?
It was a short stint at Corrigan's in Mayfair. I wasn’t really an employee, but rather to observe, gain experience and see what the restaurant was all about.

ONE OF YOUR GOALS IS TO TAKE THE SNOBBERY OUT OF FOOD. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST PRETENTIOUS ELEMENTS OF FINE DINING, THAT YOU’D ERADICATE IF YOU COULD?
The use of French terms on English menus – I find it unnecessary and pretentious. Most times it's done to give a simple food item some prestige. Chefs are trained in the classic French way and it's understandable why we would need to learn the terms, but to then pass on the same terms to customers in English speaking countries is silly. The goal should not be to alienate your clients but rather to make them feel at home. Another part of fine dining I find overly snobby is the obsession with wine lists and wine etiquette. Wine really isn't that complicated to understand and enjoy, but for some reason, the industry tries its best to make it an exclusive world.



AFTER DOING YOUR PRACTICAL CHEF TRAINING UNDER NICKY GIBBS AT WHAT’S NOW THE FOUR SEASONS WESTCLIFF, YOU WORKED AS A PRIVATE CHEF FOR A FAMILY IN IRENE, THEN FREELANCED FOR A WHILE AND COOKED FOR THE LIKES OF AMERICAN BILLIONAIRE WARREN BUFFET, MICROSOFT’S BILL GATES AND SINGER ALICIA KEYS. YOU ALSO WORKED FOR MORE THAN A YEAR AT RICHARD BRANSON’S ULUSABA LODGE IN SABI SANDS. WHO DID YOU MOST ENJOY WORKING WITH?
I always try to accommodate clients according to their needs. Although my mantra is about taking the snobbery out of food, if a client asks for snobbery I will do my best to meet those needs. Having said that, the most famous and affluent people actually prefer simple food. Richard Branson, for example, loves typically British cuisine – he likes roasts and gravy. The Buffetts are from the South in America and they loved food that reminded them of that area. In the morning it was always stacks of pancakes with maple syrup, and dinner times they preferred BBQs and hearty meals. Alicia Keys travelled with her own chef but her chef wouldn't cook, he would observe and tell us what to make!

The Buffets were definitely my favourite famous people to have cooked for, they were warm, welcoming and loved food!


YOU STARTED YOUR OWN BUSINESS, LESDACHEF CULINARY SOLUTIONS, IN 2015, AND YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA WIDELY TO EDUCATE PEOPLE ON THE FOOD THEY CONSUME AND HOW IT’S MADE. WHAT ARE THE TOP THREE CULINARY HABITS YOU WOULD CHANGE IF YOU COULD?
1. I would like to get people to read the labels of produce, to understand what each item means and how it’s made. There are still people who don't know butter and margarine are two different products!
2. Shopping habits. South Africans in urban areas seem to have come to accept the life of convenience stores and don't go to markets anymore. I would get people back to butchers and going to farmers’ markets to buy directly from suppliers. It's easier on the pocket and you get better produce.
3. Buying ingredients that they could easily make at home. Homemade jams, biltong, biscuits, rusks, fried chicken, etc. If you can make it at home then you have full control over what goes into it and there are fewer chemicals and processed additives. Home cooking also creates memories!


HAVING BEEN A JUDGE ON TOP CHEF SOUTH AFRICA IN 2016, WHAT WORDS OF WISDOM DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING YOUNG CHEFS?
Don't enter the culinary world purely because you think it's glamorous and because you think it will make you famous. The overwhelming reality of the food world is one of an industry that is hard, tough and emotionally taxing. Enter it with a goal in mind and a plan to reach that goal. Simply loving cooking isn't going to get you very far.


HOW LESDACHEF CHANGED HIS CAREER AND BECAME A CULINARY SENSATION HOW LESDACHEF CHANGED HIS CAREER AND BECAME A CULINARY SENSATION Reviewed by Jet Club on July 29, 2019 Rating: 5

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