Damien kneads his way to food career

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Damien Stemmet, 17, of Plumstead High, won a bursary to the Silwood Cookery School through the Eat Out Awards. Picture: Candice Chaplin

Cape Town - Plumstead High School pupil Damien Stemmet, 17, is looking forward to “not having a life” for the next 10 years – after winning a culinary bursary at the Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards.

Damien won the TASTE Eat Out Culinary bursary to the Silwood School of Cookery, which accepts only 48 students every year.

Anxious to get started, Damien said this week he knew full well that the first 10 years of his career would be difficult.

“But after that I will start living.”

He’s so keen that he asked whether he could get his equipment sooner – one knife set alone costs about R4 000.

“I’m curious to see what it is I don’t know yet,” said Damien, adding that the bursary was a load off his shoulders.

“When I showed my mom my stationery list some months ago she said, ‘If you don’t get this bursary you’ll have to go to another school’. My parents are very relieved that they won’t have to worry about my tuition.”

Carianne Wilson, deputy principal at the Silwood School of Cookery, said she was positive Damien would do well in the industry.

“To succeed as a chef one has to love what one is doing. One puts one’s heart and soul on many plates every day, and kitchens are hot, busy and service time is brutal. If cooking is not your passion, working under those conditions is hell.

“If it is your passion, your career is not a job. It’s your life.”

Wilson said Damien was already addicted to the industry.

“His obvious commitment and enthusiasm for the reactions he gets when he satisfies appetites was heartwarming in his interview,” she said.

The bursary is awarded every year to someone who wants to become a chef, but does not have the resources.

Some of the criteria for winning the bursary are a passion for food and cooking, and an interest in improving South Africa’s culinary industry.

According to Eat Out magazine editor Abigail Donnelly, Damien fits the bill.

“Damien is so passionate, which is shown through his absolute commitment to working in the kitchen at Knead over weekends and during school holidays, starting work in the early hours to bake bread. What I loved about meeting him is that he just can’t stop talking about food.”

Having fallen in love with the smell of sugar and butter at the age of seven, while watching his aunt bake, Damien has always dreamed of becoming an executive chef with a pastry chef qualification.

“My aunt, who is a pastry chef, would be making bread and scones when I came back from school. I look up to her, she’s very down to earth and practical. She makes something out of nothing.

“My grandmother also used to bake for us when visiting, and she would show me a few tricks. She still teaches me how to do some things,” he said.

The matric pupil, who fills his weekends and holidays working in kitchens at Knead and Atlantic Imbizo, said he loved the pressure of cooking.

“My dream is to work in Italy and France. France is known for its pastries, and Italy for pastas. I love making breads and rolls, especially when I am at work. When I’m at home I cook for the family, and my sister keeps asking me when I’m going to make her a Barbie cake,” Damien said. - Cape Argus

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