One way of judging someone’s cooking skills is by their ability to fry, scramble or boil an egg. No one knows this pressure better than 26-year-old self-taught chef Vusumuzi Ndlovu, whose culinary skills were put to the test each time he had to make an egg.
Ndlovu has come a long way in the demanding hospitality industry, and is now vying for the title of best young chef in the world.
Ndlovo will be jetting off to Milan, Italy, next month, where he will be among 21 chefs competing in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 competition, regarded as the most exciting global talent search in the world.
Each chef has to submit a signature dish that they will make on stage before a panel of judges.
The contestants will be judged on their ingredients, skills, genius, beauty and message of their dishes.
The competition will run from May11 to 13, and the finale will be the highlight of the seven-day Milan Food Week.
Born in Zimbabwe and raised in Pretoria, Ndlovu is the only African contestant.
Having entered and made it to third place in the semi-final in 2015, Ndlovu hopes to walk away with the title this time.
As the head chef at Joburg’s Marabi Jazz Club, Ndlovu’s culinary career started straight out of school while undecided about his future.
“I was 18, sitting at home bored, and I didn’t want to do engineering, so I went to the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria, where I did their in-house training for one year, and I just took it from there,” he says.
“I took any opportunity that I thought was worth my while.”
Ndlovu says his passion for cooking grew when he was working at the hotel’s egg station, and one of his biggest challenges was making the perfect egg.
With no formal training, Ndlovu says he pushed himself until he saw an improvement.
“I started doing the egg station, but when I started I didn’t know why I wasn’t getting it right - it’s just eggs,” he laughs.
“Then I tried until I could do it as best I could, and that’s where (the passion) came from.
“I realised that if you really apply yourself, you will see an improvement within your ability immediately.
“Since then I have tried to steadily improve and get into other positions just to push myself further,” he says.
Ndlovu has since honed his skills and worked in various kitchens with some of South Africa’s top chefs, including Pot Luck’s pop-up restaurant in Joburg with Luke Dale Roberts, the Saxon with David Higgs and the Greenhouse restaurant with Peter Templehoff.
Ndlovu says he owes everything he knows to his mentors, who gave him a chance.
He now plans to wow the judges at the competition with a dish that’s more authentic than his last attempt.
“In 2015 I came third in the regional finals, and I thought that’s lame,” he says.
“I attempted to do something fancy that I thought people would like. It was a nice dish, but it wasn’t authentically me.
“This time I went back to the drawing board and I am going for something that’s more honest.”
While he is happy to have made it to this stage of the competition, Ndlovu says he’s going for the winner’s podium.
“This is my second time and I am nervous about the competition, but I am looking forward to getting it done.”