By: Sandy Nene
You’ve seen him hosting your favourite cooking shows on TV, he’s collaborated with big brands like The Good Food & Wine Show, Essence Festival and Black Streak Kitchen in the U.S. His name is Sherwyn Weaich and he loves being in the kitchen. I got to speak to this celebrity chef about his love for his career and journey as a professional cook.
Why did you decide to become a chef? Well, interestingly enough, I attended The University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and studied my Bachelor of Laws, LLB, whilst studying, I cooked but I started cooking a long time before that…. well according to my grandmother and great grandfather both chefs and bakers I was 5 years old when I demanded my own pots and pans for the only purpose of cooking alongside them with “real” potatoes and “real” ingredients. I would say cooking and being a chef chose me, and in saying this I can’t help but smile, me being in the kitchen is generational, some people have doctors and lawyers, we have a generational line of passionate people, we have chefs.
What credentials did you earn through your culinary studies? Now you know I’ve studied law and contract law is very tricky so this is my answer, it doesn’t matter where I studied, or if I studied, but as long as you do what you do with passion. It’s with that same passion that I will be hosting a cooking class with prospective students at Africa’s leading Culinary Academy, the International Hotel School on the 26th of January. As for my credentials, I’ve worked around the world, travelled all of Southern Africa and cooked for The Royal Family of Spain, The Swiss and French Ambassadors to South Africa, hosted the Presidential Suite at The 2010 FIFA World Cup, but most notably, I’ve opened up my own restaurant, published two Cook Books here in South Africa and the USA, Been named the Face of Food for the International Essence Festival in Durban for two consecutive years and performed on stage at The Good Food and Wine Show.
Are you a team player? Describe your usual role in a team-centered work environment? Do you easily assume a leadership role? It takes a team to create something memorable, I’m all about creating an experience and not just a dish or plate of food. Team work is essential and it’s something that I motivate my staff to do, whether it’s in the kitchen or on-site. My staff know that I encourage learning and questions because each day I learn something new but they also know, some people have bark, some people have bite, I have BOTH! So no matter what the job will always get done, meet my standards or exceed them because mediocrity will not be tolerated. I take charge, grab the bull by the horns, set a goal and we reach it!!!
Tell us about a difficult situation and how you handled it? Mmmmh a difficult situation?! I was cooking for 400 people at the launch of the Kunene Foundation two years ago when they opened up their Bed and Breakfast in Morningside. I had prepared a pavlova, Ma Kunene’s favourite and all I had to do was assemble it just before we had to serve. Everything went well, starters, appetizers, mains, BUT when I went to check on the dessert Durban’s humidity had destroyed it. I panicked, I but I knew no matter what, I needed to get that dessert out. I grabbed a stainless-steel bowl, my whisk and luckily enough I had extra egg whites and a gas-top braai. Yes, I made a pavlova in a braai. The trick is, failure to plan is a plan to fail. Always prepare for the worst and you will never be left in disappointment.
What do you think is the most challenging ingredient to work with? I’m asked this question quite a bit and my answer remains the same, there is no such thing as a challenging ingredient. If you know your basic all you have to do is, “ACCESS ADAPT APPLY.” If people were not challenged, or stopped innovating we would still be catching our own fish and herding our own cattle, not that it is a bad thing, after all farm to table is one of the most consistent and prevalent food trend not just in South African Cuisine but in International markets aswel.
What do you like to eat when you’re at home? Now with working all day in the kitchen, what do I like to eat at home? It’s got to be my mother’s food. Yes, my mother stays with me because every child should aim to give his mother a home and tell her, “Don’t worry mom, I got this!” By far, it has to be my mom’s mac and cheese, because after all I am a mommy’s boy.
What are your favorite foods to cook with? I love local fresh ingredients, I live by the mantra, “Farm to table.” The fresher the better and with my cooking style I love truly African and Asian Ingredients. Combining the two cuisines together will keep you wanting more and both cuisines are so diverse the possibilities are endless.
Are there any foods you just don’t like? There are simply no foods I don’t like, I’ve tried a lot of foods, from zebra, wildebeest and crocodile but there is nothing I wouldn’t try once. What I don’t and possibly hate is, food waste. Don’t take great ingredients and turn out an average meal, maximize your flavour and make each meal prepared by your hands and every ingredient that passes through your kitchen, something memorable for you and the people sitting at your table.
Where is your favorite place in the world? It has to be Durban, I’m a son of Durban, a product of this beautiful city and all it has to offer. Nowhere else in the world has African Cuisine exploded with spices and flavour. I think that’s why they named me the Face of Food for the City of Durban and I’ve had the opportunity to represent my city in New Orleans and in Kenya in 2017.
What is going to be the next big thing in the food world? With people becoming more aware about what’s going into their bodies we are going to see a lot more vegetables and natural grains. Think Oat Bowls and Healthy alternatives. However, it’s important to shop and use what you have wisely, with droughts in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal we are going to see a rise in food prices and minimal produce on our shelves. Don’t waste, shop smart and eat smart.
What do you love most about your job? Now it goes without saying that I am chef, however I work on Television and do live shows across South Africa and around the world, I am able to help and motivate others around me, getting them excited about food. If we inspire others to follow their dreams, we would have a nation of not just dreamers but believers and do’ers. I love seeing people in awe and realise as I prepare a meal how easy it is, as it dawns on them and they slowly say “Hey, I can do that too!” Besides if you fail at something, you know what not to do the next time.
What do you do for fun? Picture this, a cool summers evening, music playing in the background with the sizzle of meat in the background as a steak or slices of brisket hit the fire, ice cold beers in the cooler box and being surrounded by friends and family. As much as I get to see amazing places, nothing can compare to spending time with my family and enjoying each other’s company. We fight, we scream, but no matter what, we have each other.
Is there a chef you admire the most? Who and why? There is actually no chef I admire most. I am a product of hard work, dedication, we all have dreams, be your own admiration. Don’t look to others and see what they have, look to others and say, I want to be better.” Be your own admiration.