I sit sometimes and sip my gin and tonic whilst fighting with my dogs to stop chewing on my gazebo curtains and behave like civilized human beings for a change and I mutter to myself and the universe, “dear Semenya ancestors, I’m ready for the glamour to this life to begin”. I got recognized at the supermarket the other day and the person proceeded to eye my trolley to see what I had bought. For some reason it’s believed that a chef must shop differently to the normal person. Argh. The cashiers at the local Pick ‘n Pay keep asking me for cake and the lady at the bottle store wants to introduce me to her daughter “cos she can’t cook, so you’ll be a perfect match”.
Whilst taking another sip of my drink and yelling something at my dogs again I giggle at the current trend in the South African culinary scene for people who like food to suddenly be exalted as food experts and given food shows on tv and guest slots on lifestyle shows. It’s finally happened, the culinary world is getting the recognition it’s been craving for so long in this country…and just like every other industry that has limelight attached to it, suddenly people who have no right being in the industry are catching on and trying to make hay whilst the sun shines on food. It happened in the fashion world a few years ago, it’s happened in the DJ world and music production industry, it happens in acting and the tv series environment and it also happens in the world of radio as well. As soon as something seems to be gaining popularity suddenly it begins to draw chancers as well. I simply giggle as watch. I actually hold no grudges against people who attempt to enter the world of food, the more people attempt to make it, the more it will begin to show just how difficult an industry it is. Even fully qualified chefs with diploma’s quit the industry after just 12 months after graduating from culinary school.
When people meet me the usual reaction is to tell me that I am nothing like the Top Chef SA judge people saw me as last year. My response is always “I am human”, what tv tends to do is show only one side of your personality, also people forget that tv shows are heavily edited to project a certain look and feel. So when people meet me and hear me ranting and raving like the mild lunatic that I am it usually catches them off guard. I think it’s also something I may have had a hand in creating as well by linking my brand to my name, people blur the lines between what I make for a living and what I tweet and write about. I was very deliberate about my brand being linked to my name from the start in order to show people that a chef is actually human as well. Chefs from Europe and America have mastered this approach and its been a fascinating journey attempting to do the same here at home via my own image. It’s also why I find it fascinating seeing people from other industries suddenly try and call themselves “self made chefs”.
I hate the “celeb chef” tag, I’ve been told I need to embrace it. I’ll never. I’ll happily accept the celeb chef money that overseas chefs get though! There really aren’t any perks to being a well known person in the culinary world in South Africa. Brands are still not sure as to how they can utilise your name and image, publishing houses don’t even see it as enough reason to publish your cookery book, tv presenters at food shows get more to MC the event than you will as a chef there to share your expertise and professional opinion. Last year I was even approached by one food exhibition to be one of their headline chefs and they offered me tickets as compensation! Not even a hotdog or cup of coffee at least. I kid you not.
So this year I decided to push back against it all. When corporate companies and brands send me free gifts thinking I will tweet about them for free, I don’t. When I’m invited to talk at events and functions I send my rate card first. I’ve pulled back from radio shows that aren’t compensating my time as well. It’s more for my own sanity than anything else. To balance running a business whilst also being asked to be a media person is tiring as hell, it needs to make sense. The only gigs I accept for free are township-upliftment projects and chats to young chefs and culinary students. Pulling back has also given me an opportunity to sit back and observe things from a distance whilst working on my cook book, product development and next business ventures. Things I neglected in 2016.
2017 has been good to the LesDaChef company so far. There are so many awesome things going on in the background that will soon be revealed in due time. The new logo is designed this way for a reason (watch this space). The new blog is getting more traction and views and we’re shifting into a new gear as a brand. I’ll be trying out new, more interactive ways to share information and there’s the possibility of a few tv shows as well. Seriously can’t wait for it all to come together soon. When I eventually find the glamorous side to all this I’ll throw a huge party for us with deboned chicken feet for starters. In the meantime I’m going to sip this gin and tonic and watch as people with no food background try make it in this insane industry.