Young graduate’s skills secure contract at major hotel
Port Elizabeth-trained Wandile Mabija, who graduated from the Capsicum Culinary Studio in June, is now working in the United States as part of a team of 80 chefs at the largest hotel in Texas.
After his graduation, the ambitious Mhatha-born chef applied at the OVC travel agency, which led to his contract position as one of 80 cooks on rotation at the Fairmont Austin Hotel in Austin, Texas.
The 37-storey Fairmont is the largest and second-tallest hotel in the Lone Star state, with more than 1 000 guest rooms and suites.
“The agency had many options for me to select from and Texas was one of them. [However], I had to go through an interview [process] to get the job,” Mabija, 24, said.
“It was tough to leave my family behind. I have two siblings – Thando and Siphesihle – who live in Mthatha and are studying in Port Elizabeth – as well as my dad Mxolisi and my mother Lindelwa.
“But it was an opportunity too good to pass up.
“My mother was so excited she couldn’t believe it. She always wanted the best for me and her prayers were answered. Cooking has always been my first passion. It was something I really loved and wanted to be involved with in some way.”
Mabija’s career in food started when he attended an open day at the Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Port Elizabeth campus.
“My mother really pushed me and supported me to follow my culinary calling.
“I decided to go to one of the open days at the Capsicum Port Elizabeth campus and I fell in love with the school. That’s where my journey began.”
Mabija said growing up in a small town like Mthatha had fed his curiosity to know more, and the Fairmont posting was more than just a work experience – it was also a chance for him to travel outside the country for the first time.
Making the adjustment had not been without difficulty, he said.
“Being here for me was a total shock at first [with] everything being new to me – the food, the time zone, the culture even the left- hand driving.
“It has really been an amazing experience.”
Mabija said his creativity helped him a lot in the kitchen.
“I am able to always think outside the box and the menus we have allow me to show [my] creativity.
“I won’t lie and say it has been an easy journey – it still is not – but with patience and a hunger for what you want, anything is possible.”
He will be working at the Fairmont Hotel until October on his contract and then hopes to travel the world and experience various cultures and cuisines.
“I am ready for anything,” the young chef said.
“Since [I am] in love with pasta dishes and Italian cuisine, Italy is on the top of my travel list.
“As a chef you need to travel and learn.”
His ultimate goal is to return home and open his own restaurant in his hometown.
“Five years from now I want to have travelled to as many countries as possible and have learnt as much as I can and as much as I need to, to help me reach my dream of owning my own restaurant,” he said.
“I also want to one day be able to give back to needy people.
“Not just normal food, but food that can change their lives.”