A young man from Rocklands was named the most promising chef of the year at an inter-hotel competition held at the Taj Hotel in Cape Town recently.
Mathew Oliphant, 25, said it wasn’t easy but it was worth it.
The theme for the competition was cooking with mushrooms and Mathew created a mushroom starter and pork main course.
His executive chef, David Tilly, entered Mathew into the competition in March last year but the pandemic hit and it was put on hold until restrictions were relaxed enough for it to go ahead.
He received the award on Wednesday March 3.
Mathew attended Parkhurst Primary School in Westridge and then Rocklands High School. But, he said: “I wasn’t doing too well with my marks at school. I became despondent because of it. My mother, Ellen Oliphant and the teachers picked up on this. I didn’t want to go to school anymore and depression kicked in.”
In 2010, when he was 14, Mathew transferred to the Mitchell’s Plain School of Skills and when he had to choose his subjects, it was food studies that caught his attention, he said.
After finishing in 2013, he completed internships at the Cape Sun in Cape Town and the Waterfront, as well as the Taj Hotel between 2014 and 2016 and in November 2016 he was offered a permanent post at the Taj where he still works.
“Most of the hotels I applied to wanted my matric certificate. It was a struggle at first. I worked at the Taj Hotel for a week and I was made a permanent employee regardless of not having a matric certificate,” he said.
Ms Oliphant said Mathew loves to be in his own space and that he is himself when he is working with food.
“He is very interested in food and has a love for the kitchen. Mathew played soccer, softball and was part of the navy cadets and their catering team, this helped him to stay focused and positive.”
“I am very grateful for the day Mathew got enrolled in Mitchell’s Plain School of Skills.
“With all Mathew’s challenges at the mainstream school, we as parents did not give up on Mathew and his passion for cooking. As Mathew’s journey continued at school, I saw how Mathew grew in the hospitality industry,” she said.
Mathew lost his father Isak, at 13, she added.
Mr Tilly said Mathew was one of the most versatile and flexible chefs in his brigade as he has covered all sections in the kitchen. “He is a fast learner, quiet but focused chef. He is very talented and passionate about what he does,” he said.
Of the award, he added: “I think it is well-deserved as he has worked very hard, as he puts in extra time. It is very promising for his future and hopefully he can win chef of the year soon by continuing to work hard. We take pride in him winning this award,” he said.
Mathew remains strong and practices staying on the “straight and narrow” as his community has many social ills. “People think you cannot become someone because of the school I attended. I was made fun of when I was younger, but I did not allow it to get me down,” he said.
“Never give up on your dreams and keep moving forward. If you want to be a chef some day, prove to them that you are serious about what you do. If you work hard you will reap what you sow, the benefits will be 150% times better. If you can handle the heat in the kitchen, you can handle anything,” said Mathew.