Lebogang Gontsana and Noluthando Masimini

Join Port Elizabeth and MyPE in congratulating Mover and Shakers, Lebogang Gontsana and Noluthando Masimini from Wilderness Foundation:

Hospitality students from the Umzi Wethu hospitality academy have been given the chance to be mentored by Michelin Star chef, John Hodder from Ginger restaurant, and Mario Paul from the Beach Hotel’s Crest Restaurant. This is through a relationship that Umzi Wethu has developed with the PE Hotel group.

The Umzi Wethu model is one of the Wilderness Foundation’s benchmark social intervention projects and is aimed at empowering vulnerable youth through work skills and lifeskills training in either the hospitality or conservation industry.

“We have been looking for ways to help improve our students’ experiences throughout their year of training at the academy,” says Wilderness Foundation’s director of social programmes, Pinky Kondlo. “When we started chatting to Chantell van Baalen from the PE Hotel Group, she offered to allow one student per week to shadow the chef in either the Crest or Ginger kitchen. We are extremely excited to see how this experience will inspire and grow the students.”

Each student from the academy will receive two weeks of on-the-job training in the world-class restaurant kitchens under the mentorship of top chefs. “They will be exposed to a wide range of hospitality practices which they wouldn’t normally experience in our on-site Umzi Wethu coffee shop,” says Kondlo. “Our first two students have already completed their two weeks of training and have come back with a much greater understanding of the opportunities available in the hospitality industry. They have been inspired by what they have seen, and what they can achieve if they work hard.”

Although the presence of inexperienced students in a busy kitchen might be frustrating to some chefs, Michelin Star chef, John Hodder has taken the youngsters under his wing. “I’m not territorial about my kitchen,” says Hodder. “I believe that you need to share what you love. Over the course of the year, I hope to instil a strong sense of taking responsibility for what you bring to the table. It is up to each individual to take the skills that they’ve learned and develop their own style and character in the kitchen. I believe in training and building the skills of all of my staff and I have been very happy to see that during quiet times, my staff have voluntarily shared their knowledge with the students.”

“It has been an absolute pleasure hosting the students. We have tried to incorporate as much of our day to day operations of the kitchen into their time spent with us as possible. We have also encouraged them to take pride in their work, to be enthusiastic and have a desire to make every guest engagement a positive one,” says Ginger restaurant general manager, Tracey Rivington.

Lebogang Gontsana started his Umzi Wethu training in July 2012 and was one of the first students to take part in the work-shadow experience. “When I told my friends that I wanted to work in the hospitality industry, they laughed and said cooking is women’s work! But I am friends with one of the previous Umzi Wethu graduates and he encouraged me to follow my dream. While in the kitchens at Crest and Ginger, I have learned about things like professionalism in the kitchen and being able to tolerate a pressurised work environment – especially during busy times! I have gained a lot of knowledge about different types of food and meals. The most interesting thing to me so far was learning how to make stock. I never knew that it took so long! John Hodder taught us how to love what we are doing and that our passion will help give us strength through any ups and downs.”

Noluthando Masimini is hoping that her year at Umzi Wethu will help her put her past behind, and build a future in the hospitality industry. “I have learned that if you want to make something happen, work hard. My favourite experience at Ginger Restaurant so far has been learning how to make ice-cream! I also learned how to make fish soup and different types of sauces.”

“At The Port Elizabeth Hotel Group we believe that the only source of knowledge is experience, and by giving these individuals practical experience in our Hotels, we give them the tools they will need to escape from their circumstances and make their dreams become reality,” says Chantell van Baalen, PA to group operations manager at the PE Hotel Group.

“We are extremely grateful to the chefs and the management of the PE Hotel Group for their generosity in donating their time and experience. Our students will definitely benefit from their time in these world-class kitchens,” says Kondlo.

Submitted by: Claire Warneke on behalf of Wilderness Foundation.

Noluthando Masimini

Noluthando Masimini preparing the ingredients for the Fish Soup. She is guided by Michelin Star chef, John Hodder

Lebogang Gontsana

Lebogang Gontsana doing prep for the lunch time service at Port Elizabeth’s Beach Hotel. He is observed by deputy general manager of the Beach Hotel, Mark Stevens.

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