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Covid-19: The plight of chefs under lockdown

Adjusting to life under lockdown, South African chefs say they are feeling the pinch

Lentswe Bhengu, like many chefs is feeling the pinch of the effects of the national lockdown.

Restaurants have been one of the hardest hit businesses affected by the fastspreading, faceless coronavirus. Chefs and other employees in the professional kitchen are experiencing great financial uncertainty as result of the global pandemic. 

Katlego Mlambo (30), head chef at the Marabi Jazz club in Johannesburg’s vibrant Maboneng Precinct, says the hospitality industry has taken a major knock under lockdown. “With no guests, that means restaurants have closed. I have already had four of my closest chef friends being retrenched, because obviously there is no money coming in, he adds.  

Chef Katlego Mlambo

Mlambo is one of many chefs who have taken to social media to raise awareness about the plight of professional chefs in the industry. Chefs, including Mlambo, are posting pictures of themselves dressed in their chefing uniform with no caption or description. This is to send a message reminding people “that they are still here and have been affected by the national lockdown like many other South Africans, Mlambo says. 

Many South Africans are currently faced with the uncertainty of whether they will have jobs once the 35-day lockdown comes to an end. “In hospitality we rely solely on our customers. We (chefs) are just literally trying to flood social media with all these pictures of chefs saying, listen we are still here, and we are staying positive as best as we can, but we are struggling,” says Mlambo. 

Sibu Nyembea private chef and caterer in Johannesburg, runs a catering business with his family in Soweto. The restrictions have forced Nyembe to close shop.

Sibu Nyembe

“The industry is suffering right now, so we’re just trying to put it out there that we as the industry are behind everyone. We know that a lot of hospitality staff will be affected. Some may lose their jobs. Some may struggle financially and won’t be able to be, basically, feeding their families.” 

Mlambo’s sous chef at the Marabi Jazz Club is Lentswe Bhengu. Bhengu has been working as a professional chef for 10-years. “These are unprecedented times,” he says. His family in KwaZulu Natal is dependent on his income.  

“It affects us 100% in a sense where we work in restaurants and we serve food. Most of us don’t have outlets where we can tap into serving delivery food,” he says. Not only has the uncertainty affected his pocket, but it also has affected his overall well-being. Chefs are the purveyors of good meals and thrive on feeding their patrons, he says. 

“It’s literally a lockdown on our industry, it’s a lockdown on our pockets. There is no clarity of whether our employers will be able to pay us at the end of this month. It’s a sad one because if we don’t work, we can’t feed people. As chefs we revel in feeding and nourishing people with food, Bhengu adds. 

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