The culinary bug first bit Craig Jacobs (28) when he was a young boy kneading bread alongside his grandmother in her kitchen in the Cape Town suburb of Blue Downs.
Growing up on the Cape Flats on the outskirts of the city made for a very turbulent journey toward realising his culinary dream.
Children in the neighbourhood would often tease him for sharing his dream of becoming a chef. “All I wanted to do was cook and bake, but it was seen as a lady’s job,” he remembers.
He silenced the neighbourhood haters and has since gone on to cook in award-winning kitchens and alongside Michelin-star chef, Jan-Hendrick van der Westhuizen.
“I wanted to make myself and my parents proud. I wanted them to see that the sacrifices they made for me did not go to waste or unnoticed.”
From Blue Downs to Michelin kitchen
Jacob began his exciting journey into cuisine at a local fishery in Blue Downs while he was still in matric.
He enrolled to the Zevenwacht Chef School and qualified as a chef in 2013. However, securing a permanent job after he graduated proved to be challenging.
“I needed a stable income and started baking and selling birthday and wedding cakes.”
He struggled to secure employment for a year until he got the opportunity to work at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa as a demi chef de partie. Jacobs’ journey took flight when he worked at Kloof Street House and did a brief stint at Open Door in Constantia as a senior chef de partie. In 2018 he worked as a senior chef de partie and junior pastry chef at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Cape Town.
2019 was a pivotal year when he came across a life changing post on award-wining chef Jan-Hendrick van der Westhuizen’s Instagram.
“To be honest, when I applied for the job, I didn’t know it would be for Tswalu or on a game reserve. I saw the post on chef Jan’s Instagram and thought I’d apply for the job. I had a feeling that I needed to take the next step in my career. Working for South Africa’s first Michelin star chef would definitely be the next big step in my career.”
Using blind faith, Jacobs applied for the job and started working at the Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in July as a pastry sous chef and chocolatier.
New beginnings open new paths
Moving away from his family to make a home in the Northern Cape’s Kalahari was difficult at first, but gratitude for the skills he learned at Tswalu in the last two years have made the journey worth it.
“I’ve always looked up to chef Jan and what he has done for the culinary arts in South Africa, so working for and with him was huge for me.”
“I had this dream when my career started off as a chef and by the grace of God I will achieve it.”
In a recent blog post on the Tswalu website, Jacobs was referred to as “Tswalu’s Chocolatier Extraordinaire”.
A humble Jacobs says he does not think of himself in these lofty terms, as he still has a lot to learn.
“I am still learning as I’m growing and want to be better than the previous day, but I am grateful that they think so highly of me,” he says.
Although he is well-known for his skills as a chocolatier, he says bread will always be what he loves to make the most.
Reflecting on some of the highlights of his career, Jacobs recalls being in his grandmother’s kitchen and telling her that his dream was to be a chef and work in France. Seventeen years later his dream would come true when he was afforded the opportunity to work in a Michelin star restaurant with Chef Jan in Nice, France.
Having achieved so many of his dreams by such a young age, Jacobs is still dreaming of a bright future.
“The goal has been and always will be to have my own patisserie and coffee shop where I can teach and employ people to create some of my favourite pastry items and chocolate bonbons. I had this dream when my career started off as a chef and by the grace of God I will achieve it.”
With Jacobs’ humble beginnings he encourages youngsters to learn as much as they can and to grow and push themselves daily to become better.
“Don’t let where you come from define you. Set daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals, and hold yourself accountable because hard work definitely pays off,” he says.