For many people work is a something you do to earn money, but for chefs work is their passion, believes Cape Town chef Luke Valentine. He took the leap, worked hard and today he shares his passion for food with anyone who sits at his table.
Valentine’s dream to become a chef first took shape as a teen growing up in the Cape Town suburb of Athlone.
“My passion for food came from home, peeling onion here and there in the kitchen where I would help Mom prepare dinner,” he says. “Mom and Dad both had a vital role to play in my love for food. In high school I would often experiment with different dishes.”
His five siblings often enjoyed his food. “I am one of six, five boys and one girl. We were never bored because we always had each other. Growing up, everything in my life was about sharing, and budget orientated.”
Being a chef comes with great responsibility and though it’s a role full of benefits and job satisfaction, it’s a job that is very different from simply working as a cook. Valentine began his training in 2013 at the International Hotel School in Cape Town. Thereafter he worked at the Capetonian Hotel in 2016. Today he has accumulated nine years of experience with the Radisson Group.
He credits his journey to his passion for learning. “Every day is a new day to learn something. I learned throughout my career, you shouldn’t limit yourself.”
Food For Mzansi speaks to Valentine about his love and passion for food.
Noluthando Ngcakani: Luke, what pushed you into food?
Luke Valentine: I never ever thought I would end up a chef, it was just something I took interest in as a hobby. My dream job was actually to become a pastor, my faith sort of pushed me to food.
I started getting into food because I always felt at home in the kitchen. At church we used to have youth groups and we would always experiment with our snacks. I fell in love with food in those moments.
Do you have foodies in your family that you looked up to as a child?
I come from a family who loves food and they all had their own unique way of cooking, but they all focus on family style food that brings family together.
But if I had to pick, I would say Reuben Riffel and Zola Nene. They have left big shoes for us as young chefs to fill. They have made their mark in this industry.
Where do you draw inspiration in terms of your cooking?
The people who are sitting at my table are my greatest inspiration. My inspiration for the food I cook comes from many influences in my life, such as a stranger that comes in your path. I am a people’s person and love to always go in-depth on their traditions and flavours.
What are the challenges of young black chefs in the professional kitchen?
When people think of chefs, they imagine TV chefs and think that it is an easy career path to follow. Becoming a chef is not just about cooking, there is a lot of admin involved in the kitchen.
When you are young and black or coloured, people tend to struggle to believe that you are capable. They look at you and they don’t see potential in you.
When I came into this industry I was very sensitive to the criticism. I would break down whenever I received any bad feedback. My mentors have helped to become stronger, confident and more independent. I can now stand my ground and have a bit of a thick skin now.
What have been some of the major moments in your career?
This industry opened many doors for me with the most excellent mentors in my life. I have been given opportunities to run teams wherever I worked, and being a young person who was the senior person on shift. The support I received from my team members and management pushed me to do better for myself and others. I love people and always take interest in their lives and learn more about their food styles.
What is the most important lessons you’ve learned thus far in your journey?
Never get too relaxed. You need hard work and dedication because there is always something to learn. Sharing your knowledge with others is rewarding at the end of the day.
Do you have any tips for aspiring chefs and home cooks?
What you cook for others says a lot about you, let your food speak for you. Do it with love.
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