Chef Tharwat Londt (35) is no stranger to the professional kitchen, having started his career in food at age 19. Since then he says there has never been a dull moment in his 16-year journey.
Newly appointed as executive chef at the Park Inn by Radisson Newlands in Cape Town, Londt says there are many twists and turns, bumps and hiccups in the professional kitchen space. However, the end results of completing a successful service are always rewarding.
His desire to become a chef was seeded at a young age by his mother, Maymona Groenewaldt. “My mother was a great cook and I grew up watching her in the kitchen. It always seemed like a natural place for me to end up,” says Londt.
Another inspiration for his cooking is his Italian-born mother-in-law, Simonetta Totaro.
“She cooks because she cooks out of love. And you can always taste the love in the food. We would have these big suppers with my wife, her sister, our kids and Simonetta. What inspires me about food is its ability to bring people together.”
Londt always had aspirations of becoming a chef and first started his journey in the professional kitchen as a waiter after completing matric in 2003. Due to a lack of finances Londt saw his dreams come to a halt, and he was unable to pursue his studies at a culinary school of his choice.
But one fateful day an opportunity arose. A mysterious diner – who turned out to be chef Peter Ahern – walked into the restaurant where Londt worked.
“I met the man who trained me at the restaurant where I was waiting tables right after high school. He was a customer and he sat down in the restaurant. He asked what was good to eat and I said, ‘Why don’t you take this carpaccio and put it on top of that pizza’. And he liked that.”
“Two months later I was training in his restaurant!” Londt rejoices.
Ahern, a professional chef, offered Londt the opportunity of a lifetime, to be his mentee at a chef school he was opening. In 2004 Londt enrolled in the mentorship programme in the culinary arts at the former The Mount restaurant at the Hoogelegen vineyard in Durbanville.
Under the mentorship of chef Ahern, Londt went on to obtain his City & Guilds advanced diploma in professional cookery.
“He trained me and didn’t ask for anything in return. He gave me my first set of knives; he gave me my qualifications.”
Londt believes that their encounter was written in the cosmos.
He later found out that during this time his mother had visited a doctor, who turned out to also have Ahern as a patient.
She shared her worries about not being able to afford to send her son to culinary school, and the physician mentioned his other patient who was starting a chef school and restaurant in Durbanville.
“A few weeks later my mother bumped into this man at a local vegetable market. They had a conversation and she told him that she had a son who was interested in becoming a chef,” Londt remembers.
When Ahern asked Londt’s mom where he worked it became clear that they had actually met already. “This was such a funny turn of events; it was almost as if we were meant to meet,” Londt laughs.
After completing his training with chef Ahern in 2008, Londt rose up the culinary ladder over time and worked in five-star establishments like the Cape Grace Hotel and Singita, a game lodge in Zimbabwe. He has even worked in catering and owned a catering business. He has travelled throughout Europe and also worked as a private chef on yachts in Germany and Spain.
“It broadens your scope. The more you do, the more you can do, there is not much I haven’t done with cooking,” Londt says.
Being a full-time chef, father and husband can get tricky, he adds. “The most challenging part of being a chef is definitely the hours. (They) do tend to take a toll on you.”
Londt admits that he rarely cooks at home. His days off are dedicated to his daughter Ophelia (3) and son Rafael (1). His home garage also boasts another baby – his old classic car – a 1982 Mercedes Benz w123.
“It’s the same age as my wife,” he bursts out in laughter. “I love working on my car, either cleaning it or tinkering with the motor.”
His advice to future chefs and home cooks? “Always seal meat to lock in those flavours,” he laughs.
On a more serious note, he sternly adds that youth looking to break into the industry should “put in as much effort as you can now. Learn as much as you can now, make as many mistakes as you can possibly make and soak up everything you possibly can from errors.”