Eighteen years ago, on this day, Late Chef Dr. Bill Gallagher created International Chefs Day to celebrate the noble profession and remind all chefs that it is their duty to pass on their knowledge and culinary skills to the next generation of chefs with a sense of pride and commitment to the future.
Chef Dr. Bill Gallagher was arguably a great chef with many lessons to teach – lessons that he would share without hesitation.
But what makes a great chef?
Some may say that to be a great chef you should have passion, stamina, leadership skills, creativity, flexibility, organisation, business sense, multitasking, commitment to quality and the ability to handle criticism. And whilst this is all true, Chef Chevonne Morris, Executive Chef at Park Inn by Radisson Cape Town Newlands, offers an additional perspective. She believes that kindness, compassion, empathy, patience and understanding are of equal importance.
Having begun her colourful culinary journey in 2004, at the tender age of 19 years old, Morris worked as a Trainee Chef at Protea President after completing a four month hospitality course at Selfhelp Manenberg. It was during this four month hospitality course that Morris learned the cooking basics from how to cut an onion to how to boil rice. It was only on her first day of work as a chef at Protea President that she learned how to fry an egg.
“Growing up in one of the most dangerous communities in the world, I found myself falling into a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol. I felt hopeless. Until one day when my mother picked me up, dusted me off and encouraged me to create a better life for myself, despite the cards I had been dealt.”
Morris does not hide from her past, but in fact believes that it’s important to remember where you come from in order to guide where you’re going. This she says drives self-belief.
Morris shares that what distinguishes her from others in the field is her compassionate approach to leadership. “I have a lot of compassion for my staff so it’s very hard to see someone struggle, especially students. I know all too well what it means to struggle as a human being. This was the case recently with one of my trainees who couldn’t pay for his final two exams. Knowing that we needed a cleaner, I proposed that he take up this position for the duration of his studies. Last week he thanked me from a hotel in Qatar for not only believing in him but for giving him the support required to succeed.”
When asked about the biggest mistake she’s made in her career, Morrison admitted, “My biggest mistake is when I brought negative energy into the kitchen following on from something that had taken place in my personal life. This turned the safe environment I’d been striving so hard to create into one where my staff felt like they had to walk on eggshells. Ever since that day, I’ve learned that being a leader in this field is about being humble and being able to admit when you are wrong”.
Morris admits that before becoming a chef, she wanted to become a graphic designer. This stemmed from her deep love for creating art. “At first I had been disappointed that I couldn’t pursue my passion of becoming a graphic designer, but time revealed that I could incorporate my love for art into my pastry work.” She concludes by urging all young aspiring chefs to believe in themselves because if you’re passionate and determined, no one can stop you.