Sandy Woods taps into delicious creativity at our much-loved 1000 Hills Chef School and discovers that this school is about more than just food – offering students a home away from home and uplifting unemployed youth through a wonderful learnership program
pictures heidi christie
We always say that we don’t have classrooms, we have kitchens,” says owner Desiree Maarschalk. “This appeals to our students – they want to be chefs and they want to cook.” Chef Julia Child famously said, “No one is born a great chef, one learns by doing.” In keeping with this principle, the course content at the 1000 Hills Chef School is 80 percent practical.
The school sits on a slope in Botha’s Hill, overlooking the beautiful rolling hills it’s named after. Now in the capable and nurturing hands of Desiree and Trevor Maarschalk, it has been a well-loved institution of the Upper Highway community since its inception in 2004. The sprawling campus accommodates 38 full time and 45 part time students who are trained in seven superbly equipped industrial kitchens. The Yes Chef Deli, run by the students as part of the practical component of their second year, is open to the public on a weekly basis and well worth a visit. Here the trainee chefs are given the opportunity to put their knowledge to the test when creating the menu, preparing meals and waiting tables.
Leandre Bond, a 19-year-old student, relishes the hands-on approach of the school.
“You learn by doing and not by watching. You also get to learn from your mistakes in order to improve your skills. Practice makes perfect,” she smiles. Her love of food and entertaining brought her to the school. “I feel that food is the only art form or medium that impacts all the senses. You can really connect with people through food,” she says.
The 38 full-time students complete a 2-year program accredited by City and Guilds of London, while the third and final year of study is an industry internship. Additionally, the 1000 Hills Chef School is an Accredited Training Provider for the National Youth Chef Training Program. The learnership program, which is funded by the National Department of Tourism, places unemployed youth in culinary schools around the country. They are trained once a week in the Chef School kitchens and placed in restaurants and hotels for practical industry work for the remaining four days.
When asked about the NYCT Program, Trevor says, “This is very good use of taxpayers’ money. It really is working. We are educating people who will be employable and able to feed their families and start their own businesses.” Desiree adds, “This is such a brilliant program. It is genuinely uplifting people.”
Ms Elizabeth Thabethe, Deputy Minister of Tourism, visited in February. She spoke to the students, warmly reminding them that they are fortunate to be part of the 800 students chosen from 30 000 applicants nationally. She encouraged them to embrace this opportunity, saying “Your future is in your hands.”
Award-winning chef Jade Benians, principal of the 1000 Hills Chef School, believes that French cuisine is the strongest foundation for the modern-day chef. “We teach a foundation in classic French cuisine because it gives our students knowledge of cooking methods. Once you have grasped the concept of methods, time, temperature and flavour, you can explore international cuisine,” she says. Trevor agrees; “Nothing is bought in a bag. Our students are taught how to make everything from scratch.”
Chef Jade wears a tall white toque (chef’s hat) as she stands in the hot kitchen, surrounded by stainless steel bowls filled with colourful vegetables and students in double-breasted white jackets and trousers. She explains that the 100 vertical folds on a senior chef’s hat represent the 100 ways that the chef is able to prepare eggs. The chef’s cuillère de dégustation, or personal tasting spoon, is kept in a narrow pocket on the shoulder. “Tasting spoons are a part of the chef’s uniform because it is crucial to taste everything before you serve it to your customer,” she says.
Trevor says that what makes the 1000 Hills Chef School unique is threefold. Firstly, it’s the practical experience they offer students in the restaurant, brewery and catered off-campus functions. Secondly, the on-campus accommodation, which allows the Chef School family a full student life, is a rare culinary school offering. The owners actively encourage a warm home away from home environment, as many students are from remote parts of the country and continent. Lastly, but most importantly, the Maarschalks are proud of the school’s high standards.
When speaking about how much creativity is technically possible when following a recipe in the kitchen, Trevor says: “As every artist knows, you mix red and yellow paint to make orange – but so many shades of orange are possible with red and yellow paint. We teach you the fundamentals, but it’s up to you how you put it together. Your plate is your canvas.”
It is no great surprise that this small school, with its hot kitchens and warm-hearted students, has a special place in our community.
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Yes Chef Deli opening hours: Fri, Sat and Sun 8.30am – 4pmTags: 1 000 Hills Chef School