Bergzicht Training and Development graduates share stories of how their lives have changed thanks to the internationally recognised City & Guilds’ Professional Cooking and Food and Beverage Service Programme

“I know my father would have been as excited as I am today and I know that he is smiling down at me. It was my father who encouraged me to leave my job and to follow my dream to become a chef.”

These were the words of one of the 12 Bergzicht Training and Development students to complete the NGO’s City & Guilds’ Professional Cooking and Food and Beverage Service Programme and graduate with the internationally recognised City & Guilds’ Professional Cooking and Food and Beverage Service Awards. The Private Hotel School (PHS), based in Vlottenburg, trains students in these specialised areas in conjunction with Bergzicht Training and Development. As part of the programme, students are trained in the City & Guilds’ Skills Proficiency Awards in Basic Food Preparation, and Food and Beverage Service. Bergzicht Training and Development is an NGO that helps poor, unskilled and semi-skilled as well as unemployed persons in the Western Cape to improve their lives by equipping them with practical skills through skills develpment programmes in self-empowerment, Educare, Health and Frail Care, and Professional Cooking.

Above and beyond the theory and practical training that the programme encompasses, the PHS also makes a point of educating the students about personal hygiene and food safety, and basic nutrition as well as assist Bergzicht Training and Development with placing students in the industry through a work-integrated learning opportunity of three weeks.

“We offer these students more than just the programme and proficiency awards certificates, but equip them with knowledge that will help them to easily adjust to working in the hospitality industry once they find a job. In addition, while they are studying here, we try to match our students to the establishments that are best suited to their personalities and which they can best serve,” said Ms Susina Jooste, the Director of the PHS.

For Delicia Jansen from Eerste River, her graduation was a bitter sweet moment. After completing matric and with no prospect of becoming a chef, Jansen worked at a laundromat. However, thanks to her late father’s emotional support, she found the courage to leave her job and pursue her dream to study at Bergzicht Training and Development.

“On 13 March this year, while I was still completing the programme, my father suddenly passed away.  I was ready to give up, but thanks to chef Charné Delport at The Private Hotel School and Monica from Bergzicht Training and Development, I managed to finish it. They encouraged me not to give up with a lot of words of support,” said Jansen as tears welled up in her eyes.

This qualification, she said, will now open doors for her to become a chef one day. “My dream came true thanks to Bergzicht Training and Development.”

These same sentiments are echoed by fellow graduate Lee-Maine Dowdall from Malibu Village in Eerste River. After completing matric in 2013, Dowdall worked at Shoprite and later Game, but longed to work in the hospitality industry. In 2015, after being unemployed for two months, her aunt encouraged her to go to Bergzicht Training and Development where she ended up completing a Life Skills course, the iPOWER (Self-Empowering) Foundation Programme and the City & Guilds’ Professional Cooking Programme.

“When I started at The Private Hotel School, we learned how to make basic dough. Every time I had made dough in the past, it had never turned out okay, because I did not know how to knead it properly so I was a bit worried about what would happen on that day. But my dough actually rose nicely. That same evening I made more dough at home because I was convinced that it had something to do with me making the dough in the School’s kitchen,” laughed Dowdall as she recounted her second attempt.

“But it actually came out quite nice again.”

For a while, everything was on track, but when her boyfriend’s work contract came to an end and was not renewed, Dowdall was left without money to take care of her two young daughters aged six and three months. With no money to keep the home fires burning and a baby who kept her up most of the night, she was ready to quit. But Bergzicht Training and Development’s volunteer social worker, Annette Scott, stepped in immediately. Thanks to the organisation’s emergency fund and further donations from a women’s church group, Scott was able to supply Dowdall and her family with nappies for her baby, food packs and a small stipend for other essentials on a weekly basis.

“When things got really tough, they helped me and made me realise that things would get better,” said Dowdall.

Her goal is to work at the Polo Club Restaurant at Val de Vie Estate in Paarl and to gain enough knowledge to become a chef and own her own restaurant one day.

The graduates were encouraged by various guest speakers to use what they had learned in class and during the programme’s three-work work-integrated learning opportunity to pursue careers they would be passionate about.

Gerhard Claassens from Distell, which also sponsored seven of the graduates, likened the graduates’ journey to the manufacturing process for champagne.

“You were a spectacular base wine that was born with a good blend of character and soul. Your creator then added your passions and natural talents, which is a lot like the liqueur de tirage added to the base wine. Thereafter, the winemaker encloses the bottle with a crown cap. This cap represents society and the things you will encounter that will try to repress your spirit, but remember, this causes pressure to form which then cause baby bubbles, and those bubbles represents resilience,” said Claassens.

“The maturation process refines the bubbles and one cannot determine how long this will take. When the crown cap is finally removed, the pressure is released and this is the moment you will realise that society cannot hold you back anymore. The next step is to add the dosage, which balances the taste and style of the champagne, which is one’s own style and expression. The cork and muselette are added to protect the champagne and the labelling. This is a representation of your branding, your identity, of how you will position yourself in the world. And then you will wait for that perfect celebration – like your first contract, opening your own restaurant or winning entrepreneur of the year – ultimately to lead you to your destiny.”
Reenen Kok from Global Accommodation, another organisation that sponsored five of the students, said: “Every story I heard here today had a certain theme running through it. I sensed that there was a lot of grit amongst the students graduating today. I can see that there is a story that has started today that is waiting to be told.”

The graduates also met alumnus Godwin Mohamed who now works as a chef at one of Leeu Collection’s three five-star boutique properties in Franschhoek, all of which boasts fine restaurants. Mohamed encouraged the graduates to pursue what they are passionate about in their careers.

“I was lucky to complete my practical training at Pierneef à La Motte restaurant and also work there for another year. I also worked at Melissa’s for a few months and then got the job at Leeu Estates. I learned a lot at La Motte, but most importantly, I learned that if your mindset is not right, if you don’t love what you do, then nothing you do will be a success. It’s like anything else in life, if you don’t have a passion for it, you can’t be successful.”

Photo: Mr Gerhard Claassens from Distell (back row, far left) and Mr Reenen Kok from Global Accommodation (back row, fifth from the left) attended the graduation ceremony of the 12 students to complete Bergzicht Training and Development City & Guilds’ Professional Cooking Programme through The Private Hotel School recently. The students were able to complete the course thanks to donations received from the Distell Foundation and Global Accommodation. At the back from the left are Claassens, Devon Konstabel, Errol Titus, Franklin Casper, Kok, Sydney Mitchell and Raven van Rhyn. In the front are Nadine Lamberts, Lee-Maine Dowdall, Leandré Erasmus, Charmelyn Veldtman, Delicia Jansen, Charné Delport en Allistair van der Westhuizen. (Lynne Rippenaar-Moses)