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Up Education

Michael Long, Demi Chef, Grand Windsor 5 star boutique hotel

28 Nov 2017

What inspired you to pursue a career as a chef?

There are five kids in our family and growing up in Johannesburg we each had one day a week where we had to do all the chores. My favourite chore was organising the dinner. As a teenager I’d get home from school and turn on the food channel. I’d write down recipes they were making and try and recreate them for the family that night. That was the start of my love of food – but it never dawned on me that I could actually pursue cooking as a career. Instead I forged a career in the corporate world. I had a good, well-paid job, but I hated it! Every Sunday I’d have friends over for lunch and that was my release for the week. I’d spend my Saturdays doing grocery shopping and prepping, and then spend Sundays cooking. It made me so happy!

When I hit 30 I decided to quit my corporate career, pack up my life and follow my dream. I’d lived in South Africa all my life and I wanted a change, so I started looking at places overseas that I could study cookery. I visited New Zealand for a week and came and checked out NZMA’s Sylvia Park Campus. I fell in love with the Kiwi lifestyle, the campus was awesome, and by studying here I could gain a well-respected international qualification, so I enrolled!

Has NZMA lived up to your expectations?

NZMA has been all I’d hoped for – and more! I’ve sacrificed a lot to come here and study, but it has been absolutely worth it. I’m very happy! One of the highlights has been training for and competing in the NZChefs National Salon. My mentor Chef Kevin and I spent four months perfecting my competition dish, which was inspired by one of the famous dishes served at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck restaurant. My Maori-inspired seafood dish was Blue Moki cooked in champagne gel, with pipis, oysters and mussels, sitting on a bed of edible sea sand, which was made of deep fried whitebait. The idea behind the dish was to show people that you can use a relatively cheap fish, turn it into something special and serve it at fine-dining level. The most challenging element to create was the edible sand. There were ten different components in it, and it took a lot of work to get the perfect texture and seasoning. It was also tricky getting the right consistency for the champagne gel. However the hard work definitely paid off – I was ecstatic when I found out I’d won a gold medal. It was the happiest day ever!

Your goal is to become a professional chef. How is the employment side of things going?

My first job in New Zealand was working as a frontline cook at Auckland Airport’s 1958 Bar & Eatery, and from there I got a job at fine-dining restaurant Bracu, where I’m currently working in the pastry section. I graduate from NZMA in a couple of months and ideally I’d like to get a job at the Langham for a year before heading down to the South Island to keep building my experience. In 2018 I want to get a job cheffing on cruise ships and by 2020 I aim to be working as a private chef. By the time I turn 40 my goal is to open my own little boutique café in Cape Town, specialising in one amazing dish. I’m not sure yet what that dish will be though! I’m not here to muck around. I’m here to become a chef – and nothing is going to stop me achieving my goals.

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