The Soweto-born chef bringing local heat to French cuisine

 
 
 

The restaurant industry is notoriously difficult to crack. When Wandile Mabaso was still a teenager, he was told that being a chef just wasn’t a viable career for a kid from Soweto. But he built his confidence through experiments in his mother’s kitchen, determined that this was his calling. His relentless pursuit of culinary success has seen him cooking at Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and opening numerous eateries across New York.

Mabaso’s plan to master other forms of cooking outside of South Africa was initially peppered with drawbacks. “When I arrived in New York I didn’t know anyone. My days were spent hustling hard,” he says. Going door-to-door, he offered to work in exchange for experience at the top restaurants in the area. “The moment I landed my first job I knew I was ready to give it my best. I had to start at the bottom,” he says.

Mabaso spent four years training in classical French cuisine, learning its meticulous preparation and painstaking artistic presentation. The hard work paid off when he was appointed Executive Sous Chef for Maison Kayser, a group of French bakeries and restaurants with over 100 stores around the world. In two short years, the insatiable chef helped to open seven restaurants. But the corporate world wasn’t for him. When master chef Alain Ducasse, who holds 21 Michelin stars, offered Mabaso the chance to work in Paris and be the ambassador for French cuisine when travelling in South Africa, he eagerly agreed. “Not only was I nurturing a passion, but the idea of representing Soweto in a foreign country thrilled me,” he says.

Mabaso returns to his roots to share his cooking and teach French techniques in a tour that culminates in Cape Town next month. He also announced the French Culinary Bursary, which gives young South African chefs a chance to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. Through his love of food and success with it, Mabaso is dispelling stereotypes and showing the world what a youngster from Soweto can achieve.