Humble Beginnings

I live, eat, breathe and dream about food; it runs deep in my veins like the roots of a Marula tree in my home country of South Africa. My passion, even as a young boy growing up in Tshamahansi village, is to share food in community - even if it meant cooking with modest ingredients such as chicken feet, ox tripe, Mopane worms, and pap (white corn meal). Food is about creating and reaffirming community.

Standing next to my mother and watching her cook, taste, add, and adapt recipes stirred in me a real zeal for creating and inspiring others. Helping others discover their love for cooking drives me to create new dishes daily. Like many of the people in my village, and like many of you - I faced many obstacles in the pursuit of my dream. To find my place in the world of Culinary Arts - I had to travel the globe.

I didn’t know much more than the two main roads that ran through my village in Mokopane in the province of Limpopo. My world consisted of family gatherings, chasing guinea fowl, and playing in the rich red dirt with my siblings. Despite wide open spaces, green fields, and epic mud puddles that called me to come play, I often found myself in the kitchen - consistently taking cooking ingredients and hiding them as contraband so that I could later create dishes for my classmates and friends.

After high school I left my village to explore the big city of Johannesburg - in search of a brighter future that would allow me to turn my passion into a career.

When I arrived in Johannesburg, necessity brought me to take a few temporary jobs to put food on the table (rather than creating it). This opportunity to earn income allowed me to enrol in culinary school where I studied for a year.

Unfortunately, due to financial hardship I had to put my schooling on hold and instead of finishing my program, I took a job as a bartender and a waiter; I was so close to my passion - I could taste it. The one constant in those days was my passion and drive for food - which fuelled me during those long shifts at Caffe Della Salute.


In 2002 I decided to move one step closer to the kitchen by joining one of the biggest catering companies in Midrand, South of Johannesburg. I started in the meager position of helper/assistant. I worked for 6 months before I was promoted to Junior Sous Chef! A big step for this boy from the village. Using my passion and unique skill set in the kitchen, I quickly found myself in a role where I could finally create food! I continued to read and absorb culinary innovations like it was water in the desert - and 3 years later found myself as Chef de Partie at Gallagher Estate (African Parliament).

Soon I was looking for even broader experiences and more exotic flavours & ingredients to create my dishes. I left the continent of Africa behind me and set my sights on cruise ship living. Disney Cruises offered me an opportunity to broaden my horizons, and with slight trepidation I boarded the plane that would lead me to my first job (of many) abroad. Everything was different - from the taste of the water, the sights and smells of new tourist destinations - not to mention new culinary challenges cooking for numerous nationalities.


I quickly learned that despite our differences, different languages spoken and different taste palates developed - one thing remains the same: the spirit of gourmet cooking. With every meal I prepared for the guests onboard, I received high praise and a warm smile. I knew then that I could bring happiness to others through food. They were well fed, satisfied and happy. This simple truth was profound for me and was the beginning of my grand adventure. With every new port of call, I filled my camera with photographs of new and exciting places I had visited, and placed new bookmarks in my culinary journey.

After two contracts sailing the ocean, I settled in Argentina as a Junior Sous Chef and dabbled in the world of small business. Feeling unfulfilled and sensing the call of the ocean once again - I joined Princess Cruises for another 8 year adventure. It was this change in direction that lead me to find my wife and eventually to settle here in Canada.

Now that I am here - I can’t say that I have truly realized my dream; I continue to learn and grow and search for new opportunities. Every day I am growing in my confidence and skills, and I encourage you to join me along the way as we continue to explore, challenge ourselves and break down the barriers to living a gourmet life!

- Sydney Tshabalala