It was his mother’s cooking and the smell of freshly baked malva pudding, which lured Gerald Chifamba into the kitchen. Today, the 46-year-old is a sous chef at Windmill Casino and Entertainment World in Bloemfontein.
“During family gatherings my mother could always be found in the kitchen and my nose would lead me inside to see what the delicious smells were. My aunt was also a chef, and I started experimenting in the kitchen, which gave me the idea that I could make a career out of it,” he explains. “My mother used to make something similar to malva pudding, so when I smell it, it brings back memories of my childhood,” Gerald reminisces.
After obtaining a Diploma in Hotel Management from City and Guilds in Zimbabwe in 2005, Gerald and his wife Precious moved to South Africa. “I started my career working as a cook at a game reserve, before moving to Bloemfontein, where I worked at various hotels.” During this time, Gerald befriended an Italian man, Ricardo Florio, who took him to Italy where he learnt how to make pizza and pasta from scratch.
“I returned to Bloemfontein and opened my own business, Luigi Napoli Florio, making the city’s first wood-fired pizza.” Gerald made these much-fêted pizzas until he joined Windmill Casino in May 2013, where he has been filling casino guests’ tummies with a range of South African favourites including bobotie, curries, and oxtail stew.
“One of my favourite dishes to cook is deboned pork ribs, roasted, served with crispy crackling. But Bloemfontein people like their lamb – be it chops, stew or curries.”
Gerald says there is a new focus on vegan dishes, with people preferring to eat healthy food that is meat-free or grilled, and with less starch. “But our Afrikaans guests still enjoy their pap, so you have to make sure you strike a balance between the two.”
His favourite piece of kitchen equipment is his two-metre deep convection oven. He adds, “You can do everything in it – steam, bake and roast. I also cannot part ways with my pairing, chef and carving knife – a chef can’t do anything without his knives!” His list of essential ingredients includes salt, pepper and fresh lemon.
Unsurprisingly, Gerald’s favourite food is pizza, made from scratch using fresh ingredients. “The aroma you get from it before you eat it… all that melted cheese. Wow!”
Working as a chef can often be a thankless task, but he finds joy in making a diner happy, especially if they are visiting from another country.
“In the food world, I look up to Jamie Olivier. His recipes are up to date and I enjoy reading his books and watching him on television.”
In his spare time, Gerald enjoys playing with his two school-going sons. “We play chess, TV games, soccer, or swim together. I also enjoy cooking for my family and helping the boys with their homework. I’m impressed with how well they do in school,” smiles this proud dad.
Text: MARGARET LINSTRÖM. Photo: GYPSEENIA LION