Diepsloot’s Tichaona Phillimon Mugwambani has come a long way in his culinary career. He chats about his dream job and humble beginnings in Zimbabwe.
His love for all things sweet started at a young age as he grew up with a mother who baked and decorated cakes and made desserts almost daily. Now he is a qualified pâtissier at Dolci Café – a quaint traditional Italian restaurant in the city.
‘I’ve always had a sweet tooth and even before I went to school, I knew I wanted to create immaculate desserts because it was a prominent part of my childhood. One of my most memorable experiences as a child was eating my mother’s amazing red velvet cheesecake.’
When we say he had humble beginnings, we mean it. After high school, he worked for a construction company for about a year. When he moved from Zimbabwe to Johannesburg, he started as a scullery-hand in a hotel in Fourways and never thought that he would one day become a pastry chef …
‘I was just a scullery-hand but showed great interest in food, especially desserts, and I started to help out in the kitchen after I’d washed all the dishes. I was later promoted to assistant baker. All my dreams were starting to come true.’
After three years as an assistant baker, he joined Dolci Café. He has been part of their team of brilliant chefs for the last two years while completing a diploma in patisserie at the HTA School of Culinary Art.
‘Working with cakes, pastries, and desserts is the best part of my job because I get to play around and create something new that tastes wonderful. I can work on my own and experiment until I have perfected a new recipe. A lot of the special desserts on the menu are my own creations.’
While he is a master at creating and baking delicious desserts, he also has a knack for making them look almost too good to eat. He prides himself on being creative and having an eye for detail. He loves to play around with the plating and presentation of his desserts.
At 30, he is not only an accomplished pastry chef but a family man as well …
‘I have a lovely wife and three very cute daughters. Our twins are four years old and the youngest is nine months old. I spend my free time with my family or watching soccer. I’ve been a part of the Diepsloot community for three years and by now, everyone in my neighbourhood asks me for desserts or cakes because of my job.’
He appears to be a very reserved person but he gets very enthusiastic when he talks about his job – that’s when he gets just as vibrant as the buzzing café he works at.
‘Being a pastry chef is my dream job and I would tell anyone who wants to follow this career path to do it. It’s best to do it professionally and get the qualifications, even if it takes time. A pastry chef should have a lot of patience because it takes a lot of trial and error before a recipe is perfect, but it is worth it in the end.’
Phillimon says that his culinary journey is far from over.
‘I’m qualified but that doesn’t mean that I know everything. I’m always learning from other chefs. I’m always trying to learn and create more.’
Try these sweet delights made by Phillimon:
Cream cheese apple cake:
125ml butter, softened; 125ml brown sugar; 60ml white sugar; 1 egg; 60ml vegetable oil; 2,5ml vanilla; 375ml flour; 2,5ml bicarbonate of soda; 2,5ml baking powder; 1,25ml salt; 5ml cinnamon; 375ml finely chopped apples.
Cream cheese layer ingredients:
230g cream cheese; 5ml vanilla; 45ml white sugar.
180ml white sugar; 60ml brown sugar; 125ml flour; 5ml cinnamon; 2,5ml baking powder; 0,5ml salt; 90ml cold butter.
Preheat oven to 180 °C/ 350 °F and grease a 20 x 20cm square pan.
Combine the butter and sugars for the cake and mix until fluffy. Add the egg, oil and vanilla, and mix until combined.
Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and stir into the butter mixture until combined. Stir in the apples and spread into the square pan.
For the cream cheese layer, mix the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla and spread over the cake batter in the pan.
Combine all the streusel ingredients using your hands or a pastry blender until well combined. Sprinkle over the cream cheese mixture.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the topping is browned.
Serve with a scoop of ice cream.
Amarula crème brûlée
10 egg yolks; 250g sugar; 1 litre fresh cream; 1 shot Amarula.
Heat the cream in a medium saucepan just until bubbles form around the edge.
In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks, Amarula and sugar by hand until pale in colour. Very gradually, lightly whisk in the hot cream. Skim off any surface bubbles.
Strain into small heatproof dishes, wider than they are deep. Place in a roasting pan or baking dish with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dishes.
Bake at 160°C for 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool, then chill well.
Before serving, sift about a tablespoon of castor sugar over each custard. Place in a roasting pan filled with ice, then slide under a hot grill until the sugar melts and caramelises. Alternatively, use a blowtorch to melt and brown the sugar.
Text & main image: JACO-MARI HAASBROEK. Food images: RIALIEN FURSTENBERG.