Plating dessert for a thousand guests at a fancy banquet in the US is just one of pastry chef Boitshoko Lekaba’s many sweet moments. Now, he is back after his stint overseas, ready to whip up creations that will make your sweet tooth tingle.
Ever since primary school, young Boitshoko Lekaba from Soweto would much rather get his hands dirty in the kitchen than on the playing field. And that is exactly where this pastry chef’s love for cooking and baking started. By helping out his mother in and around the kitchen.
‘My mom loved cooking and baking, and still does, and I used to do small things to help her out – like stirring, preheating the oven and cutting the scones.’
Fast forward, today, 28-year-old Boitshoko is working as a private chef.
After graduating from Capsicum Culinary Studio, with a Diploma in Patisserie under his apron, he’s worked as a trainee at DW Eleven 13 and Moyo restaurants, then as the Commis Chef at the Clico Boutique Hotel in Rosebank.
But in 2017 he got one of his big breaks, when he was asked to join Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italian Melrose Arch restaurant as a Chef de Partie Pastry.
‘I enjoyed it immensely – as a person and a chef. I was now able to lead and guide not just students who came in for placement but also the other chefs. In short, my time there was an amazing experience, and I was able to not only use my knowledge of what I had learned but I was also encouraged to come up with and implement new ideas.’
Following his tenure at Jamie’s, Boitshoko got another big break. He was offered the opportunity to travel to the US to work at the JW Marriot Minneapolis Mall of America Hotel. There he was ensconced in the pastry department, and boy did he excel.
‘I had to prepare a wide variety of goods like cakes, cookies, pies and various breads, following traditional and modern recipes. Often, there’d be a huge fancy banquet or special occasion and I would find myself plating desserts for up to 1000 guests!’
Although Boitshoko says his time overseas was invaluable, he admits that he did miss sunny South Africa, his friends and family terribly and at times felt completely out of place in his new surroundings.
‘I stayed in the US for a year and then decided to return home and bring with me everything I had learned and apply it to new opportunities that would present themselves.
‘Unfortunately, my timing was slightly off, and not long after I came back, Covid hit and work dried up.’
But, that’s most definitely not putting a damper on his sweet tooth. He is confident that he will be back in the restaurant business soon, whipping up all sorts of delicious sweet treats.
Until then, he is happily honing his skills as a private chef, and making plans for the future.
There’s a chocolate and ice cream business being discussed, and he’s also looking at getting involved in lecturing in pastry, sharing what he’s learned with the next generation of pastry chefs who are just starting out in their careers.
And what would he choose as his last meal on earth?
‘A dessert buffet with pastries, custard slices, crème brûlées, custard-filled doughnuts and chocolate eclairs. Hey … I blame my mother for my sweet tooth, but I wouldn’t have it any other way as it was her inspiration that has got me to where I am today.’
Details: [email protected] or follow @tshokilate and @YummyTatso on Instagram.
Boitshoko baked lemon cheesecake
You’ll need: 175g digestive or shortbread biscuits; 80g unsalted butter, melted; 500g cream cheese, softened; 220g caster sugar; 4 eggs, plus 1 extra egg yolk; finely grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon; 400g mascarpone cheese; 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 140°C. Lightly grease a 24cm springform cake pan and line the base with baking paper. Half-fill a deep baking tray with boiling water and place it on the bottom shelf of the oven.
Place the biscuits in a food processor and pulse until they form crumbs. Add the melted butter to the processor and pulse to combine. Press the biscuit mixture into the base of the prepared pan. To make the filling, place the cream cheese and sugar in a food processor and pulse until smooth and well combined. Add the eggs, egg yolk, lemon zest and juice, then pulse until well combined. Add the mascarpone and vanilla extract, then pulse until smooth.
Pour the filling over the prepared base, then bake the cake on the middle shelf of the oven for 60 minutes (it should still have a slight wobble in the centre).
Leave the cheesecake to cool in the switched-off oven for a further hour or until completely set.
Chef’s note: I top my lemon cheesecake with Italian meringue. It’s optional, but for those who want to do the same, herewith the recipe.
Italian Meringue (makes about 1½ cups)
You’ll need:150g granulated sugar; 60ml water; 60g egg whites (about 2 large eggs)
In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Heat over low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat to medium-high and allow the syrup to come to a boil.
Add the egg whites to a medium-sized, heatproof bowl and mix (with a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment) until foamy and the whites are almost able to hold soft peaks.
Once the syrup is boiling, clip on a sugar thermometer.
Cook until the syrup reaches 116°C then take the pan off the heat and slowly drizzle the hot syrup into the bowl with the foamy egg whites, mixing continuously to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Don’t pour the syrup onto the whisk, or the syrup may splatter against the sides of the bowl (or into your face!). Instead, aim for a spot close to the whisk.
Once all the syrup has been added, keep mixing until the bottom of the bowl feels cool to the touch and the meringue has cooled down to body temperature.
Use immediately or keep in the fridge (covered) until ready to use. It’s a very stable meringue, so it won’t start weeping, leaking or collapsing.