Meet the 22-year-old that went from mixing paint to head chef

by: Gabriela Mc Gowan - 13 September 2017

Meet the 22-year-old that went from mixing paint to head chef

At 12 years old, Lurenzo already knew what he wanted to become. In grade four his cousin had lent him a chef’s uniform to wear on career day, and from that day he has been steadfast in pursuing his dream.

He completed high school but his dream of pursuing culinary art was halted because he couldn’t afford the tuition fees.

He wasn’t discouraged, Lurenzo then volunteered in a Christian outreach programme where his main responsibility was in the kitchen. After a year, his voluntary work came to an end when his pastor and pastor’s wife offered to pay for his tuition. “ Anything is possible with the big G by your side.” says Lurenzo.

Lurenzo then applied to the University of Johannesburg but he recalls the disappointment he felt after his application was rejected. He had no idea of which institution to turn to and thought that this was a sign that culinary art wouldn’t be in his future. His pastor’s wife referred him to HTA School of Culinary Art. He applied and was accepted for a two-year course.

From Michelangelo Hotel to mixing paint

Through the duration of his time at HTA, Lurenzo partook in four internships at prestigious hotels and venues such as the Palazzo, Hilton, Michelangelo and the Country Club. He describes feeling nervous and pressured on his first days at all of the internships. With their prestigious names came strict chefs and he wanted to prove that even though he came from a drug ridden township with little to no opportunities for youth like himself, he belonged there too.

He was put through the paces from chopping tons of fruits and vegetables as prep work to participating in cooking for banqueting events for hundreds of guests. He learned little tricks like becoming ambidextrous with plating to save time in this high-pressured environment and still has fresh scars on his hands from burning at the grill ever so often.

He completed his internships with rave reviews from mentors, and promises for employment which never came to fruition. His time of working tirelessly in the kitchens which served the rich and famous had come to a stop and he sat home unemployed for over a year.

Lurenzo ended up working at Medal Paints to make ends meet, mixing paint and filling paint containers. As a qualified chef, he explains how he felt defeated working in a profession so far removed from his dream, being underpaid and overworked and not seeing hope that his situation would change soon. “I told myself that no matter what job came my way I was going to take it because I couldn’t sit at home and do nothing. It was heartbreaking, there wasn’t any hope.” he says.

Becoming head chef

But his situation did change, he heard through a family friend that a guy from Westbury had opened a restaurant in Soweto and was looking to hire a head chef full time. Lurenzo spoke to the owner and in days he was familiarising himself with the menu of bunny chows, lamb chops, oxtail, livers and salads.

His roles and responsibilities involve meal prep, stock taking, cooking, plating and managing waiters. He describes having to deal with unhappy clients who hated his dishes but he smiles as he speaks of a woman from Durban who especially loved his curry and said it made her feel like she was home.

Lurenzo attributes his success to his church, his parents and mostly to God and he says that with a single tear streaming down his face. In the future, he’d like to open his own restaurant and eventually make enough money to get his sister out of Westbury and create a better future for her.