At just 25, Chef Adrian Vigus-Brown was appointed as executive chef of the African Pride Melrose Arch Hotel. Now at 30, the chef has an array of achievements under his belt, putting in the hours at his ‘day job’, as well as finding time to be a board member of the SA Chefs Association and member of the SA Culinary Team. We chatted with the chef about his role at Chefs with Compassion, his advice to chefs on helping each other, and what industry has to look forward to.

While his kitchen was closed during lockdown, Chef Adrian kept himself busy with a new position – that of national administrator and logistics coordinator for Chefs with Compassion. Chefs with Compassion is a collaborative industry initiative that rescues surplus food and sees it converted to meals through a network of chefs, and then distributed to communities in need. The role allowed him to use his managerial and culinary skills at a time when work had slowed down completely.

“Chefs with Compassion gave me the ability to keep my mind busy and my drive ticking over,” says Chef Adrian. “Like so many others, going from 200km/h a day to nothing would have killed me! More importantly, it gave me not only the opportunity to help the less fortunate and also the farmers by not allowing their hard work to be binned – it also presented an opportunity to help fellow chefs keep busy during what was a very difficult time for the hospitality sector.”

He recognises that this is a hard time for chefs in particular as they are usually busy all the time and the downtime will affect many mentally. “If you need help to keep busy, call on a friend,” he says. “Never be too proud to ask for help because we all need it and as brothers and sisters of the white chef jacket, we need to be there for each other, even if just as a friendly voice. We need each other now more than ever!”

Adrian also emphasises that even as chefs begin to return to the kitchen, mental health needs to remain a priority. “At the moment, small things matter, and psychologically I think we need to focus on the mental effect of this pandemic on the industry. When kitchens open, chefs need support in this regard – we went from high pace to nothing now going back into high pace, which can definitely have an effect on mental health.”

Reflecting on the South African culinary industry’s future in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Adrian says that “the logistics of cheffing, costs, products, locality, seasonality and affordability will change, and chefs will need to do a lot more with a lot less, while keeping the public happy.”

Chef Adrian with the National Culinary Team

Nonetheless, there are opportunities for young chefs in South Africa because “everyone needs to eat, and everyone wants better food.” Adrian says opportunities will exist going forward but finding them and achieving success will be much harder than it has been in the past – but it won’t be impossible. “As chefs we must set goals, find mentors, get help if we become discouraged, and learn to find solutions to our challenges.”

At his own establishment, they’ve had to adapt quickly. The African Pride Melrose Arch Hotel usually has many international guests, so Chef Adrian and his team have relooked at the experiences they offer and adjust them to appeal to the local market.  “The ability to re-invent your offering is key to survival,” he says.

However, despite the many challenges that face the industry as a whole, Adrian believes that through all hardship comes innovation and rebirth – and that nothing will get the industry down. “As long as there is blood in our veins and a heart beating, we are alive and we will survive this together!”

LESSONS HE’S LEARNT ALONG THE WAY

  • Seasons change, trends change, but one thing that can never change is your attitude to the profession – that’s when things go wrong
  • Being a chef is a calling – it’s being part of a network of likeminded people
  • Not everyone has the same skills in the kitchen, but that measure is often based on passion rather than knowledge
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