New Durban hot-spot Wish on Florida serves up gourmet pizza and pasta, and heading up the kitchen of this upmarket restaurant and bar is Chef Snegugu Wanda. Wanda – who grew up in Umlazi and currently lives in Durban North – originally started studying law but found the pull of the kitchen irresistible and soon gave it up to study her true passion for cooking at Capsicum Culinary Studio in Durban and has never looked back.
“I remember when I was around five-years-old pretending to make dishes for my friends and family using mud and flowers and anything else I could find in my grandmother’s garden,” says Snegugu Wanda. “Some of my best food moments involve being in the kitchen with my grandmother as well as the Saturday mornings where I’d cook breakfast for my family and they’d actually enjoy it!”
Wish on Florida was founded by businessmen Philani Kweyama and Wayne Ndlovu. “It is always exciting to open up a new spot but Wish on Florida is dear to me because it’s not only about introducing a fresh flavour to the area of Florida Road but it is also about the Wish Foundation. Proceeds from Wish and the restaurant’s wish fountain go towards the foundation which helps underprivileged scholars register for higher as well as helping young entrepreneurs get funding for start-ups.”
Here, Snegugu Wanda chats about her career so far and her plans for the future.
Tell us about your culinary journey? My decision to pursue my passion for cooking really just came from wanting to do what I genuinely love. I began my studies at Capsicum in Durban in 2013 and graduated in 2016. I trained at Market restaurant (Morningside) which was such an amazing experience learning about defining flavours from Chef Shaun Magee (a fellow Capsicum alumni) and how to run a tight ship from Chef Goodness (also a Capsicum graduate). From there I got my first job at Café La Plagè as a griller, and after six months I moved up the ranks to sous chef and eventually to head chef, being led and mentored by David Hwangawa & Chef David Manal. They have all been such important mentors in my life.
Would you recommend cheffing and the food industry as a career and what advice do you have for anyone wanting to make a career in the hospitality industry? It’s definitely a demanding industry, but also very fulfilling if you’re into it. There are so many aspects that can be explored and discovered – from working in a restaurant and catering to food development and styling. It is a cliché but don’t ever give up, it’s a very demanding industry but it’s extremely exciting.
How has it been being a female head chef in what has traditionally until recently been a male oriented industry? It has been quite challenging because I often feel like I’m pushed to be stern or to stamp my authority because otherwise I’ll not be taken seriously. I often refuse to do this because I believe my team needs to respect me regardless and I need to respect them. A ship needs a captain and the captain needs a crew. At the end, it’s about producing what each individual can be proud of, regardless of gender.
What famous chefs do you follow and why? Michel Roux Jr for his passion for classical techniques, his rich family history and overall contribution to the industry; Jamie Oliver for his creativity and artistry as well as his foundations and ongoing programmes to improve and educate people about food and the importance of eating right; Zola Nene – her passion and work ethic inspire me every single day; and last but not least, Mariya Russell, the first female black chef to earn a Michelin star.
What are the latest food trends? Using fresh and organic products, farm to table, and creating your own trend!
Where do you see yourself in five years? I want to able to open a sustainable restaurant with the resources all available on the premises – the farm/restaurant to be a community involvement project teaching people how to grow their own crops, harvest them and turn them into amazing meals they could serve in the restaurant. This will help elevate unemployment and create more skill-based jobs.