By Arnold Tanzer, Hostex 2020 ambassador, Chef and Owner of Food on the Move, catering for the film & TV industry. Arnold’s 31-year career in hospitality is a treasury of experiences, passions, life lessons, teaching, and endless anecdotes. Brought to you by Hostex 2020, here he shares different stages of his journey, with lessons learned along the way to inspire and guide young chefs of today.

I started my career in hospitality on 14 September 1989 because I was hungry. I was in Holland escaping army duty in South Africa and the only job I could get was as a kitchen porter, just a fancy word for dishwasher. I was given some sexy rubber boots, an apron, and pointed in the direction of the pot wash.

That was where my foray into cooking began. I helped out with the unpopular jobs such as peeling onions and dicing potatoes, and was soon moved within the company to a fine-dining restaurant as a demi chef and placed in an apprentice system. Three years later I wrote my final exam and qualified.

I then spread my wings and joined Holland America Cruise Lines as chef tournant, which meant relief cheffing on any of the ships where there was a need, which was how I became Michael Douglas’s personal chef while he was shooting a movie.

I returned to South Africa and became head chef at Londolozi, which was a Relais & Chateaux property, and then travelled across the continent, training local chefs at the expanding group’s new properties.

In the early 2000s I was owner of a delicatessen – a café and purveyor of fine locally produced food in Johannesburg – and I became involved in the SA Chefs Association, on the board as a director and for eight years as vice-president. In my early 30s I was elected to the WorldChefs board, still to date the youngest-ever elected director.

The deli was followed by Food on the Move, which started about 18 years ago as a consultancy, evolved into a bespoke catering company, and is now firmly entrenched in the film and TV industry.

Learnings

  • My school years. I had no interest in the dogmatic, overbearing government school system, and I didn’t excel academically. I learned to buckle down and get through phases in life that you don’t enjoy – they will pass – and to stand up for my beliefs and rage against the ‘machine’.
  • My pot wash year. Any work is better than no work, and any opportunity offered must be grabbed with both hands. It has become the way I live – listen to the opportunity, if it suits you, go for it. Also, the scullery is still where you will find me if I am super-stressed and need to be on my own for a while. The work is mind-clearing.
  • The ships. Glamour is an illusion and it takes a well-oiled disciplined ‘army’ of hard-working people to create the comfort that people pay for.
  • My time across Africa. The continent is full of opportunities and beautiful smiley people who are keen to learn, contribute, and live a meaningful life. No business can operate without buy-in from the community.
  • The delicatessen. Retail is probably the toughest sector of our economy. As a small business owner the competition is fierce, you’re always on the back foot, you’re required to sacrifice a lot, from personal time to hard-earned cash, and the public can be ruthless in their judgement and expectations.
  • Being an employer. This is one of the most thankless and also one of the most rewarding tasks there is, and commitment is paramount. Be patient with yourself and with your team – people grow at different rates and have different goals and expectations. It’s how you fit the team together and motivate each individual’s growth that determines success.
  • I have learned to harness my self-doubt to propel my skills in my business. Are we serving the right food? Are we delivering the service expectations? What can I learn from the young pastry chef or hip barista who are part of my team? I don’t need to know  it all, but I must have an interest and guide the talent within my team.
  • I have also become more patient. It always work itself out in the end, and generally what frustrates you today will have no consequence in your life in six months – so choose your battles.
  • Favourite quote: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

Highlight

My biggest work life highlight is changing people’s lives. Young people who have worked for me have gained a skill, bettered their lives economically and with life skills, and have gone on to change other people lives. I now see them training young chefs and upskilling the pot wash with cooking skills, driving lessons and computer knowledge.

Final tips

  • Put your head down and graft
  • Be curious
  • Be strong – acknowledge your weaknesses, you can overcome them
  • Be patient – with yourself, others and your career path
  • Phone your mother often

Join Arnold Tanzer at Hostex 2020 where he will be presenting more valuable learnings from a multifaceted career in hospitality – Between the dream and the dirty dishes – at IndustryLIVE! on Tuesday 3 March at 12 noon.

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