Meet Snegugu Wanda, the head chef at Durban’s hot spot Wish on Florida, an upmarket Italian restaurant and bar specialising in gourmet pizza and pasta.
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 and has never looked back. She recalls:
“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. 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!”
Wanda, who did her culinary training at Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Durban campus, is delighted to be heading up the brigade at Wish on Florida, which is the brainchild of two young businessmen Philani Kweyama (also known as Benny Maverich) and Wayne Ndlovu and which has recently reopened following Covid-19 lockdown.
“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. I also love Italian food, so most of my dishes are very much influenced by the tastes of Italy, combined with our very own flavours, to create a fusion of delicious dishes.”
Wanda talks about her already impressive career 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.
Why do you think so many Capsicum alumni have been so successful?
Capsicum presents the endless possibilities of the industry. I remember we’d constantly go on trips – from farms to high-end restaurants. We were kept up to date with the current trends. Their philosophy of keeping students inspired fuels students to achieve and make their mark in the industry.
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 advice do you have for females in the industry who want to climb the ladder and make it to the top?
Don’t be afraid to grab opportunities with both hands, put in the work and give it your all. There will be setbacks and disappointments but those will toughen you up. Put your chef hat back on and rule like you were made to do so!
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.
How do you believe SA chefs and restaurants compare to those internationally?
I think South African chefs have a lot to offer as we have a unique take and overview of the industry. Gone are the days when we were trying to mimic international trends. We are creating a South African identity.
What are the latest food trends?
Using fresh and organic products, farm to table, and creating your own trend!
What food shows do you watch on TV?
MasterChef Professionals, reruns of Hell’s Kitchen, My Kitchen Rules (South Africa and Australia) and The Bake-off Professionals.
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.
Do you do the cooking at home and what do you cook?
I rarely have the time to cook at home but when I do, I go more the traditional route and with family favourites: dumplings and oxtail, creamy chicken curry, samp and T-bone etc.
What three things would we always find in your fridge/pantry?
Garlic, black pepper and lemons.
Quick vegetarian Alfredo
5 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves minced
250g grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon parsley
2 tablespoon lemon juice.
2 tablespoon coconut oil
In a large pot heat water, at boiling point drop in some coconut oil, add salt to season then add the pasta to cook. Once at al dente stage (soft to the tooth) drain the pasta leave the water on the side.
In a pan heat butter over medium heat, add garlic and the lemon juice cook for a minute. Stir in the cream. Let the cream reduce and cook for about 4-5 mins. Add the parmesan cheese to the mixture, whisk until smooth and allow cheese to melt.
Add the pasta water to thin out your sauce if needed, toss the pasta into the sauce add a teaspoon of lemon juice, grate some parmesan on top. Garnish with parsley and ready to serve.