Oh my – you know how I love an epic success story, and I love this one! Mthatha-born Wandile Mabija is proof that South African trained chefs are going places and making an impact in other parts of the world. The 24 year old graduated from the Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Port Elizabeth campus in June last year and now finds himself – just over six months later as a chef at The Fairmont Austin Hotel in Austin, Texas.
The 37-story Fairmont is the largest and second tallest hotel in the state with over a thousand richly appointed guest rooms and suites.
So how did a young man from the Eastern Cape end up in one of the plushest hotels in the Texas state capital?
“After I graduated with a Diploma in Cooking and Food Preparation from Capsicum, I applied at a travelling agency called OVC and they helped me get the job and made sure everything was done to perfection, from visa applications to accommodation,” says Mabija.
“It was tough to leave my family behind – I have two siblings – Thando and Siphesihle – who both live in Mthatha, and both studying in Port Elizabeth, as well as my dad Mxolisi and my mother Lindelwaa . But it was an opportunity to good to pass up.”
So with mixed emotions – the excitement of going overseas for the first time combined with the sadness of leaving friends and family behind – Mabija headed off to the US with no idea what was in store.
“When I first arrived in Austin. It was a bit challenging since I knew nothing about the place and how to go around. I had to learn which bus to take to get to work. I had to also search for places to buy good food for my flat. To be honest it was an exciting yet challenging experience. It was my first time out of South Africa, so this trip was everything I dreamt of.”
So where did Mabija’s love of cooking come from?
“Cooking has always been my first passion. It was something I really loved and wanted to be involved with in some way. My mother really pushed me and supported me to follow my culinary calling. I decided to go to one of the Open Days at the Capsicum Port Elizabeth campus and I fell in love with the school. That’s where my journey began.”
And where does he see himself in five years time?
“Five years from now I want to have travelled to as many countries as possible and learn as much as I can and as much as I need to, to help me reach my dream of owning my own restaurant.”
So what is Mabija’s ultimate dream?
“Well, apart from having my own place I also want to one day be able to give back to the people in need. Not just normal food but food that can change their lives. I want to give back much as I can.”
A truly inspirational dream for a young South African man seriously going places!