When 27-year old Rutendo Ruth Marovatsanga won the coveted Young Star Chef of The Year Award at the One&Only Reaching for Young Stars project in December last year, little did she realise it was the start of what was to become the culinary adventure of a lifetime.
Ruru, as she is more commonly known amongst friends, family and colleagues, completed a diploma in hospitality management at The Private Hotel School in Stellenbosch before flying off to Dubai to take up an intense mentorship experience at the One&Only The Palm and The One&Only The Mirage in Dubai as part of her prize.
Her time in Dubai included a spell working in various restaurants under the wing of One&Only Royal Mirage’s Executive Chef, Laurent Thierry Eric Michel and One&Only The Palm’s Executive Chef, Patrice Schildowski, as well as culinary experience in 12 bars and restaurants, one of these being the three Michelin star restaurant, Stay by Chef Yannick Alléno.
Ruru barely had time to unpack her bags before she flew off to the US to take up a six-month work experience opportunity at Winslow’s Tavern, a highly-rated restaurant situated in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This top heritage restaurant, housed in a historic building, is run by South Africans, Chef Patron Phillip and Tracey Hunt.
Now she’s back in town and we caught up with her to find out about her time in the US, what she’s up to now and her plans for the future.
Can you tell us briefly about your journey from The Private Hotel School to where you are now?
All I can say is that it has been a memorable one! I can’t even believe it has been over two years since the day I first started at PHS. It really feels like yesterday but it has been an amazing journey. When I think about some of my great life choices I have made so far, applying to study at The Private Hotel School stands out as one of them.
What was your time like in the US?
It was an exciting, interesting and invaluable experience. I worked at Winslow’s Tavern as an intern, mostly in the garde manger section (a cool, well-ventilated area where cold dishes such as salads, hors d’œuvres, canapés, pâtés and terrines are prepared and other foods are stored under refrigeration). Other than kitchen skills I learnt a lot about different cultures, which made me develop a greater appreciation for cultural diversity. The restaurant had other employees from countries such as Russia, France, Mexico, Croatia, Romania etc with whom I interacted on a daily basis.
What did you learn at The Private Hotel School that proved invaluable while you were working in the US?
Perseverance, perseverance, and perseverance! There was no module for this during my studies but everyday life at PHS taught me a skill that no module can equip you with. From the stressful event planning to long hours in the school restaurant to assignments that all fell on the same due date. The school’s curriculum is designed to make you work at the highest level under pressure. Believe me, after that you can face any challenge in the industry. It’s true what they say – diamonds are made under pressure! And I am proud to be one PHS’s gems.
What are you up to now?
I am currently completing my front of house internship at Reuben’s restaurant in Sandton. It’s a great opportunity to work for one of my role models.
What are your plans for 2020 and beyond?
2019 was a great year so 2020 cannot afford to be a mediocre year. This year I plan to diversify my knowledge in the front of house aspect of a restaurant, paying more attention to food and wine pairing. Now that I have gained sufficient experience and knowledge on the food aspect, it’s time to also understand the wine and service side of a restaurant. Within the next few years, I want to be a restaurant manager who can roll up her sleeves when the commis chef doesn’t show up for duty as well as a chef who can easily recommend a wine to pair with the food.
What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in the hospitality industry?
The industry is passion-driven; don’t do it for any other reason other than because you love what you do and hospitality is what you want to do.
Name three things that are always in your fridge.
Definitely a bottle or two of Sauvignon Blanc as well as ham and milk.
What would be on the menu for your last meal?
Medium-well wagyu ribeye.
What do you not eat?
Mussels and tripe – the latter being a delicacy in my home.
If you could cook for five famous people dead or alive who would they be and what would you make?
Being as daring individual I would to push myself to the limit and prepare Beef Wellington for Gordon Ramsey; southern fried chicken for Michelle and Barack Obama; something sweet, maybe a toffee pudding, for Jamie Oliver and chicken biryani for Alex Guarnaschelli who is the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurant.