Not all students from Capsicum Culinary Studio graduate and find themselves working a full-time job in a hotel or kitchen soon afterwards. While that is the case for the majority of them, some leave and set up their own companies having learned a lot about, and encouraged to embrace, entrepreneurship as part of their studies.
One such alumni from the country’s largest culinary school is Sera von Gericke who owns and runs ’55 Tulbagh’ a successful Kempton Park-based events and wedding venue.
Von Gericke’s love of food only began in her 30s when it fell to her to entertain and cook for foreign guests visiting the family business, Global Railway Engineering.
I loved it when someone asked me for a recipe or could not get over how good a dish was and begged me to tell them how I did it.
Sera von Gericke | 55 Tulbagh
It became her passion and mission to create and inspire, so in 2016 she decided to open a small cooking school and, at the same time, take a night course at the Capsicum Boksburg campus.
“My decision to go to Capsicum was so that I could ensure that what I was teaching my students was correct. Initially I only wanted to do a certificate course, but Chef Nico Lombard (now the campus principal) said I had too much experience and I need to aim higher, so I enrolled for a Level 2 Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Arts and once I qualified, my life changed dramatically.”
Von Gericke admits that although she loved the course, she found it tough going at times.
It was the most exciting time of my life that I never want over again! People have a misconception of what it is to be a chef; it’s not as glamorous as it looks; it’s extremely hard work and you will not make it if you are not dedicated and mentally and physically strong. You also have to love working with people. “Night school cooking was great, I loved learning all the new techniques, but hated the cleaning up. One of my lecturers, Chef Werner was amazing, but I had to earn his respect first. Once I showed him how serious I was, he guided me all the way, he was a true mentor and I still speak to him today and follow his career.
Sera von Gericke | 55 Tulbagh
Von Gericke, who lives with her family in Glen Marais in Kempton Park, also had to juggle home life, and says: “It was a challenge to complete all the assignments as I also had a full-time job, kids, a home to run and all of life’s other challenges. But my husband really helped me by taking care of the kids and the house while I studied.”
Driving home from night school in the early hours of the morning, Von Gericke would pass the empty house that had once been the offices for the family business, but had stood vacant for almost 12 years. Slowly an idea started forming in her head to turn the property into a venue which could be hired out for special occasions. Flash forward three years and the abandoned house is now known in the area as ’55 Tulbagh’, a venue that has hosted many successful events from baby showers to birthday parties and even weddings.
Not one to take a breather, Von Gericke also organises her own events, which also give her the freedom to create new and different menus. To date she has had sell-out Italian-themed dinners, popular German evenings as well as her biggest annual event – the “French Valentine” evening.
In 2017 von Gericke opened a boutique coffee shop and recently completed building on an area that can accommodate wedding ceremonies and private dinners.
We did manage to get Von Gericke to sit down long enough to answer some quick-fire questions:
Name three things that are always in your fridge
Real butter (please do not bring margarine near me) as well as all kinds of cheese and fresh salad leaves.
What is your favourite kitchen appliance or utensil?
My super-sharp chef’s knife (I remember so many cuts from chef school days).
What would be on the menu for your last meal?
Sticky ribs followed by chocolate mousse.
What do you not eat?
Coconut and offal
What chefs do you admire?
Nigella Lawson, because she cooks full fat; Gordon Ramsay, because he worked hard to get where he is; Mary Berry, because of her no fail old school style simplicity; Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, making SA proud; Neill Anthony, because he is so organised and fast and Siba Mtongana for her awesome recipes and vibrant colours.
If you could cook for five famous people dead or alive who would they be and what would you make?
Nelson Mandela – lamb shank soup, hearty and homely and real soul food
Mahatma Ghandi – my couscous salad with loads of herbs; he would love it.
My dad’s parents whom I never knew – roast lamb with our famous sweet potato bake (just old school happiness)
Princess Diana – salmon teriyaki starter followed by our phyllo cheesecake parcel
Chef Manu Feildel – Asian pork belly with slaw.
Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I see a fine dining restaurant, wine pairing events, a guest house, conference facilities, Sunday buffet lunches, my own cooking school, team building cook-offs … the list goes on!
What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in the hospitality industry?
Make sure it is what you want to do and, if it is, then go for it with all your heart. If the passion is there the rest will fall into place.
Anything else you would like to add?
Don’t wait for something to happen. You must make it happen! Don’t give up on your dreams. If you fall get up and try again. Make sure you have a good support system. Take care of yourself.
Recipe from Sera
We tried to get Sera’s recipe for her much requested carrot cake but she says it’s a closely guarded secret, so she sent us details for her equally good and quick-to-make
Lemon Meringue Pie.
1 x Baked rich shortcrust pastry shell
3 eggs, separated
250g sweetened condensed milk
grated rind and juice of 3 lemons
5 tablespoons of castor sugar
Beat the egg yolks, lemon rind and lemon juice together until thick and creamy. Beat in the condensed milk and pour into the baked pastry shell. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg whites and the castor sugar until stiff but not too dry. Spoon the mixture over the lemon filling. Bake in the oven at 180 deg for 25 minutes. Serve cold.