Chef Franco Buys had just landed his dream job in Qatar when he mysteriously lost the use of one of his legs and thought his culinary career was over.
However, Buys – who trained at Capsicum Culinary Studio in Johannesburg and who now lives in Randburg – had always wanted to be a chef and was determined to walk again and get his goal back on track.
Now a personal chef in Johannesburg, he tells his story which he says “has more action than a Rocky franchise and more drama than a top soapie.”
You lost the use of your leg while in Qatar – how did that happen and did you think that your food dream was over?
I learnt that your life can change in one moment. I woke up one morning and couldn’t move my leg due to excruciating pain. I had numerous tests done over the months that followed, but it was only later that an MRI scan found I had necrosis in my hip. By then the damage had been done and unfortunately I lost the use of my leg. My rehabilitation took two years, so I had a lot of time lying flat on my back to think about what to do next. The answer remained the same – I wanted to be a chef. Dreams only end if you give up on them.
Why did you want to become a chef?
I was one of quite a few kids in my family who were fortunate enough to spend school holidays on our grandparent’s farm. Rising early came with a variety of tasks checking livestock such as cows, chickens, pigs and the nine dogs. Depending on the season, harvest time could be anything from maize, garlic, sugar cane, carrots and cabbage. Most of the produce was sold at market or for the community. It taught me the discipline and responsibility and understanding where my food comes from and the enjoyment and pleasure you get from sitting around a big table sharing a delicious meal with friends and family. The time spent on that farm moulded a lot of my journey and made me want to be a chef.
How did you land up in Qatar and where were you working?
Hyatt Hotel came recruiting for overseas placement in Qatar. A two year placement became a six year adventure with the 5-star Grand Hyatt Hotel.
What has been your journey since then?
After fully recovering I decided to study at Capsicum Culinary Studio. It was a stepping stone to my future. I walked into Capsicum with one goal – to work hard. Capsicum showed me exactly what to expect in the real world and how to prepare for it. After I graduated, I started working at Four Seasons The Westcliff as a student and was there for almost five years. I worked my way up from an intern to Junior Sous Chef. Then Covid-19 happened, which brought the hospitality industry to a halt and I found myself at home. So I started my own journey as a personal chef doing home deliveries. I also joined a company called Chef & Guests, which offers a private chef experience, designed to bring people together over the love of fine food. It’s a unique culinary experience bringing restaurant-quality food and services directly into the comfort of people’s homes or at an exclusive venue of their choosing.
Any memorable occasions while you were working at Four Seasons The Westcliff?
Working as part of a task force at the Four Seasons Resort on Mahe Island in the Seychelles for three weeks; working alongside Italian Michelin Star Chef Musso Massimiliano in his first ever pop up at the hotel; numerous interactions with fellow staff and a variety of guests over the years. All priceless memories.
What is your best food memory?
When I was asked to create a menu for the South African ambassador and 200 of his guests in Qatar for South African National Day. That was the day I knew that I was on the right path.
What do you do to stay current on new trends?
I do what every normal chef does. I read, question and soak up all culinary knowledge and information. All it takes is one moment, one idea to ignite the fire in your food soul.
Describe some latest industry trends.
I love the current “farm to table” and “head to tail” trends because that’s how I was raised. We want future generations to enjoy what we have and to do that we must keep it sustainable. It is vitally important that people know where their food comes from.
What would be your advice to those considering studying cooking or hospitality?
Find someone to mentor you, (if you can’t find someone… ask me) and never stop learning. This is the toughest, most gratifying job on the planet. Find your passion and don’t stop until you’ve won.
What five things are always in your fridge/pantry?
Butter, garlic, thyme, smoked paprika, flour
If you had to prepare a last minute dinner for four friends what would you make?
Ribeye steaks with lobster tails and a garlic white wine sauce with fries or some kind of potato to mop up that sauce! (Keep an eye out for the recipe on my social media pages.)
Anything else you would like to add?
Be careful what you ask for in life, because when it comes… you better be ready!