When 21-year old Harris Hlungwani found himself out of a job due to the Covid-19 lockdown he sunk into a slight depression.
Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, Hlungwani had been working as a sous chef at the South African Bureau of Standards, a job which he loved because it gave him “the opportunity to make good food for different people with different cultures and have them give me compliments.”
And then along came level 5 lockdown, the loss of his job and the shutting down of the food and catering industry.
“I spent my time looking for employment which didn’t go well until it hit me, instead of looking for work, why not create my own company and help expand our industry.
“That’s when my catering company Generis Taste was born, specialising in corporate catering, private chef services and custom-made cakes.”
Hlungwani, who hails from Kempton Park, honed his cooking and baking skills at the Pretoria campus of Capsicum Culinary Studio and graduated in 2018 with a Diploma in Food Preparation and Cooking.
“For me, the biggest advantage in studying at Capsicum was getting taught by lecturers who have real experience in the food industry and have acquired a lot of knowledge and skills which they are willing to pass down to the students,” he says.
After graduation, Hlungwani got a job at Kream, a fine dining establishment based in the Mall of Africa in Midrand.
“I remember it was at 21:15 when I walked into the restaurant and asked if I could get a job with them so that I could learn more and, to my utter surprise, they took me in. I was the only student there and every chef in the kitchen became my teacher. I can’t explain how much growth I got in that kitchen, it was amazing.
“Thereafter, I got a job offer to go work as the sous chef at the South African Bureau of Standards, which was a great experience as well.”
Generis Taste is now flying and Hlungwani is already looking at expanding to keep up with demand. His five-year goal is for the company to grow big enough to be able to provide the catering for national and international presidential guests.
In the meantime, he is busy preparing for the opening of his restaurant @KOO-HU, which he will be launching in the first week of November and which he hopes will become franchised in all nine provinces across the country.
“I am also teaching myself pastry skills via YouTube tutorials,” he says, “because unfortunately my parents’ funds were limited and I never got to do the pastry course at Capsicum.”
So what are this young chef’s favourite things to cook and eat?
“To cook – anything with cheese,” he says. “From lasagne to bolognaise and all the way to risotto balls. And to eat? Well, you can’t beat duck confit with risotto.”
Is there anything he doesn’t eat?
“No, I’ve never come across something that I wouldn’t eat. I think it’s very important to be open-minded about food and be willing to taste anything that’s edible. As a chef, that helps you expand your imagination and better your creativity.”
If he had to cook a meal and serve it to someone famous, what would he make and who would that person be?
“It would be slow-braised lamb shanks with creamy spinach, chakalaka and pap, and I would serve it to President Cyril Ramaphosa and his family,” he says.
It’s highly likely that the President would not only enjoy the meal but would be immensely proud of this entrepreneurial young man who has proved that old adage that when life gives you lemons, you make the best lemonade!
Hlungwani can be contacted at email@example.com or follow him on Instagram @too.much.polaroids, @generistaste and @KOOHU_Restaurant.