Executive chef of Sandton Convention Centre James Khoza’s exhilarating journey with food started almost 20 years ago. His steadfast commitment to improving the quality, variety, research and presentation of food has seen his passion develop within this realm and provide a platform from which he explores the characteristics of ingredients through experience, experimentation and recipes.
The beauty of becoming a chef lies in the essential need that humans have for food. We cannot live without it.
James Khoza | Executive Chef
Khoza completed his studies at Tecknikon Witwatersrand and has had the opportunity to travel and work in places such as France, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Berlin. It was in Berlin that Khoza was given the amazing opportunity to work in a Michelin-starred restaurant. His tutelage has since included the likes of chef Thomas Kammeier Hugos; Berlin InterContinental Hotel Germany, Dr. Billy Gallagher, Luke Dale Roberts, and Klaus Beckmann.
James has furthermore had the chance to create culinary experiences for some of the most well-loved icons including Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa and international freedom icon and Richard Branson; Founder of the Virgin Group. While adding the likes of Jacob Zuma; President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe; Deputy President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki; former President of South Africa and Jeremy Mansfield; former 94.7 radio to the list of individuals whom he has had the pleasure of serving.
Khoza currently works under the guidance and mentorship of Tsogo Sun’s well-known executive chef, Garth Shnier, whom Khoza regards as someone who contributes daily to his steadily growing knowledge of his profession.
Khoza says that travelling the world opened him up to a new way of thinking. “Essentially, I embraced a more creative approach to thinking about the nature of food; what you can do to a simple product to turn it into a masterpiece.” Khoza’s passion for food is what has driven him to always strive for perfection, which has African flair. It is this passion that has Khoza creating culinary experiences to share with the world.
James would like to take this flair and experiences to the homes of ordinary South African people as well as the world by sharing his creations. Each dish will showcase James unique style, influenced by world renowned chefs, as well as the people that enjoy them.
What inspired you to pursue the culinary arts professionally?
While I was at Carlton Centre Hotel assisting my mother’s boss with the décor for a wedding I noticed a group of chefs in uniform in the kitchen preparing food for the guests. Just staring at them got me inspired.
What did you have to study? Where were you trained? What was your first chef job?
I studied Food and Beverage at Technikon Witswatersrand. During my studies at university I received training from Southern Sun. My first job was a commis chef.
How long have you been working for Sandton Convention Centre (SCC)?
Four years and prior to that I was with Sandton Sun, both of which are part of the Tsogo Sun group.
What is a typical day in the life of an executive chef at SCC?
I start work around 6am, and every day is different, depending on what events we have taking place. I head up a team of chefs who prepare the food for breakfasts, coffee breaks and lunches, and in the evening cocktail parties and dinners. We cater for groups as small as 10 up to as many as 5 000. On a daily basis I monitor the function sheets for the whole week and, with the help of my team, we prepare the menus for the day, getting as much of our preparation done the day before the event as possible. I also attend meetings with clients and SCC management, as well as food tastings. I have daily meetings with the sous chefs to ensure smooth running of all kitchen departments and it is my responsibility to ensure that all menus are constantly updated and that all staff are constantly trained to ensure aesthetically pleasing presentation of all dishes.
What’s the largest number of people you’ve ever catered for in one day?
5 000 (1 800 meals in a day).
And the largest number at a single function?
How many chefs do you employ at SCC?
We have approximately 40 chefs.
Tell us about the most challenging and complex event you’ve worked on at SCC from a catering perspective?
One event that stands out is the Bidvest Annual Gala Dinners, which are held over three days. It’s a world-class event, and the food has to fit the profile of the event, requiring five-star standards. We serve around three to four courses to 1 500 people per night for three nights and each course is served within seven minutes to all the guests. It’s a massive undertaking and a privilege to be involved.
What has been your biggest achievement as Executive Chef at SCC?
It has been to be able to teach and mentor staff to bring out the best in each team member. I encourage my staff to pass on their knowledge and experience to each other in order to foster success in one’s professional and personal goals.
What is your favourite dish to eat at home and who cooks it?
My favourite is pasta with tomato sauce and leftover chicken or any other meat. I am the one who cooks and I make sure it’s done well and tastes delicious.
What’s the best compliment you ever received about your cooking?
The food is soulful, fresh and different.
What’s the most surprising thing you have learned as chef?
I have learned to appreciate people for who they are because everyone has gifts and talents to share with others. Also, that judging others is wrong and instead we need to embrace one another. In this way we can also empower each other and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and that they are part of the team.
Any tips for the festive season entertaining that you can share with us?
Life in general has become so complicated, so my tips are to not do something you’ve never done before; rather spend your time with loved ones to strengthen relationships and to make wonderful family memories. Prepare as much as possible before cooking your dishes, get your elements right and make sure you are cooking well. Bring those kitchen skills out and if not, get the necessary training for your benefit.