The jet-setting chef school

Global Table, with Louise Liebenberg

THREE Port Elizabeth chefs-in- the-making cooked up a storm in the desert this summer by spending several weeks at Dubai hotels as part of an internship arranged for them by internationally trained chef and cooking instructor, Ralph Gottschalk.

Gottschalk is well known in Port Elizabeth for The Pastryworks, his stores and popular cooking classes which are based in Fernglen and Walmer.

Last year he also established the South African Academy of Culinary Afts, or Saaca, which awards diplomas in both culinary arts and pastry arts.

Gottschalk will see his first crop of students qualifying once they have finished their final practical exams in a week's time.

He is already preparing for his next intake, with students currently registering for the coming year and registration closing in mid-February.

Coalin Finn, Daniel Bradley and Jacques du Plessis are so fired up by their Dubai experience that all three are eager to head overseas again to pursue full-time careers in food.

Du Plessis, 23, of Fernglen, spent several weeks at the highly rated Movenpick Hotel at Battuta Gate in Dubai.

The hotel is part of an international group that originated in Switzerland and with which Gottschalk has an arrangement to place students, with Finn and Bradley also having interned at Movenpick hotels but elsewhere in Dubai.

"I'd always loved cooking and when I left school had wanted to enrol at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch. But I ended up doing a B.Sc in microbiology instead, thinking at that stage I might go into wine or beer-making.

"But cooking has always been a passion – I especially like the science part of cooking, Heston Blumenthal style," the former Andrew Rabie pupil said.

"Being in Dubai was a really good experience, but very intense. We had to pay for our own flights there but otherwise all our accommodation, transport costs and meals were covered.

"My next plan is to head to Melbourne, a major culinary centre in Australia, in June or July. I have some family there who will sponsor me and am keen to work in the restaurant or hotel industry there."

Finn and Bradley spent a month and a half at the Movenpick at Jumeirah Beach Residence, having worked there for the whole of December until mid-January – an extremely busy time at the hotel.

"It's one of the fastest grouping hotel groups in the world so to do an internship there was fantastic," Finn, 19, said.

The former Grey schoolboy did the pastry art qualification this past year while Bradley, 22, a past pupil from Alexander Road, studied culinary arts.

"I studied IT networking before, but it wasn't for me. Having done Ralph's course I know more than ever that I am now in the field that I want to be in," Bradley said.

Finn's family are in retail and he saw a food qualification as something that would tie-in with that, besides the fact that "I grew up cooking and baking and it's something I've always wanted to do".

"I loved Dubai – it's so cosmopolitan and international and the food is incredible – it's fresher than you've ever seen and flown in from around the world.

"I had a fantastic experience at the Movenpick, even though it was really hard work – my longest shift was 20 hours.

"We made everything from breads to pastries to croissants from scratch... cakes, petit fours, the works.

"The hotel was at 100% occupancy and the Christmas and New Year's banquets which I helped with were extremely busy.

"I'm going back there – I've signed a two-year contract to return to the same hotel on February 16," Finn said.

Gottschalk has also secured internship opportunities at Anantara Resort Hotels and Spas worldwide and at the Four Season and St Regis hotels in Thailand.

Several of his interns also worked at local hotels like the Radisson Blu.