He’s cooked for Nelson Mandela, U2, Dire Straits and Elvis Costello, but these days you’ll probably find him on a bicycle or up a mountain. We chat with Jeff Schueremans from the Academy of Chefs about his career path, his advice for young chefs and what he’s up to next.
What was your career path?
I worked as waiter and chef from 16 years old to make pocket money, then studied at hotel school, taking evening classes with a group of friends who loved cooking, wine and socialising. I started my own business – first a pub with catering facilities (which is why I needed the Hotel diploma) and as my knowledge (and finances!) grew, I ventured into a fine dining restaurant, gastro pub and wedding venue. Then, when the life of a chef proprietor became too much for my marriage, divorce and travel hunger set in. I decided to go to South Africa and found a job with Holiday Inn, where I met Mr Bill Gallagher and that’s how I got involved in the SA Chefs Association. The last stop on my corporate career was with Southern Sun as group executive chef.
Why did you want to become a chef?
My father owned a brewery and a dance hall, where food and his own beer was the norm. I think that’s where I got hooked on the lifestyle. But, as all chefs say, it was my mother’s cooking and tuition from a young age that made me want to know more, taste more, feel more, explore more.
What have been some of the notable, most memorable moments in your career?
There have been so many, but being able to pass on my skills to a big group of people who are now leaders in the industry is a humbling feeling. I’ve cooked for Nelson Mandela and rock stars at the Rock Werchter VIP, from U2 to Dire Straits, Elvis Costello and Mink DeVille, but I’ll always remember winning the Nestle Golden Hat competition in South Africa, and becoming part of the National Culinary Team that won Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals. Of course, to be a member, director and vice president of the South African Chefs Association is certainly a highlight. Also, I must mention the fact that my daughter Sofie will only eat scrambled eggs when I make them. Now that’s a memorable moment!
When did you join the Academy of Chefs and what has your experience within the AOC been like? You do not join the Academy but are elected by peers and a selection panel. I was elected in 1994 and what a surprise and a honour that was! Academy members are accountable for presenting a positive image throughout the local, regional and national communities at events they attend and or sponsor. The AOC has been instrumental in making sure that the legacy of our beautiful profession is passed on to the new generation of chefs.
What, to you, does being a member of the Academy of Chefs mean?
The AOC is an Honour society, where the members can be called upon to pass on their knowledge. We’ve learned from the best and made the mistakes we all make. There are no wise men, just men who went through the passage of life.
What is your advice to young chefs?
Have patience and accept that it will take a long time to master the skills. Observe, explore, listen to nature, follow the seasons and remember that food is there first for giving sustenance to the body and mind. Give your taste buds the final decision, but remember that the eye sees it first!
Have you got any exciting plans coming up soon?
Well, we are planning to cycle the Cape Argus 2017 with some chefs to raise funds for the World Chefs Tour Against Hunger. We are also participating in the first annual Shake it Up fundraiser for Parkinson’s in Netherlands in April, which is in aid of the Cas Spijkers Foundation. We’ll also be climbing a lot of mountains – we’re walking Mount Simon in Ethiopia in October with the Hong Kong chefs and walking Manchu Picchu in 2018, all in aid of World Chefs Tour Against Hunger.