From cleaner to master chef

With trust in God, hard work, and determination, a person can change his life for the better. That has been the experience of Charles De Kock. But the South African has more than this experience to share with unemployed adults and youth when he meets with them every Saturday.

“I always loved to watch my mother through the kitchen window as she cooked,” relates Charles De Kock, who presently attends the New Apostolic congregation of Johannesburg Central (South Africa). “My mother makes the best green bean curry and cabbage stew. Already then it was clear to me that I wanted to become a chef,” he says with a smile, “However, even today, I cannot master the art of making those two dishes as well as my mother did. I guess I must not have peeped through the window often enough.”

Keeping your eye on the goal

The goal was in his sights, but fell out of reach for a time at the start: after having completed his schooling at the technical school in his home town in the province of Northern Cape, Charles made his way to Johannesburg—nearly 500 kilometres away—in order to go and look for a job there. He found work as a cleaner in the laundry division of a hospital. A few months later, he transferred to the hospital’s kitchen, again working as a cleaner.

Nevertheless, he always kept his eye on the goal: “While cleaning, I would always observe what the chefs were doing—and soon I was assisting them in various tasks like peeling and cleaning vegetables. I was then promoted to vegetable chef, and was eventually promoted to other positions such as meat chef, cold kitchen chef, menu coordinator, catering supervisor, and so on.”

Time to give something back

And his determination paid off: after spending more than twenty years in the hospitality industry, Charles de Kock is now the Catering Project Manager at a large and well known South African catering corporation, has won various cooking competitions, and has secured the title “Chef of the year” in 2006, 2009, and 2012. Now the time has come to give something of what he himself has received back to the community.

By telling of his journey from cleaner to master chef, De Kock means to inspire hope, especially in young people. That is also the reason he volunteers as an instructor at a non-profit training organization that allows unemployed youth and adults to receive free training, which in turn helps them find work in the hospitality industry. The participants come from communities all around Johannesburg.

Experiencing the blessing of helping others

“My mother always taught us to be humble and to share with our neighbour. It is very important for me to serve my community with the gifts and talents I possess,” says Charles as he explains his motivation. “I want to lead by example, I want to share my expertise, to improve the skills and experience of others so they can benefit.”

Since he began teaching in 2014, he has trained 60 people. After completing a theoretical portion in subjects like food hygiene, food costing, and menu design, his students complete their practical internship in various hotels and restaurants throughout South Africa. Ten of his students were already offered a job immediately following their internship. “These are special moments of joy for me. It makes me happy when I can help others,” says Brother Charles De Kock. “I feel the blessing of our heavenly Father in this.”

Photo: Charles De Kock (centre) together with graduates of the year 2015 (photo RLabs Jozi)

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Rivonia Naidu-Hoffmeester, Dinara Ganzer
Social commitment, Congregational life, People/Personalities