With an appreciation for the sweeter things in life, Chef Thuli Mabunda was appointed as the Pastry Chef of Southern Sun Montecasino 6 months ago.  “I love the beauty and creativity of pastry,” says Thuli. “It allows you to use your imagination.” She first joined the Southern Sun Montecasino team in 2013 as chef de partie, but she’s had a long history with the Tsogo Sun group.

It was while she was waitressing that the kitchen caught Chef Thuli Mabunda’s eye. “I liked watching the chefs cook, and wanted to learn more,” says Thuli. When she saw an advert in the newspaper advertising professional cookery internships at Tsogo Sun, she grabbed the opportunity, applied and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thuli began her internship at Sandton Sun in 1997, working with Chefs Garth Shnier and Kelvin Joel in the cold kitchen. The year-long internship was made up of 6 months theory and 6 months practical.  “Our practical involved rotating from section to section, but once I reached the cold kitchen my pastry chef saw that I had an aptitude for pastry, so I spent most of my time in that department,” says Thuli.

After she qualified as a professional chef, she joined the Sandton Sun as commis in pastry. As she worked, she continued to learn, which she believes is imperative for young chefs to do. One lesson that she learnt the hard way is to always be prepared. “When I was at Sandton Sun, we were taught how to temper chocolate and then asked to demonstrate tempering in front of the guests,” says Thuli. “The pastry chef showed me how to do it, but I forgot the temperatures we needed to heat and cool down the chocolate to. When it came time to tempering the chocolate in front of the guests, the chocolate wasn’t setting correctly, so the pastry chef had to come and help me in front of everyone. I learnt then that you always have to be prepared for the job that you’re doing – to do research all the time and have as much practice as you can. Practical is more important than theory when it comes down to actually doing the job.”

Now at Southern Sun Montecasino, she enjoys doing training with the students who visit from hotel school. “Most students don’t like pastry when they first come to the hotel. They think it’s a lot of work, but I show them that it’s not so difficult,” says Thuli. “You just have to put your mind to it, learn and once you’re more knowledgeable about it then you’ll begin to enjoy it.”

“Pastry can be tricky because people tend to forget about temperatures – in pastry your oven and ingredient temperatures need to be correct – and your mixing methods and quantities also have to be spot on. If you make a mistake, then you have to start from scratch.”

Some of the advice she gives to young chefs who want to specialise in pastry is to never give up and learn as much as they can. “Go to hotel school, research, find out more about pastry, communicate with people,” says Thuli.

As for her favourite pastries, she enjoys creating the decadent chocolate lava pudding for the Southern Sun Montecasino Punchinello Restaurant’s winter menu. Even though she creates a number of classic cakes for the restaurant – carrot, sacher torte, caramel, black forest – she absolutely loves baked cheesecake. We’re sure that her guests enjoy eating it as much as she loves creating it!