Dining Out, Featured, People of Joburg

Chef of the Month: James Khoza

Jul 1, 2019, Author: Candice May

“If it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t go on the menu,” once said celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal. These are the words that James Khoza, executive chef at Sandton Convention Centre and president of the South African Chefs Association, lives by. 


When did your culinary journey start? 

After studying Food & Beverage Management at Wits Technikon, my culinary journey really began at the Sandton Sun in 1995. I believe I’m now an old hand in this industry, but I learn every day. 

What’s the best part about working at SCC? 

It’s humbling seeing great multitudes of people who travel extensively enjoy the meals I prepare for them. My favourite cuisine to cook is local cuisine – there’s nothing better than oxtail that’s been braised, deboned, pressed, breaded and then fried, or whole tripe boiled and then fried in a breadcrumb. 


Is it frowned upon for men to enjoy cooking in your culture? 

In the African culture, cooking is mostly associated with women – it’s considered unmanly if a man is seen in the kitchen. I grew up in Dobsonville, Soweto, so it was tough when I first took an interest in cooking, but I’ve grown into the profession and now stand to dispel this misplaced conception. 

How would you describe the newly launched menus? 

Fresh, soulful, health-conscious and customised for each client. I’ve made vegetables the star of the show on the new menus – each protein is paired with its own vegetable and starch, and we’ve traded in boring old buffet-style dining for singular dishes served on trays. 


Tell us about some of the well-loved icons you’ve cooked for. 

Because SCC hosts large-scale international events, the list is endless. Nelson Mandela, Barrack Obama, Cyril Ramaphosa, Bill Clinton, Thabo Mbeki and Jack Ma are just a few off the top of my head. Other career highlights include working with the late Dr Bill Gallagher and working at the InterContinental Berlin. 

How have your travels influenced your cooking? 

I’ve been to France, Germany, Greece, Malaysia, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand and a few African countries. Experiencing these countries’ different cultures and respectful approach towards their own indigenous ingredients and food made me realise how much South African chefs have lost their identity. At SCC, we now try and include at least one local food item on each menu. 

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