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Catch up with MasterChef SA finalist, Sims Kubeka

From an engineer to a chef in France, here’s a South African dream come true.

Software engineer turned aspiring chef, Simphiwe ‘Sims’ Kubeka, stole our hearts as a finalist on Season 4 of MasterChef South Africa.

 Soon after the show wrapped, Sims was snapped up to work as an apprentice at Michelin star-rated restaurant JAN in the south of France.

Our editor caught up with him to hear more about what it’s like to be living his dream.

Life before MasterChef SA

Lifechanging career decisions can be tough to make. Many of us are not bold enough to risk leaving the relative security of our day job to follow our dreams. But Chef Simphiwe ‘Sims’ Kubeka took the plunge, accepting the challenge to participate in MasterChef SA. The gamble paid off.

‘I always loved cooking as a kid, especially baking,’ shares Sims. ‘So much so, that when I was 16, I imagined I might open my own bakery!’ At a crossroads when he finished school, Sims put his passion aside and went down a traditional path. ‘I grew up thinking I had to follow the money, so I got a practical job.’

At the time, Sims had no idea this decision would one day lead him back to the kitchen. ‘I enjoyed my job as a software engineer. I was working remotely, and managed my time well, which gave me a lot of freedom to create and practice new recipes.’ Finding joy in food again, Sims honed his culinary skills and started using them as a form of expression.

Taking a chance on season 4

‘It was my fiancée, Kayla June Domnakis, who convinced me to stop worrying about money and the practicality of it all,’ says Sims. She recognised his passion for making food and submitted an entry to MasterChef South Africa Season 4 on his behalf.

‘Kayla has been my biggest supporter,’ says Sims. ‘She is the reason I am where I am today.’ Sims’ lightbulb moment came to him on the set of MasterChef SA. ‘Being surrounded by so many passionate cooks opened my eyes to the endless possibilities in the food industry. I gained confidence and realised that this was something I could really do.’

Following your passion and talent pays

It was acclaimed South African-born chef Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen, who saw potential in Sims and snatched him up. Sims is currently completing a coveted apprenticeship at Restaurant JAN in Nice, in the south of France. Working in a professional kitchen was an eye opener for him.

‘It’s a totally different league, but I try to keep a positive mindset and rise above every challenge that is thrown my way,’ explains Sims, who knows that every day spent there is making him a better chef. ‘Jan Hendrik has a wealth of knowledge, and he is incredibly inspiring.’

The transition from software engineer to Masterchef SA finalist to apprentice at JAN has not been easy. But Sims has proven both to himself and countless other South Africans that following your dream and pursuing your passion is not only possible but an important part of self-discovery.

We put Sims Kubeka in the hot seat:

1. What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without and why?

Garlic: it’s a must-have aromatic ingredient for every savoury dish.

2. What is your favourite dish to prepare?

My style of cooking combines European techniques with South African flavours to create something truly special. Baking is still my passion and one of my favourite things to make is my Honeybush chiffon cake with a lemon drizzle icing.

3. You’re hosting an intimate dinner. You can invite any three people you like (dead or alive). Who would be sitting at your table?

Pâtissier and MasterChef Australia contestant Adriano Zumbo and Michelin star chefs Dominique Crenn and Marco-Pierre White.

4. What’s your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen?

On episode 12 of MasterChef South Africa, I dropped my cake right at the end of the challenge. It was a terrible moment for me.

5. Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you.

I like to DJ and produce music in my spare time. I am also a collector of antique South African coins.

Photography: MasterChef SA, Courtesy Images

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