Chef D is in da house!
It was slap bang in the middle of the 2010 FIFA World Cup that Denzil Jacobs’ mother decided to move her family from their home in Alberton, Gauteng, to Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape.
The then 15-year-old Jacobs remembers it well and recalls he was initially a little apprehensive leaving the place where he had grown up. But, within days of the move, Jacobs felt right at home in the small coastal town which also saw him begin his culinary journey.
It’s not surprising that 12 years later, Jacobs is heading up the kitchen at the 5-star Intle Boutique Hotel, located eight kilometres outside Thornhill in the Eastern Cape.
That’s not to say it’s been an easy or smooth road to success for Jacobs.
“Growing up, I didn’t really have any ambitions to be in the hospitality industry, but when I was 15, I started applying for December jobs and ended up working in a local Thai restaurant in Jeffrey’s Bay. I had mentioned on my CV that one of my hobbies included cooking and, although they were really only looking for waiters, I was hired as an assistant chef because the guy who had been in the position had just left. The woman for whom I worked was Thai and she taught me all about her country’s culture and food. To this day, most of my dishes have some sort of Thai twist to them. I remember she once said to me “Denzil, you must always cook with your tongue and only use a recipe as a guideline”. That remains the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given.”
In 2015 the restaurant was forced to close, and Jacobs found himself struggling with what to do next while he worked temporarily in retail.
“Eventually I came to the conclusion that I was either going to go to film school or cooking school. It was a difficult choice to make because both industries interest me. I thought long and hard and eventually decided to go the culinary route.”
Jacobs enrolled at Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Nelson Mandela Bay campus in 2016 and graduated a year later with a Diploma in Food Preparation and Cooking. He was voted ‘Best Improved Student’ of the year and won entry into a cooking competition, competing against top students from other culinary schools across the country.
Although his team was only placed third, it spurred him on to work harder and hone his craft so that next time he would do better.
As part of his studies at Capsicum, Jacobs was placed at Kariega Game Reserve - Settlers Drift in Kenton-on-Sea, for a six-month tenure. It was the start of his rise.
“After six months, I was offered a position as a Chef de Partie and almost a year later I was promoted to Sous-Chef at Kariega Game Reserve - Ukhozi Lodge. It was all going so well, and I felt my career was really starting to take off.
But in January 2020 I fell very ill. At one point I thought it might have been Covid, because it was around that time that the pandemic started, and my life turned upside down. I had to leave Kariega to try and find somewhere closer to home, but then the country went into lockdown, and I found myself unemployed.”
But, as they say, you can’t keep a good man down for long and the ambitious, creative and talented young chef decided to start his own enterprise.
I launched a private cheffing business, cooking for small gatherings and birthday parties, creating takeaway meals and special deliveries and making short cooking videos to teach people how to prepare certain dishes. I also started teaching myself food photography and, while I’m no expert in video content creation or photography, it’s a work in progress and I love it.”
However, Jacobs missed the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, so when lockdown restrictions started easing and the hospitality industry slowly began opening up again, Jacobs sought out job opportunities that would get him back into cooking full time.
“In July last year, I applied for a Chef De Partie position at Intle Boutique Hotel and was lucky enough to get the job. A short while later I was promoted to Head Chef, and I am now responsible for running the kitchen and managing a small team. Intle is a great place for growth and my skills have grown so much over the last 10 months.”
What’s his advice to young aspirants out there who want a career in the hospitality industry?
“Never stop learning and know up front that it is hard work. It’s all about attitude and having a can-do mindset. Don’t do it just because you want to be a famous chef. You can get the accolades, but you must be prepared to work your socks off!”
Where does he see himself in five years’ time?
“By 2027 I hope to be working in my own restaurant and will have published at least three recipe books. I am currently working on my first book which is called Chef D is in the House: Cooking the Basics, where I turn family home recipes into fine dining mouth-watering dishes.”
Given Jacobs' hard work and can-do attitude, we don't doubt it.