The students call him Chef. Those who are fortunate enough to have had Chef Victor Helberg prepare tasty treats for them undoubtedly call him often! His culinary creations are called delightful, delicious, and delectable. Helberg, a Master Chef, is considered one of South Africa’s best pastry chefs. He’s been a chocolatier and pastry chef for 41 years and recently brought his expertise to Bulembu for a three-day workshop in cake baking and icing. He was brought to Bulembu by the Hospitality Training Centre (HTC), to teach 11 students on the fundamentals of baking and cake decorating.
Helberg, who started his training at the age of six, says being a chef is all about passion. “Unless you have passion in order to make something, you may as well give up catering and being a chef,” he said. “You have got to have passion.”
Chef Helberg definitely has passion to prepare food but to teach as well as to learn. His education began at the Silwood Kitchen Cordon Bleu School in Cape Town. Some might think this Master Chef can whip up a recipe on a whim but Helberg says he was taught to read the recipe: Learn the basics of all recipes and then use the recipe when cooking.
“I carry around with me a little black book,” he explained. “My little black book is comprised of about 150 pages and about 30,000 recipes which I can’t remember off-pat. I have my ingredients and then I have my summary method. That’s all that’s needed. As long as you know the science, the right balance of ingredients and making up recipes is simple.”
Helberg says one of the most important things about teaching a cooking class is not just in showing somebody how to make something but also in helping the student understand how not to make something.
“We have done vanilla cakes and chocolate cakes,” he said of his HTC baking class in Bulembu. “And some of them flopped! In the theory lesson, I showed them the theory: ‘Make it this way, this is what could happen.’ In the kitchen, that’s exactly what happened because they didn’t do what they were told to do.”
The mark of a good chef is one who is open to correction, something that is rare among most professional chefs.
“There must be no ego and there must be no attitude,” Helberg said. “You find a lot of chefs around the world – from trainees to master chefs – who have attitude and ego. Very few want to share, but it’s by sharing that you learn more.”
Helberg likes the idea of the creation of a chef’s association in Swaziland and hopes there will be a collective effort to make it work.
New adventures are on the horizon for this pastry chef come the beginning of the year when he’ll become Executive Pastry Chef for a new company. Helberg will be developing more than 100 different lines of products ranging from confessionary to baking and cakes to chocolates and everything in between for a food emporium.
Wherever his culinary creations take him, Chef Victor Helberg can be certain the citizens of Bulembu will be calling on him for future cooking classes as well as some of his most delightful, delicious and delectable treats!