Founder-Principal Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine
Jackie Cameron is an award-winning chef and the founder-principal of Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine. Her love for food began around the kitchen table at her parents’ home, where she said, “everything happened”.
Her early career included being the head chef at Hartford House, and her game plan was to stay there for one year, however, she ended up working there for nearly 12 years.
“I went to Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. Apart from learning about food, I loved her business mind, and I realised that education was where I wanted to go. It was about year two at Hartford House that I started thinking about transforming my parents’ home, in Hilton, into Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine.”
Jackie added with a laugh, “I think that I know how to cook, but my calling has always been teaching.”
Motivation from within
She went on to say that much of her motivation came from her parents. “It’s my upbringing, I never, ever want to disappoint my parents, they’ve kind of devoted their entire lives to my sister and me. They even lived on a building site for 10 years.”
Her three-year-old daughter is now also an important source of motivation, as Jackie says, she is watching every step she takes. In addition, Jackie says motivation has to come from within – we have to have self-motivation. “As a family, we’re always excited to go to work. I have never worked a day in my life because I’m passionate and I love my work to the point of being obsessive.”
Commenting on her many achievements over the years, Jackie says that waking up in the morning and making a beautiful plate of food is fulfilling and obviously brings pleasure to the people sitting in the restaurant. However, for her waking up and seeing the growth, development and upliftment of her staff was hugely gratifying. That’s what got her excited about the potential of opening her own training facility.
Jackie added, “It’s lovely getting awards, and I have had many of them, but for me now, being at my school is more rewarding. It’s about my students winning the awards. I find I can celebrate that so much more easily.”
Once qualified, Jackie’s students are 100% guaranteed of finding a job placement. She explains, “I can find them work and they can pick and choose where in the world they want to go or where in the country they want to cook, which is really special. My students are going out into the world, winning phenomenal things, and doing extremely well, which makes me very excited.”
Jackie’s journey has not been without challenges; however, she says that she is able to get over anything negative extremely quickly. She commented that she sees every challenge as a learning curve.
One of the challenges Jackie has experienced has been learning to manage difficult students. She explains that she enjoys managing each student completely differently to get the maximum out of each individual. She added that she believes in leading by example. “There’s no way that my students would do what they do with smiles on their faces, and with as much energy and excitement, if I didn’t also wash the dishes.”
Another challenge that Jackie experienced when she opened her school, was handling the perception – due to her “blonde hair, makeup and earrings” that she always has on – that she was providing a finishing school.
“Some parents thought if they sent their daughter to my school, it was going to be a quick copy and paste, and their daughter was going to be a Jackie Cameron. That was never going to happen.” People soon realised that Jackie was offering an internationally accredited chef’s course. She has trained students of all ages, from all areas of South Africa, as well as internationally, in diverse areas of cooking.
As she says, the training that she offers is, “intense, fantastic, fabulous, and real”. She adds, “There are no grey areas with me. I’m very old school. If you are five minutes late, you are late, that’s how kitchens work. I never want the money that is being put into education to get wasted.”
Jackie’s future goals are to train more people. “I feel by educating and training you’re not just making a difference to that one person; you’re making a difference to the entire family that surrounds that person. More money needs to be put into education because it does change lives.”
Give it your all
In guiding her students, Jackie comments that the ages 20 to 30 are the most important time of your career life. “You’ve got to put your head down and give it your all. Every day chefs go to work, wanting to be better, quicker, faster than the person on each side of them. You’ve got to be focused and you’ve got to know what your aims and goals are. But it’s only going to happen if you’re not scared of hard work.”
Jackie is grateful to her husband, Ben, and their baby girl Jasmine. She explains, “If they weren’t in my life, I think I would work every minute of every day. It’s fantastic to get balance, to have them and to spend family time with them.”
In her spare time Jackie does a lot of cooking. “I bake in my free time,” she says, as her blue eyes light up. “It’s not because I’m a chef, but how I was brought up. If we were craving something sweet, we didn’t go the cupboard – we made it ourselves.”
Jackie concluded that she gets inspired by having conversations with people who are doing well and wants to learn from them. She is excited to be part of KZN Top Business Women 2023.