Billy Gallagher’s first impressions of South Africa were 'the beauty of the country', and 'how incredibly friendly everyone was.' His recollections of the South African culinary landscape at the time are less rose-coloured: 'It was a complete culinary desert,' he recalls.
In 1973, fresh from London’s famous Dorchester Hotel, he arrived with his wife to take up a position with local hotel chain Southern Sun. As executive sous-chef, Billy Gallagher was dismayed at the lack of formal training, low levels of competency and the absence of any apprenticeship schemes in South African kitchens.
In 1974, he helped to found the South African Chefs Association (SACA) with the aim of nurturing world-class local chefs. Passion, culinary skill and natural business acumen saw Billy rise swiftly through the ranks of Southern Sun, to become the groups’ Food and Beverage Director by the end of the 80s.
In 1982, South African chef Billy Gallagher was elected president of SACA. He held the position for 21 years before becoming honorary president in 2003. During his tenure, the association swelled from a few hundred to several thousand members.
Co-founder of SACA, Marc Guebert, describes Billy’s contribution: 'We were unseen workers and now we are a recognised profession. Training, salaries and working conditions are incomparably better. Every chef and every aspiring apprentice owes that to Billy.'
Billy’s boundless legacy includes being a member of the first South African Culinary Olympics team; bringing the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) to South Africa; collaborating with renowned French chef Paul Bocuse to create the prestigious Bocuse D’Or competition; and becoming World President of WACS in 1996, and Honorary Life President in 2000.
Billy retired in 2008, and remains a beloved mentor to the hospitality profession.