South African culinary hero Lucas Ndlovu South African culinary hero Lucas Ndlovu

Chef Lucas Ndlovu’s innate talent and outgoing personality allowed him to break the mould in professional South African kitchens at a time when black staff were largely relegated to cleaning up after their white counterparts. In so doing, he has become a role model for young, aspirant chefs.

Did you know?

Lucas Ndlovu is one of only 24 South African chefs to be inducted into the prestigious Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.

Lucas Ndlovu’s ascent to the upper echelons of the culinary elite in South Africa cannot be underestimated. In the late 1950s, when Ndlovu first began working in hotel kitchens, he was a chef’s assistant in an industry that could barely conceive of black people as cooks, let alone chefs.

Back then, any black commis chef (junior chef) who aspired to a serious career in the kitchen had to work their way up, learning by repetition, as no formal training or apprenticeship programmes were in place. And they seldom made it to the level of sous chef (just below the head chef). 

But Ndlovu's employers and fellow chefs noticed the young man's passion and enthusiasm for food. Chef Billy Gallagher, his mentor and long-time friend, describes him as a chef 'who cooks with such style and grace that when Lucas represented South Africa at the Bocuse d'Or chef’s competition, even the legendary chef, Paul Bocuse, was enchanted with him'.

At one time the only black chef to be inducted into the South African Chefs Association, Ndlovu's career has been illustrious: he is one of only a handful of chefs elected to the association’s Academy of Chefs – a privilege reserved for master chefs who have made an outstanding contribution to advancing the hospitality industry.

He's cooked for former South African presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, as well as politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi, as well as a large number of other politicians and celebrities.

Ndlovu is still known as a specialist in preparing local venison and bringing indigenous dishes to the tables of five-star establishments, long into semi-retirement. He continues to train young chefs, occasionally travels overseas for demonstrations, and participates in various charitable programmes, such as World Cooks Tour for Hunger.