Ammaarah Petersen knew she wanted to be a chef from a very young age.

“At the age of four I knew I wanted to be a chef,” said Petersen, who currently owns Ammaarah-Licious, a company offering private chef services, corporate lunches, and the opportunity to book a private dinner on Clifton Beach. “I used to help my mom in the kitchen all the time, because my family, we celebrate with food. Every single thing is a feast.”

Unlike most people’s childhood ambitions, Petersen’s was realised: she’s done everything from supplying restaurants with staff to doing cooking demonstrations at food festivals to catering film productions to leading the kitchen at South Africa’s #1 hotel and spa.

“I always say: Good food gives you a good mood,” the chef said. “When you eat good food, I feel that it actually gives you a purpose. Most people don’t actually take note of what they’re eating, they just eat to eat. Whereas what I’ve found is if you actually plan what you’re eating, you get the best out of a person.”

Petersen comes from a religious Muslim family, and consequently, instead of going to a co-educational high school, Petersen began to study Arabic morphology, historic beliefs, and Islamic history.

Before beginning her studies, 13-year-old Petersen made a deal with her mother: if she got the degree, than she could study cooking afterwards.

The teenager sped through the program, finishing the typically five-year course at the age of 16.

When she graduated, Petersen was ready to pursue her real dream: professional cooking. Her mother convinced her to work in an Observatory restaurant before taking professional classes, to make sure that she was committed.

Teaching Arabic in the afternoon and working mornings and weekends, Petersen was working for seven days a week, with very little free time. But soon, she had convinced her mother to pay for a French cooking course at Capsicum Culinary Studio. There, she would take a yearlong course – six months of coursework and learning, followed by six months of working in a professional restaurant.

“I always had a passion for food and, for me, gourmet food is that food that looks very fancy, it looks like art on a plate,” Petersen said. “That is what French cuisine teaches you – how to decorate and make your food into art – and that’s why I specifically chose French cooking.”

At Capsicum, she was the student alumni vice president and, with one of the highest aggregate scores in her class, had the opportunity to work in the Arabella Sheraton (now the Westin Grand). Instead, she chose to work in the Raddison Hotel.

While working at the Raddison, she began to recommend fellow students to restaurant managers and head chefs looking for temporary extra help. Eventually, she had so many requests that she began to charge R5 per hour per person she was supplying.

She did that for about a year and a half, before launching her own business, offering outsourcing, private chefs, and catering. She then branched into film catering for six months – working six days a week to provide four meals per day to a film crew of 1000. On the seventh day, she and her five-person staff prepared for the next week.

After six months, she decided she needed to focus more on her private chef practice, and took an “Internet Super User” course at the University of Cape Town.

There, she realised that she needed to focus on goals. She realised that what was driving her wasn’t a quest for money or fame, but a quest for success.

Realising that she loved to talk to people and to teach, Petersen decided to become a demonstration chef, cooking at conventions and cooking shows throughout South Africa.

Then at the age of 19, she received an opportunity to become the head chef at Romney Park, the #1 hotel and spa in South Africa.

“I decided, I’m going to take this opportunity,” she said. “There were people in my class that were 36 that studied with me, and they never got an opportunity like this. I thought, okay, the money’s less, but I think I’m going to do this.”

She worked there for about a year before deciding to go back into business in the private sector. At 20 years old, she took business administration courses from Learn to Earn, an organisation that mentors entrepreneurs. She learned that she had an affinity for public speaking and decided to buy a food trailer and speak and cook at food festivals throughout South Africa.

In 2012, Petersen sold the trailer to go to Saudi Arabia with her family.

“I was like, there’s no way I can miss out on this opportunity,” she said. “To travel overseas is an experience on its own, but to travel with family, I don’t think most people get that opportunity. So I sold my food trailer the following week and I said, cool, I have enough spending cash to go wild.”

The experience, especially travelling to Makka and seeing the Ka’ba, completely changed her.

“The experience made me see life in a completely different way,” she said. “I was amongst millions of people who spoke, looked, and lived differently, but all met at one place for the same purpose. The trip taught me that is does not matter what you have or don’t have on the outside, it’s what you can teach others, through your actions, your living, and your experience of life. I truly realised there that we are all different but yet we are all the same.”

Coming back from Saudi Arabia, she signed up for Shanduka Black Umbrellas, a non-profit enterprise incubation program, and re-launched Ammaarah-Licious as it is now.

“I sort of started this company with the idea of food solutions,” Petersen said. “I wanted be a company that could provide anybody with absolutely any food requirement.”

Ammaarah-Licious is the only company in South Africa that has a permit to cater private dinners on Clifton Beach. The company also privates healthy, fresh lunches for corporations, and private chef services for individuals.

“That’s the cool thing about being an entrepreneur – taking a simple idea and bringing it to life,” Petersen said.

She’s currently working on a series of cookbooks – the first can be downloaded for free on her website – and is trying to collaborate with sponsors and volunteers with the goal of feeding an orphanage every week.

Her biggest cooking tip?

“Cooking with love provides food for the soul. So my biggest tip is just cook with love. Don’t do it if you’re in a bad mood…because when you cook and you don’t have love, love is your most important ingredient and love is what makes your food taste absolutely amazing.”

Listen to her interview about entrepreneurship, mentorship, and – of course – cooking, below:

For more stories and podcasts that inspire, please visit the SPICE4LIFE website, check out ourSoundCloud account, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter @Spice4Life_ .

To learn more about Ammaarah Petersen and Ammaarah-Licious, visit her website and blog at www.hotchefs.co.za, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter @Ammaarah65.

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