"There’s bread in that wine!"

Wednesday, 9 October, 2013
Jim Freeman, The Skills Portal
In just five years, 27-year-old Tinashe Nyamudoka of the One&Only Cape Town has gone from never having tasted wine in his life to being the Western Cape’s top up-and-coming sommelier.
When his victory in the junior sommelier’s category of this year’s inaugural Western Cape Inter-Hotel Challenge was announced, his colleagues (including celebrity chef Reuben Riffel) leapt to their feet in joy. All except one man; One&Only Cape Town resort manager Robin Thomas.

Thomas stayed seated. He sat back in his chair and applauded softly. But his pride was stamped loud on his smiling face.

On his way to winning the junior sommelier’s category of this year’s inaugural Inter-Hotel Challenge in the Western Cape, Nyamudoka competed against his counterparts from the Bushman’s Kloof, Cape Grace, Mount Nelson, Queen Victoria, Radisson Blu, Taj Cape Town, Royal Portfolio, Twelve Apostlesand Vineyard hotels.

Among his prizes was a three-month stint in Switzerland working with The White Club, a by-invitation-only association of connoisseurs who appreciate the best and rarest wines in the world.

The young Zimbabwean, who grew up picturing himself to one day be an accountant, admits he comes from “a culture that knows nothing about wine”. As such, his five-year ongoing learning experience has been incredibly intense. “During my first interview for waiter at The Roundhouse in Camps Bay, I didn’t even know you got red and white grapes!”

Tinashe, however, showed enthusiasm and a willingness to learn – two character traits that continue to stand him in good stead.

The man who interviewed him – along with 30 other hopefuls – for the job in 2008 said he had nothing to fear.That person was Robin Thomas. “The Roundhouse in Camps Bay had just reopened after major refurbishment. I was the general manager,” he recalls.

“Tinashe was working in a supermarket bakery when he came looking for a job. That didn’t matter because we weren’t looking for ability or experience; we were looking for people with personalities and attitudes. Tinashe had those in spades.”

He also, Robin remembers clearly, had a full head of dreadlocks. “The two of us connected as he sat opposite me. He said all the right words … he was almost finishing my sentences even though we’d never met before … and was showing the kind of willingness I was looking for.

“The most significant thing he said was that he was looking for the opportunity to learn.”

A lack of experience meant Tinashe and his five fellow waiters had no bad habits that had to be unlearned.

“We concentrated on instilling in them the basic principles of service – something we tend to neglect,” says Robin.

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