Ben Ungermann Shares His Life Lessons On Being A Chef

"I think the food scene in South Africa is completely safe; your produce is amazing, your chefs are really talented, and I suppose I’m just looking to make my own mark now!"


Nadim Nyker |

Ben Ungermann is a chef who’s rising up the ladder to become one of the world’s best, and when it comes to ice cream – most say he already is. The 32-year-old has coined the title Ice Cream King and rightly so – we got to taste it – and can attest to its royal quality.

But the chef who tastes ice cream all day certainly doesn’t look the part: he’s in impeccable shape, and it’s his physique and style that has played a part in him gaining a massive global fan base after finishing as runner up in 2017’s MasterChef Australia.

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“My dad, Roland, has always been a massive inspiration to me, always heavily into fitness and he’s the best gym buddy a guy could ever ask for,” Ben tells us. “He just turned 62 and he still gyms, and he gives me a run for my money, I want to be like him when I’m older!”

The chef, who spoke to us when visiting SA for a cooking masterclass, cooked us a delicious meal – made out of kangaroo meat, and he has his family to thank for his success.

It all started with his ‘oma’ Els Nederveen, who taught him how to cook as a young boy, growing up in Queensland, Australia. And great genes is an Ungermann family affair, with his sister Selina going on to model internationally.

“The fashion actually comes from my mom’s side. She put myself, my brother and my sister all through modelling when we were younger,” he says. “We actually did a proper course but it’s actually my sister who went international – she did some work in Greece and things like that, so that’s where my brand of food, fashion and fitness stems from.”

 

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His success on MasterChef saw him leave his job as retail manager for Skechers shoes, surviving on his savings just to make the show’s top 24. He’s a risk-taker, and his achievements are testament to his drive and ambition, with Ben now the owner of gourmet ice cream parlour, The Ungermann Brothers.

“To be honest, I have no routine. It’s more about making time because I spend my time between five countries, which is South Africa, Australia, Indonesia, Japan and India,” he says. “And I’m constantly going around them; I literally have been living out of my suitcase for the last two years! I’m actually stationed in Bali, but I’ve been there the last six months and I think I’ve been to the beach twice, I’m never there. It’s just somewhere to store my stuff.”

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But success comes at a price, the dad of three spends the majority of his time away from his family. His advice? Make the most out of social media and new technologies, he says. “To be honest, I couldn’t do this without social media. I’m lucky because my kids are a lot older, so they understand and they also push me to do it. But I’m able to voice call, to video call, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tough.”

 

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“The best bit of insight I can give to the situation is that you’re never going to please everyone, not everyone is always going to  love your food.”

Being in the service industry has come with some valuable life lessons. And if you’re a budding or master chef, it’s worth taking his advice.  “The best bit of insight I can give to the situation is that you’re never going to please everyone, not everyone is always going to  love your food – so stop trying. Just be genuine to yourself and just do you,” Ben says.

“Honestly, stop trying to be a people pleaser because my food took off when I decided I’m going cook a certain way and this is what I’m about – you understand and you appreciate it and if you don’t that’s okay, too.”

At the end of the day, when you take criticism really hard it affects your cooking, he adds. “In this day and age, with so many different people able to voice opinions without a culinary background – on things like social media – can actually be the undoing of some really talented chefs.”

 

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Always on the road, Ben lives by three rules: be consistent, do everything in moderation, and manage your time. My nights are late and so it’s just the sacrifices you have to make, he says. So for me, it’s about consistency – I don’t  always want to get up early and work out but I have to man. Like, I’m always tasting ice cream! It’s just one of those things, if you want to stay fit you have to set yourself up for success.”

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Moderation as a chef is key, especially when it comes to diet. He laughs at the thought of him dieting, “for me it’s just everything in moderation. In my industry it can be really difficult, but it’s just about doing everything in moderation to the best of your ability,” he says. “And so much about becoming a celebrity chef is down to time management and a good support network, which I’m really blessed to have.”

As his time with us in the Mother City comes to an end, Ben leaves us with some insider information – there’s good news for South African fans. “So, I don’t want to get ahead of myself but there’s a lot of talk of me being in a few different TV series based around food. So yeah, that’s the plan and why I’m planning to move here for good,” he says, noting that chefs in SA are on par with the best in the world.

 

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“Every South African chef I’ve met have been talented. Even the guys here just at The Cullinan Hotel, they got down and dirty and they were really good workers – some of the best that I’ve worked with.”

And his favourite SA restaurants? “I’ve had two incredible experiences, one in Cape Town – I went to Chef’s Warehouse. And then in Durban I went to Chef’s Table. And both were incredible experiences,” he says.

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“I really love South Africa and its way of life and I love the people. I think the food scene in South Africa is completely safe; your produce is amazing, your chefs are really talented, and I suppose I’m just looking to make my own mark now!”

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