9th Avenue Waterside executive chef Graham Neilson.
9th Avenue Waterside executive chef Graham Neilson.
Image: Supplied

Best food memories? There are a few. When I was older, eating homegrown baby artichokes at La Lampara in the KZN Midlands and pigeon at the original Harvey’s in Durban by Andrew Draper. As a boy, my gran’s mac ’n’ cheese, battered hotdogs at the Beef ’n’ Barrel in La Lucia Mall and cheese and bacon burgers from Longhorn.

Food icon? I admire too many people in this industry, especially the longer I’ve stayed in it, to pick just one. During this lockdown it has been eye-opening to see just how fragile this industry is. When you see titans of the restaurant industry not sure if they will have their restaurants back, it really gives you a sense of perspective.

Best dish to cook and to eat? To cook, I love pan-roasting fish in the restaurant. Finishing it with foaming butter and getting it just right still gives me a thrill. To eat, it’s still macaroni cheese.

Ingredients you can't live without? Tomatoes, fish sauce, fresh limes, good-quality butter, salt, garlic and bacon (or any pork really).

Essential wine for your cellar: Right now? I’d take anything but favourites are Marras grenache, Hartenberg shiraz, Glen Carlou cab sav, Sijnn Low Profile and anything by Domaine des Dieux.

All-time favourite place to eat out? Porcao in Rio. They don’t stop pilling your plate with meat until you flip over your pig badge and give in – I feel like I accounted for myself well. Locally, it would be Abingdon Wine Estate in the Midlands, best food, setting and wine.

The next big food trend: Food trends are stupid and I don’t care about them. Honestly, the whole world discovers that braaing is awesome and suddenly it’s a trend? Please.

Best thing about your new Waterside location: The best thing is not just the beautiful building and setting but seeing how excited people are to be there. After nine years of people telling you how unattractive your setting is, it’s wonderful to be somewhere really beautiful.

Top tips for home cooks: The best tip I can give a home cook is season your food from the beginning - it really increases the depth of flavour. When you can, build your pantry, make pickles, chutneys, sauces and jams. This helps build flavour and makes home cooking more fun. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I still mess up all the time.

Essential cookbook to have on your shelf: The French Laundry by Thomas Keller, my all-time favourite.

Dream culinary experience? I was about to live it. We were about to head to Lyon in France when shutdown started. If there could be a foodie capital of France, Lyon would be it.  I will get there! Otherwise, I’d love to tour Mexico.

Best way to unwind? Swimming in the sea, braaing with friends, yoga and music.

Favourite kitchen gadget? I like my super-power blender that makes wonderfully smooth soups, purees and pestos with lovely intense colours.

Best thing about having time off in lockdown? The family time has been so special. Getting to read to my daughter every night and trying my hand at home schooling her has been humbling. As a chef I work six days a week, so I’ve had limited time to enjoy with my family, so this has been wonderful.

What sets a meal at 9th Avenue Waterside apart from other dining experiences? 9th Avenue is unique. It’s been a part of the Durban dining scene since 2001. We want everybody who comes to love being there, to love their food and service, and want to come back. It’s a real challenge but one we pride ourselves taking on every day. We care a lot about what we do and we hope it shows.

Indulgence you would never forego: I am not supposed to eat flour or eggs. I do. A lot.

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