Where did you start out? In Durban. I was working at a restaurant at the age of 14 as a sculler and busboy, but not so much the food, because my old man was a chef and he said, "Don’t go into that career." So, in typical rebellious behaviour, I decided to do it anyway. I ended up moving to Cape Town and studying culinary arts and then started working for Luke Dale-Roberts when I turned 21.
At La Colombe? Yes. It's been nine years since then and it's been a bit of a crazy ride — but fun.
So your first encounter with food was through your dad? Pretty much. Growing up in Durban, we ate very casual food, never fine dining, and that's why I got such a shock when I started working for Luke. He showed me what food could be — creative, delicate little things that made a beautiful plate together. My background involved incredible curries with the most amazing layers and depth, which worked in my favour. My taste buds were challenged and developed from an early age.
There was a lot of fancy food in the first part of your career. What is the intention with The Shortmarket Club? After La Colombe, which is extremely fine dining, I moved with Luke straight to The Test Kitchen and helped him open it. I was the sous chef for three-and- a-half years. Then we opened The Pot Luck Club and Luke asked me to run that. That was a very cool change of direction, because we went from plates with multiple components to very simple, smaller plates — less complicated but full of flavour. Then we were offered this space. It was like a dirty drug den but Luke and his wife, Sandalene, wanted to do it, so I started thinking about how to make it different. We've taken old-school classics that we grew up with, like egg and soldiers, and made them more intricate — organic boiled eggs with toasted brioche, which I infuse with roasted Jerusalem artichokes and shiitake mushrooms and then pan-fry, and we've slid in thin slices of pancetta, finished off with burnt Parmesan and onion.
Is there still room for fine dining? There are people working in certain restaurants that need a creative outlet. If they’re making incredible food, people will come — and that is the restaurant game. I think the global trend is that everyone is going more casual, but when you're spending a lot of money on food (because good quality is expensive), you want to feel like you're being looked after. We need to make our dining more casual but if you're not careful of what you're doing, then you'll lose the attention of the customer or the attention to detail.
But there's always social media to get their attention? It’s extremely powerful but I've always taken the approach that if we're going to do it, we might have to create the market. Like this breakfast — no one's doing anything like it, which is a worry, but I know if we stick to our guns and keep the quality high, we'll set our own trend instead of trying to follow something. It's the same as brunch at The Pot Luck Club. We decided to do this New York-style brunch with bottomless Champagne and in the first three weeks, we had three patrons and a staff of about 25 people. A year down the line, brunch is booked out five months in advance.
What have you prepared for us? Some beautiful aged Karoo lamb. We've used the rump, which is the most amazing cut because it has marbled fat, so we render it down nice and slowly. We have a wood smoker in the back and cook over burning wood, like a normal open braai. We've done it with caramelised fennel fondant with a lamb jus and a goat's milk ricotta and we've taken leeks and burnt them with pine needles, pine nuts and roasted fennel seeds, and then we serve it with a little mint jelly on the side, because you can't beat mint jelly and lamb.
Easy enough for somebody to reproduce at home? Absolutely. It's a little bit of work but the components are very simple and perfect for incorporating and enhancing flavour in each element. No flavours in it are out-there crazy. It's grassy elements gelling with the lamb, elements that it would have been surrounded by, so you know immediately that it will work.
Where do you go when you're not cooking for yourself? At the moment, it's Chef’s Warehouse. Liam Tomlin's food is amazing. And I go to Bukhara for a good curry, which you struggle to find in Cape Town. When I was at The Pot Luck Club in Woodstock, we'd go around the area and there'd be local Malays making incredible green mango atchar. I wouldn't even bother trying to make my own, because they learnt it from their great-grandmothers and grandmothers and have been making it for so long. I go to Frankie Fenner and get incredible grass-fed meat up the road. I go down to Woodstock Bakery and speak to Paul and get my bread from him. And Tim Martin in Woodstock Central is making great wines. Everything is right in front of us and the people who are doing it are fantastic.