We sat down with Chef Stef and found out what and who motivates this dynamic young chef and why his grandmother is his food hero.
1. Where do you come from and how did you get here – to 50 Orange Street in Cape Town.
I was born and raised in Nelspruit in Mpumalanga. My mother is an excellent cook and always enlisted me to help out in the kitchen. I miss her extravagant dinner parties where it was always my task to whip the cream for the Irish coffees.
After school I headed to the United Kingdom where I landed a job in a kitchen at a beautiful old hotel in Devonshire. The chef enlisted me as a kitchen apprentice and gave me a job as a commis chef. It was an amazing training ground with the menu changing every day and I also had the opportunity of working with French and Italian chefs.
Upon my return to South Africa, executive chef at the Table Bay hotel, Grant Cullingworth took me under his wing and taught me many invaluable lessons.
After a few short stints at other Cape Town restaurants and a year at the Mount Nelson hotel working under Ian Mancais I found myself joining the amazing team at Societi at our beautiful new venue.
2. What is the driving force behind Societi Bistro and are there any exciting plans at this great venue for the foreseeable future?
Peter Weetman, one of the owners, is an amazing restaurateur. His passion and energy rubs off on the whole team at Societi and he inspires us all to create the best possible experience for each and every one of our guests.
We have so many exciting things happening at Societi, our brandy and cigar bar, the SNUG will open mid December. We are starting exciting cooking lessons for kids, kitchen-stages for adults – “Kitchen Unconfidential”, a very, very exclusive board room facility (the PLAY room) and many more other activities in February/March next year.
We also already offer Chef’s tables with customised menus, breakfast (from 7am!), A R90 set lunch ”on the job” for two courses and a glass of wine , as well as à la carte dining at lunch and dinner.
3. How would you describe your food to someone who has never eaten it before?
Fresh, seasonal, simple and unpretentious.
4. Who would you most like to cook a meal for?
Celebrities aren’t really my thing, I would really enjoy cooking for someone who I know has been eating junk food their whole life and watch them appreciate a good, freshly prepared meal made from scratch.
One of my favourite scenes ever in a film is the ‘birthday party scene’ in the film Chocolat , the guests’ facial expressions and utter indulgence in their meal is just amazing. I would much rather cook for anyone who can enjoy a meal to such an extent and be appreciative of it than for any king in the world.
5. If you could have any chef cook for you who would it be?
No deconstructive cuisine or anything uber-modern, just good, real food. Since we’re dreaming here I would really love to experience a meal cooked by someone like Escoffier or Antonio Carluccio’s mother. In the real world, Antonio himself or Thomas Keller at Bouchon.
6. What are the worst mistakes you've seen recently?
Expensive imported produce on the menus of neighbourhood restaurants prepared badly. (Think overcooked Norwegian Salmon with a terrible ‘spice’ rub on it).
We should be cooking seasonal produce that is locally produced (not always possible, and we also make the odd exception (Parmesan, Prosciutto, Anchovies etc).
7.Who is your food hero?
Names like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall , Giorgio Locatelli , Rick Stein and Rose & Ruth from The River Café spring to mind. My grandmother (she grew the best fresh peas ever.), market workers in Barcelona, and some of my suppliers like Steve from Restio farms all count as food heroes to me.
8. Who is your food villain?
I don’t particularly enjoy deconstructive cuisine and I feel that guys like Wylie Dufresne are taking food too far away from the natural product and that that is just not food any more at that level.
9. Favourite place to eat in South Africa:
My mother’s kitchen...The stall at the “Old Biscuit Mill” in Salt River that sells baguettes and rilletes. I also really enjoy Bread & Wine in Franschhoek and I recently had two excellent meals at Bizerca Bistro and would have to include them as well.
10. Your best foodie memory:
It’s a tie between two different meals. The first was in Athens at a small traditional Greek restaurant. All I remember is the smell of a beautiful platter of roast peppers arriving at the table. They were just dressed with olive oil, lots of crunchy sea salt, balsamic vinegar and a touch of black pepper. So simple, yet so tasty.
Whenever I smell peppers roasting in the Societi kitchen it instantly takes me back to that moment.
The second was a meal at a market in Barcelona. There was a countertop with four seats; there was only one thing on the menu, fresh grilled Sardines with marinated vegetables on a toasted croute. Damn it was good!
And one more…because it's Christmas…
11. Favourite cookbook/recipe book:
I really enjoy Elizabeth David’s books on French and Italian food. The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstal, Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson, French by Damien Pignolet as well as Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook: Classic Bistro Cooking Gordon Ramsay’s books on fish and desserts are also excellent.
Chef Stef's recipe for chickpea and coriander salad is a hit for summer!