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Malika van Reenen of Signal restaurant

Food24 chats to the executive chef at Signal at The Cape Grace.

by: Caro de Waal | 05 Nov 2009
Malika van Reenen

Malika van Reenen is a local gal and a success story with a passion for food inspired by two generations of wonderful cooks - her mother and grandmother. Local is lekka!

She has a spark in her eyes and now at the helm of the elegant and well respected Signal restaurant, she is proving to be the ideal ingredient with her beautiful flavours and interesting locally inspired dishes.

Mailka spent many years in the kitchens of 5-star establishments and a stint overseas to satiate her curiosity of European cuisine. She returned to work for Mike Basset, as she had for some years before, this time overseeing both his acclaimed Bo-Kaap restaurants, Ginja and Shoga as Head Chef.

Malika was promoted from seniour sous to head chef at Signal in April 2009 and has been involved in the creation of the magnificent dining area which honours Cape heritage not only in its intriguing handcrafted décor but also in her unique fare.

“The current Signal menu is certainly international in style but there’s no mistaking its roots!” comments Malika.

We sat down with her for a chat:

Q: Where did your love of cooking begin – can you pinpoint an incident or moment when you knew this would be your future?
A: My earliest childhood memory is of the most intriguing smells wafting through our home and my impatience at waiting for whatever it was to be sampled, so I guess without thinking about it food was always going to form an integral part of my life.

Q: What is the highlight of your career so far and why?
A: Without a doubt, Executive Chef at Cape Grace at my age.

Q: What is your style of cooking? 
A: Simple, Contemporary, Cape Town. 

Q: What inspires you?
A: Gorgeous fresh produce.

Q: What is the worst meal you’ve ever cooked? What happened?  
A: I was at college, my first chefs competition, my starter was fresh mussels in phyllo pastry baskets with ruby grapefruit and fish sauce. I’d never seen fish sauce before and being a mystery basket competition I saw this and thought great, something new, I’ll try that. I made  fabulous phyllo baskets, cooked the mussels and drenched it in my fish sauce REDUCTION to which I’d added just a touch of cream and some bitter grapefruit, needless to say, I quickly learnt that fish sauce should only be used for seasoning.

Q: What is the one implement in the kitchen you cannot do without? Why?
A: A pair of tongs, I can do just about anything with them, including making quenelles.

Q: What in your opinion is the most underrated ingredient?
A: Tomatoes, they’re so versatile, soup, salad, salsa, sauce, fresh, cooked, dried and the list goes on..

Q: What is the best meal you’ve had in 2009?
A: Sushi after work one night at Minato’s in town, I tried their speciality crying rolls which are completely soaked in wasabi, after digesting all that wasabi all my senses felt as if they’d been given a brand new lease on life.

Q: What is your most successful seduction meal?
A: Grilled cheese sandwiches.

Q: If you could have anyone cook for you – who would it be?
A: Thomas Kellar.

Q: Who would you like to sit down for dinner with – anyone in the world? 6 people.
A: Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, Sting, my best friend and I.

Q: What would be your top foodie destination?
A: The States, all the Restaurants I dream of eating at are all there, including The French Laundry, Per se, Jean Georges, Alinea, etc...

Q: Your top recipe book of the moment? 
A: Is and always will be The French Laundry by Thomas Kellar.

Q: Favourite place to eat out in SA?
A: Manna for great breakfasts and lunches and Le Quartier Francais for totally phenomenal food.

Q: Your best foodie memory?
A: Scallops sized equivalent to the palm of my hand for lunch in Scotland.  At the time I was in doubt about continuing to be a chef, but after encountering those scallops I realized my love affair with food would never reach saturation point, a memory which is always able to evoke happiness in my soul...


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