Q & A with Floris Smith
Where did your love of cooking begin – can you pinpoint an incident or moment when you knew this would be your future?
It’s in the genes. My Grandmother was a wonderful cook. I have always admired the Trophies and Certificates for cooking and baking competitions that she had won, and when I was much younger I decided that I wanted to be just like her. I grew up in the kitchen and from a very young age I enjoyed cooking, entertaining the family and in particular, baking.
I remember when I was in grade 7, I baked a beautiful Vanilla, Strawberry and Mascarpone Gateaux. This was when I realised that my dream was to bake and create food masterpieces.
When it came to deciding on a career, I realized that I needed to do something that allowed me to be creative, work with people, drink Champagne and create many delicious memories. Becoming a chef was all of these things in one. Most importantly I enjoy cooking and making a career of it is the best thing I could ever have chosen to do.
What is the highlight of your career so far and why?
The highlight of my career was when I cooked for Chef Daniel Boulud, for the first time at Bushmans Kloof. He was very complimentary and handed me a signed copy of one of his books, as well as an invitation to New York. It was quite something cooking for a Michelin Star chef almost at the beginning of my career. Other than that, it gives me such a sense of fulfilment when people appreciate and acknowledge what our hardworking team in the kitchen has created, which is how I feel with each and every award and accolade that we have received.
What drives your passion for food?
Each and every guest I’m cooking for, or the family members and friends who shares a meal I have cooked. Food is an art, and it’s constantly changing the world, and people’s mood. There is never a dull moment or a day when I don’t learn something new.
How has your style evolved since you started?
At the beginning of most chefs’ careers, you tend to follow food trends, until you find yourself in your own particular style of food. To be able to do that, you first need to understand food and how different flavours come together. This all takes time and over the years I have developed the sense to do that.
Different flavours, different styles, and different influences have all led me to creating well-balanced, seasonal menus, presenting good food. I have always allowed produce to keep their identity and I like working with a contemporary twist, bold flavours and adding a touch of fynbos.
What is the most exotic thing you have ever cooked with or tasted? Describe the dish.
We’re fortunate to get to work with so many great ingredients such as scallops, foie gras, truffles and Kalahari truffles. One of my favourite combinations was snoek fishcakes with a parsley, lemon and truffle salad.
What is the best thing about being a ‘lodge’ chef?
No traffic on your way to work in the morning! And the fact that I have a beautiful garden that allows me to pick fresh herbs, vegetables, fruit and nuts in season, and on a daily basis.
What it is about Bushmans Kloof that you love and what brought you back to the property?
The lifestyle is just so organic. The beauty, serenity, calmness and the scenery, the people and the wonderful owners (the Tollman family), have brought me back. This is truly one of the best companies to work for.
What is the worst meal you’ve ever cooked? What happened?
I don’t see any meal as a bad meal but a learning curve to improve it to be better next time round.
What is your stance on sustainability?
Being out of the city we are fortunate to have access to a wonderful garden. It is very seasonal of course, but we use as much from it as we can. With a great team in the gardens we manage to have something fresh out of the garden daily.
What in your opinion is the most underrated ingredient? Why?
Aubergine: I make the most amazing Aubergine chutney; it is incorporated in my new summer menu which is served with the duo of quail. It is good, fried, roasted, marinated and processed.
Where do you like to eat on your days off?
Mostly at home or I enjoy dinner parties with friends. There is no expectation and no critical eye, I can switch off and enjoy good company, good food and wine. Other than that I enjoy eating at a restaurant that offers something different, and would be on par with the experience at Bushmans Kloof.
What do you think about social media as a promotional tool?
There is no way around it. Social media has become an essential part of our lives in all aspects. It is a great marketing tool for any business and it is very important that people know about you and the business you are promoting. Today it is all about how, where, who, what and when – and what better way to get these answers, than by using such user friendly Social Media platforms?
How do you view food bloggers?
We need to take them seriously, but one needs to make sure that they have correct, accurate information on what we produce. The ones who know their stuff, can really have a very important influence on their followers. I also believe constructive criticism has never killed anyone!
If you could have anyone cook for you – who would it be?
Charlie Trotter because he is a great example of Cooking with Passion.
What would be your top foodie destination?
India and Lebanon – countries with so much flavour and diversity.
Your top recipe book of the moment?
Grant Achatz who published Alinea.
Your best foodie memory?
In my first year of Hotel School, I had dinner at Bonthuys in Cape Town (Chef Etienne Bonthuys). Now, 16 years later, I still have memories of this meal which has to be one of best meals I had ever had. My second best meal was the one I had at Maze (Gordon Ramsey) in London.
There are so many: Charlie Trotter, Nico Ladenis, Ferron Adria, Heston Blumenthal.
Anything that is instant. Snip and Pour – sauces out of packets and ready-made food items.
Floris Smith is the Executive Chef at Relais & Chateaux property, Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat in the Cederberg.