We chat to Ash Heeger about her upcoming charcoal restaurant
There’s been much talk online about things to come at Publik and Frankie Fenner’s spot on Church Street. Initially all we knew was that there was charcoal involved and the name was a play on words using the chef’s name, Ash. The mysterious logo sprouted up on Instagram followed by a couple food snaps which got us very excited for this dedicated free-range restaurant. But who is Ash?
We first got a taste of Ash Heeger’s food at Burgers and Hip Hop a couple of months ago and prior to that we did not know much about her. This is not surprising as she was in the UK for quite sometime, lengthening up her already astounding resumé. After tasting the glorious cheese burger she prepared we decided we had to find out more about CT’s bright young chef and her restaurant in the making, in collaboration with Andy Fenner.
It all started with an open letter from Andy Fenner to young chefs of the world. Some of you may be familiar with that open letter, in which Fenner calls on a chef to run a restaurant in the the Church Street space. It was as if the letter spoke directly to her, and from that moment Ash felt a defiant pull towards Cape Town and working with Andy.
Of course decisions like these are never easy – especially when you’re working under one of the greatest chefs of our time, Heston Blumenthal. Ash was in London and had been working at Dinner in Knightsbridge for two years. And so just before Ash flew to Cape Town for a visit with Andy, Heston offers her a promotion of Senior Suis Chef. But it was time to start her own thing.
Born in the Eastern Cape, this 27 year old has also worked for Luke Dale Roberts and Brett Graham. ‘I was privileged enough to work with Luke for so long…from there doors opened’ Ash explains (it was during this time she met Fenner). After working with Luke for three years at the very foundation of The Test Kitchen, Luke referred her to his friend Graham which took her to London’s The Ledbury.
Ash speaks fondly of her time in London and her grueling yet profound work at The Ledbury. ‘That’s where I really learnt to cook’ she explains ‘I was cooking the best food I’d ever cooked’, despite it being the toughest six months of her career. After The Ledbury, Dinner became home where she experienced the acute art of Molecular Gastronomy.
We asked Ash excitedly about things to come at the restaurant: ‘I’m just so jaded by fine dining right now’ she responds. She describes her approach as ‘fine dining without the bullshit’ and more old school; ‘if I can make something without using a chemical, then I much prefer that’. The servings will be more substantial plates made up of about 3 elements. To sum it up in three words, Ash will serve food that is ‘raw’, ‘minimal’ and ‘unrefined’.
There will be an obvious focus on meat and Frankie Fenner will still hold a butchery fridge for customers to purchase various cuts. There will also be a hanging room, which will be a prominent feature of the restaurant. Ash likes the idea of diners being able to witness the butchery process, from retrieving the animal in the hanging fridge, to the final stages of cooking.
Despite the meatiness of the restaurant, vegetarians need not despair as there will be a separate menu to suite your tastes. Ash hasn’t yet conquered vegan cooking but it is something she is working on.
We got a tour of the huge soon-to-be exposed kitchen she designed, as well as the Josper oven. This is where the charcoal cooking comes into play. The galvanised, thick, steel oven is imported from Spain and locks in heat at very high temperatures.
Ash has decided to not have waiting staff, after being exposed to such exceptional service in fine restaurants abroad, she hasn’t yet found the same thing here. She will actually be serving the food herself with some help from one or two members of the kitchen, a system known as expedited service, which she hopes will make her more in-tune with the food she produces and provide better engagement with diners.
The personal approach to Ash’s restaurant is felt in every aspect throughout our interview with her. With her years of experience as a chef and diner at prestigious restaurants, and rubbing shoulders with the big guns, she seems fully equipped to start her new chapter. The offering has been fine-tuned and it’s safe to say both food and service will be something entirely new for Cape Town. We cannot wait to experience it.