So, over a three month period he’ll be spending three or four days in the kitchens of 13 of South Africa’s premier restaurants. Here some of South Africa’s best loved chefs and their assistants guide him through the intricacies and rigours of preparing an array of traditional, exotic and very original dishes.
The hours are extremely long and the work exacting but the people he meets have the same passion for food that he does and in no time he’s right back in his element. They get him to do his fair share of kneading dough and chopping onions but he can see right off that there is a vast difference between cooking for mates on a beach and preparing food for paying guests.
It’s obvious why everything has to be prepared well in advance and that each unit needs to operate like a well oiled machine. As he gains in confidence, the chefs allow him to prepare some of their signature dishes and he even gets to work on the pass. Justin quickly begins to appreciate the real attraction of this profession. How when the pressure’s on and the place starts rocking there’s a tremendous adrenaline rush and a huge satisfaction in being part of the team that makes it all come together.
During this series Justin goes from rough bush cook to smooth operator as his skill set improves.
Whenever possible he reciprocates by taking his mentors out into his open air kitchen and giving back some of what he’s learned. While picking up the finer points of haute cuisine Justin also makes life long friends and spends time at some spectacular locations.
Justin has lost his mojo and decides that a great place to start getting it back is in the vibrant kitchen of old friends Franco and Ezio at their very popular Italian eatery in Pinelands, Cape Town. He helps prepare Porchetta, a traditional Italian stuffed piglet and picks up tit bits and tips on any number of their other favourite dishes, some of which he manages to incorporate when he takes it outside to the seaside.
This “self contained city” is affectionately known as the best address in Cape Town. Here Head Chef Dallas Orr and his team make Justin shape up as they show him how 5- star goes the extra mile. He learns the art of turning scrambled eggs from basic and beautiful to luxurious and gets a lesson or two in master baking. Then he returns the favour and takes the team out to sea where somehow he manages to keep his head well above water.
At this ethnic eatery in the mother city, Justin joins seven women and a baby. Head Chef Mpumi shows him who’s boss as she guides him through the exacting preparations for their 14 course dinner menu. Later in the evening Justin finds being cajoled into joining in an impromptu dance in front of the patrons the biggest challenge of all but regains his composure when, with both feet firmly on the ground, he makes some moves of his own.
The whole crew head off to Knysna and the tranquil kitchen of Head Chef Geoffrey Murray. Here Justin digs deep as he discovers how the fervour that goes into growing your own vegetables filters through the entire restaurant and how being a charcutier can bring home the bacon. Later he discovers a tender trick for softening up a tough 8-tentacled mollusc and then does the mussel jive for their supper.
While the crew get caught up with the big five and African time Justin knuckles down and finds that Head Chef Haji Hamit can teach him a thing or two about improvising in the bush. Operating in the outback of the Eastern Cape this inventive lady and her team produce a different 5-star menu every day and Justin gets some fresh ideas and a new twist on an old standard. Then they all join up with Harry the Hippo at the watering hole and things hot up around the braai.
Justin and his lady are offered the opportunity to take a trip on this grand old dame (lady in Afrikaans) and of course the whole crew tag along. It’s service as usual and comfort personified for those who don’t have to cook but Justin finds the somewhat cramped and unusual working conditions more than a little daunting. His discomfort is only deepened when this bush cook is required to dress for dinner but once he’s booted and spurred and seated amongst the finery in the dining car all his reservations vanish out of the window.
There’s a lot going on in this busy kitchen on Kleine Zalze Wine Estate just outside of Stellenbosch. Head Chef Michael Broughton is a force to be reckoned with and Justin’s a little intimidated. But he soon settles down and is intrigued by the science of sous-vide. Michael is a patient mentor and after easing him in, guides him through the elaborate dish of Scallops with truffled corn, gnocchi and bacon foam. He also emphasizes the importance of good stock and sauces and Justin leaves here with plenty to stew over.
Sandra and Carl have emigrated from Germany to live on this tranquil country retreat in the Robertson Valley and Justin is both charmed and green with envy. Their laid back lifestyle lends itself to strolls in the veggie garden and lazy evening in the pub. Sandra lets Justin in on how to prepare many of her fresh and original dishes but holds out on the recipe for her “dream of Africa” dessert. Justin decides that these good people should be initiated into the greater African tribe and prepares a lamb neck potjie to seal the deal.
Head Chef Tullishe Le Roux is a joy to work with, particularly as she lets Justin sample the delights of the chocolatier also situated on Lourensford Farm in the Somerset West District. She uses home grown produce in many of her signature dishes and Tullishe lets Justin raid her larder so that the two of them can concoct a very successful mushroom terrine. Justin is inspired by their small carbon footprint and the positive energy that emanates from this.
Back in Cape Town this Asian eatery has key position overlooking the Atlantic Ocean towards Robben Island. Head chef Martin and his team specialize in an array of oriental cuisines and Justin is given an idea of what is meant by Pacific Rim meets Asian fusion with a sprinkle of French and Western flavour. He attempts to master cuisine that is a dainty, harmonious integration of colour, redolence and taste and even tries his hand at adult origami when he makes dim sum dumplings.
The crew reach this ground breaking lodge in Sabi Sabi on the edge of the Kruger National Park just ahead of a sky splitting thunder storm. But nothing dampens Head Chef Shaniel Dinna’s professional spirit and Justin is delighted when he’s tasked with preparing an interesting vegetarian risotto. Shaniel is very vocal about how he chooses his ingredients and guides Justin through an interesting all African dish. Justin also does well when called upon to debone and stuff minute morsels for the surprise of the day.
Head Chef Jackie Cameron and her dedicated staff have been running this French style country kitchen for the past 7 years. Her guests look forward to top of the range Natal Midland’s flavours and this locavore doesn’t disappoint. Justin helps to prepare some of her complicated dishes which come together beautifully on the palate and the plate. Jackie’s desserts are equally complex and scrumptious and Justin leaves this enthusiastic and talented young chef’s kitchen with a heavy heart.
Back in Cape Town Justin rounds off this series in the kitchen of this family style eatery with his long standing and good mate, Head Chef Garth Morton. Their history means that this encounter is filled with good humoured rivalry and silly wagers. But ultimately Justin is happy to play second fiddle and experience first hand what a great chef Garth has become. They visit the Lindt Chocolate Studio and make big fat pralines to enjoy after the Ossobuco a la Garth which they prepare for their mates at the “it’s a wrap” party.