Kleine Zalze’s chef comes full circle

by Justin

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Kleine Zalze is where everything started for you. Can you tell us more about this opportunity and what impact this had on your career as a chef?

It is here where I teamed up with Michael Brighton in 2004 and opened Terroir. I have always had lots of ideas and this meant I could execute them. It was also the first time I was responsible for a team. In a way it was my beginning as a chef. This all made me realise this was something I had wanted to do for the longest time. I think the biggest impact was meeting new people. Funnily enough, I have come full circle. I left here in 2007 but always stayed in contact. Now I am back here and chapter two with Kleine Zalze has begun.

Was there ever a chef that inspired you the most and why?

Yes, but I think it changes like seasons do. When I was really young, the first celebrity chef who inspired me was Keith Floyd. He was someone who visited many places, cooked and drank good wine and I thought to myself, “well, that’s a good life!” I was also introduced to chef Nico Ladenis, who only started cooking at age 40 and was awarded his third Michelin-star at age 60! I loved his cook books and admired the way he talked about food.

However, I think my biggest mentor and a person I look up to and still aspire to be like, is my first real boss, a guy called Franck Dangereux, who now owns The Foodbarn in Noordhoek. I spent three and a half years with Franck and I don’t think I would have been a chef today if it wasn’t for him. He is an amazing human being and a chef and taught me so much. He ran his kitchens with respect and you didn’t want to let him down. He was a significant role model in my cooking career and someone I will always look up to.

And then there are amazing chefs all over the world you read about and you watch that inspire you too.

Do you think there are a lot of young chefs looking up to you now?

I hope so! I hope I have taught a couple of the younger generation a few new things. I hope the way I style and do things is something they appreciate. So yes, hopefully there are a couple of young chefs who don’t think I’m too bad and may want to carry on doing things the way I do.

Which type of cuisine is served at Kleine Zalze?

France is my base when I start thinking about food. I was trained in a French style. I attended a cookery school with a French curriculum. I worked for a master French chef for three years. However, over the last couple of years I have realized that there are specific flavours in South Africa that I really like and enjoy so I am trying to incorporate those flavours into my cooking.

I don’t really like to choose a specific cuisine. France, Spain and Africa are the kinds of flavours I like in my food. It makes food feel ‘warm’. My flavours and explorations definitely carry a touch of Spain and North Africa, and then there is definitely a lot of unique South African flavours, like the sweet and sour I try to incorporate into the food I cook.

I think as a South African you will definitely recognise certain dishes on my menu and you will appreciate certain flavours that you know from your childhood. You don’t often see that old style of cooking anymore, but I have tried to revive those flavours in a modern way. For example, I could cook a very French dish but bring out one or two flavours that you recognize as a South African.

Does the menu change seasonally?

Yes, it has to because it is sometimes difficult to find certain ingredients. You can’t avoid having seasonal menus because in winter you expect to have hearty and comfort food, while in summer you expect more salad type food on the plate.

We always try to make our diners happy. If you liked a dish on our winter menu and would like it in summer, we will always try and accommodate you as far as we can. However, sometimes the ingredients just won’t be available.

When it comes to food and wine pairing, how do you establish which type of food pairs well with a certain type of wine?

It’s very simple. You eat and drink lots and then at some stage you figure out what goes with what. As a chef, I always taste the food first. That’s where my journey starts. I will first establish the profile and the flavour of the dish and then I will sit down and think about what wine would be served best with it. With my experience over the years, I know certain wines come with certain characteristics. For example, in winter with a nice creamy fish dish, my mind will immediately go to Chardonnay. Or if you think of a delicious game pie with a spicy or peppery sauce, you would think of Shiraz. If you understand the characteristics of wine and food it guides you to the perfect partnership.

Are there any trends that you have noticed regarding food and wine pairing?

It’s becoming more informal because people have more choice. You are not going to tell people you have to drink this with this type of food. I think it’s best to do a wine tasting and gain an understanding of the wine and put down different types of food and let people make the choice for themselves. In general, we are moving away from being too specific.

What would be the perfect spring dish customers could expect on the Kleine Zalze menu?

We will aim for a lighter approach. I always prefer something like a nice tartare on the menu, be it either in the form of fish, venison or beef, but something light done in an Asian style. And for a side, diners can expect salads with different  types of dressings.

How do you normally react when a customer sends a meal back to the kitchen?

Sometimes customers can give the weirdest criticism just to avoid paying for a meal. Just be polite and honest. I always prefer constructive criticism. If a customer sends back a meal and tells me that it is no good, it will obviously not sit well with me. I’d prefer it if a customer tells me exactly what is wrong with the meal. For example, is the meal too salty? Is the meat undercooked? You do get customers who fi nish a meal and then complain about it. That doesn’t sit well with me at all! You fi nished the meal; you pay for it! Just be honest from the start if something is not to your liking. What would also be great is to consult with your waiter before you order a meal from a menu that you don’t really understand. If you don’t like a meal it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with the meal.

How would you best describe Kleine Zalze?

Kleine Zalze is a humble family wine farm, so it is definitely home away from home. It offers the best experience with its peaceful and tranquil surroundings.

And for that reason, our food and wine match the farm and its surroundings.

 What advice do you have for young upcoming chefs pursuing a career in the hospitality industry?

First of all, you have to love what you do. And while you study you might not even realise that this is something that you really want to do for the rest of your life. I suggest that you work for a well-known chef without pay for a few weeks. Experience what it is really all about. If you really enjoy it, then further your studies. Spend as much time as possible with the right people in the industry. Kitchen knowledge is everything, so look and learn from the best and make it your own. Make it your hobby, love it and enjoy it.[/vc_column_text][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”2411,2412,2413″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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