Chef’s dreams materialised

2018-09-18 06:00
Chef Noel is the Head Chef at Big Easy.PHOTO: Supplied

Chef Noel is the Head Chef at Big Easy.PHOTO: Supplied

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CHEF Noel Kanyemba (the Head Chef at Big Easy) spoke to Fever editor Kalisha Naicker about his journey to become a master of his trade.

  • Tell me a little about your experience as a chef?
  • I started off in Zimbabwe, working for local retail giant OK Zimbabwe LTD as a cook in their take away. Then I explored a lot of things. I had the privilege to be able to travel to different countries in Southern Africa as a youth so I adapted some dishes from the places I visited. This earned me recognition with the management, who moved me to running the take away.

Having recently graduated from an internal three-year training course in 2005, I moved to Botswana where I tried getting into the trade. It proved to be hard so I started catering for the church I was attending.

In 2009, I relocated to South Africa where I joined another food chain where I was frying wings, which was not really where I wanted to be. Like the saying goes, ‘your passion will always lead you where you heart is.

In October 2010 I got a job as a waiter at a local restaurant, Morningside Freedom Café. The kitchen was short staffed that day and they needed a helping hand so I was sent to the kitchen to help out. I caught the attention of the Chef there who then hired me as a commis chef under his tutelage. I worked with various other chefs during my tenure there. I was part of the team that opened Craft Trattoria in Glen Ashley.

I joined Hilton Durban Hotel in the main kitchen in February 2012 – I was selected as a candidate for the HTA course by management while still working in the main hotel. When Big Easy Durban opened its doors in October 2015, I was transferred from the main kitchen and joined the initial team in the planning and preparation stages. I worked at the Big Easy as a chef de partie. I then moved to Seychelles to another Hilton property as a junior sous In January 2017 and in November I was appointed sous chef of the Big Easy. Most recently I was appointed chef de cuisine.

KN: Does the rating of this restaurant add pressure to your job?

CN: Yes it does — just the fact that it’s an international brand from an Iconic South African hero, which is housed under the roof of the world’s leading hotel, yes! Just the thought of it adds tremendous pressure.

KN: What is your first food memory?

CN: My mom always used to spring up surprises. My fondest memory is a festival of peanut butter — game meat cooked in peanut butter sauce, kale cooked with peanut butter and roasted nuts. I would watch closely as she went about her work and later try the dishes myself.

KN: Did you grow up in a cooking family?

CN: My journey with food started from a young age. I was probably about 11 when I joined my mom in the kitchen and helped with the cooking. Even though I was the only boy in the family, I took responsibility early on and would prepare the evening meal when I got home from school every day. Because my mom often worked late, I did most of the cooking and have always loved being in the kitchen.

KN: Who has influenced your cooking the most?

CN: It’s difficult to pick out one that really stands out because a lot of people have had influenced my cooking; whether by teaching or exposure to cooking competitions, friends, family, and workmates alike.

KN: Why did you become a chef?

CN: I love cooking and entertaining. Growing up cooking, I adopted a name, Mathanda Kitchen. Cooking is in me I would say.

KN: What culinary school did you attend?

CN: I attended an internal course at Hilton Durban and a three-year training course at the Hospitality Training Academy (HTA).

KN: Do you feel like it was a necessary part of your development as a chef or did you get more from simply working in the kitchen?

CN: Working while studying in the same field was a good thing as I could put into practice what I was learning in theory. I also gained so much from watching other people in the kitchen – especially from the head chef at the time (Janine Fourie); she passed on so many new tips and techniques and pushed me to explore.

KN: What did you want to be when you grew up?

CN: I wanted to be a doctor.

KN: Best cooking tip for a novice?

CN: Recipes and methods are there to be followed — no shortcuts.

KN: Why should people attend your restaurant?

CN: We showcase an array of South African dishes with an international flare to them and our use of fresh, in-season produce helps us rotate and change our menu seasonally, keeping us abreast with the rest of the world.

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