Category Archives: Opinion

Stories and opinion on the life of chef, the kitchen and food industry

Duck Pies – WASTED!

I wanted to see if it was possible to make duck pies just as one would make Pork Pie just with all the duck trim, which was mostly fat. All the other previous experiments with duck trim worked well from croquettes to pinwheels &  fennel duck meat balls? In this mix, I baked the mix first without the addition of any additional bread or egg, wanted to see the fat loss. As expected the pie had a lot of rendered fat.

As before we salted and seasoned the mix the day before, minced the mix twice, added both egg and stale bread crumbs, this ended in a better result. There was no specific ratio of meat to fat, as this was purely experimental. 

For the pastry we used rendered duck fat, surprisingly it worked very well. 

After baking the mixture cooled down and we added aspic to fill the gaps, this elevates the pie, gives it a whole new taste experience. I did losse it when a guest asked for it to get heated…..

My only regret was not taking a picture of what it looked like on the inside. 

We used this as part of wasted snacks on the menu.

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Leaving Mount Nelson!

I blame Paul, I was working at the prestigious Saxon Boutique Hotel & Spa, I loved the hotel, hated the commute. It is not everyday that an opportunity like the Nellie comes along, this iconic property is every chef’s dream, this was an amazing opportunity and I joined the Mount Nelson Team in April 2009.  

My initial thoughts were to only stay for three years, but my journey changed and I stayed much longer. 

When she gets under your skin she stays, I loved the property. I felt I had a duty to her, her identity was key to industry. I wanted to set the record straight and give the kitchen character it deserved. 

The engine room is old with so much space and the walls could talk. I wanted to create a culture and set the ship into a different direction, where sustainable culture was not only about food.

The kitchen is the engine room of any hotel, and with her it rings true. Her size and space dictated this. She demanded respect. She is intimidating! 

If you did not respect her she would spit you out. The kitchen at Mount Nelson is bigger than any chef before me and after me. 

We wanted to create a culture where all elements were sustainable from buying, production, creative, employment and suppliers. 

She hummed, when she was at full throttle, with all her cylinders firing at the same time. It was a beautiful sound, and sometimes it hurt as she misfired. 

I experienced and learnt from many different managers that came and left, the good, bad and the ugly.

Our journey was not without failures, but the joy in success was beautiful. 

We were privileged to set a foundation to establish a homemade ethos, from bread, sausages to smoking salmon and making ferments. 

We set up gardens, celebrated local and encouraged zero waste. Worms were part of the brigade as they worked tirelessly at producing tea. 

Highlights were always finding suppliers that shared a passion for honesty and respect. We made beautiful friends that shared our interests and this allowed us to set up a bakery, open Planet Restaurant, create amazing experiences at The Chef’s Table, establish a strong banqueting kitchen, setting the foundation to a brilliant production and fabrication. 

We employed amazing staff, they all shined and became strong leaders.

I enjoyed teaching, but what was more important,  was the lessons I was taught by them.   

To every person that followed me, challenged and joined the journey, thank you!

We built a beautiful kitchen, a beautiful legacy and a beautiful memory. Everyone’s contribution was amazing and can never be underestimated. There is not a day that goes past where I envy your new bosses. 

Thankyou Vicky, Michael Colling, Jac, Jaco, Togara, Michael Pikati, Cecille, Sven, Rohan, Wynand, Michael, Llewellyn, Dion, Shakes, Kim, Collin, Brinelle, Matthew, and many more that I did not mention. Each one of you left a mark on me. 

Photo by Russel Wasserfall

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Eat Out Valpré Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award

Every year, Eat Out puts together a show stopping event, and throughout the years I have been invited to attend as a nominee. This has always been an honour. This year’s invite was different as I was to receive a different award. Being recognised by industry and peers is a honour. Receiving the Eat Out Valpré Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award, a was a big award for me. I am not going to lie, when my name was called, my heart skipped a couple of beats. Guests in the hall came to their feet, my heart was in my throat. I could not have been on that stage without the countless individuals who worked with me.

Then I thought, shit am I supposed to be ending my career. But this was a short thought, I was long from being finished. 

Thankyou for the recognition.

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You Make A Difference!

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He takes everything in his stride, as the saying goes “if you want something done, ask a busy person” this is the chef that controls our kitchen and maintains the rhythm.

This month we celebrate our hotel’s Senior Chef de Partie in the kitchen: Cebisa “Shakes” Manyela (45) winner of the coveted title: You Make A Difference.

Shakes started working in the kitchens of the Mount Nelson in April 2011 and over the past ten years he has worked his way up to the position of Senior Chef de Partie. Last year, after a significant staff restructuring due to the Covid pandemic, Shakes was faced with one of his career’s biggest challenges: with a reduced staff compliment, he had the opportunity to rewrite the way we had done things, this would not be possible if he was not super organized.
Shakes takes charge of market list and orders ensuring everyone gets butcher orders, cold sauces and any hot production item needed for the day.

It is a formidable task, but then Nelson Mandela’s quote came to his mind: “It always seems impossible until it’s done”, and so he took it on, and magnificently.

We have worked together for a long time and he knows exactly how everything fits together. Shakes has been the rock on which we rely daily, he is the backbone of the kitchen. This month he excelled even further, as we asked more and more of him. Shakes will make sure everyone has whatever they need to make each kitchen function on time, consistently and accurately. He will not go home until every task is complete. But then we do not expect anything less from such a great gentleman who is an example to everyone wearing a white jacket.”

Congratulations Shakes, the team at The Nellie are proud of you.

image courtesy of Devon Labuschagne

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Wasted lockdown

For thirty years I learnt how to read lips from across the kitchen, it is a necessity. Try communicating with a mask in a busy kitchen in between banging pots, humming extractor, ticking docket machine and the manager mumbling something about a last order at 20:30.

December 2020 felt like an eternity, we were cooking food for the first time since March 2020. It was like opening a new hotel. But this was a new world, a world where we had no prior experience, literature or books to reference. We had no idea how to plan our next steps, fear and uncertainty was everywhere. No patterns or trends to reference.
We had visions to reboot and reinvent, as this was the first time we had a perfectly good opportunity to do so, but one cannot help feeling guilty using this pandemic as the force behind the change and at what expense. Many hotels will not reopen and the others are looking at the end of this year. Leaving many people without a source of income.

As it is the hospitality industry has been on crutches for many years, pretending that it was OK.
With many restaurants, catering facilities, canteens and hotels already closed one can only hope that the remainder can hang in and open even stronger.
Most likely for every restaurant that has closed a potential new restaurant will open, competitive competition will continue with paying excessive rent and neglecting the well-being of staff, the system must change. Something has to give and it is not going to be the paper thin margins.

During the initial lockdown at the start of people in the culinary world, from caterers, restaurants, hotels, industrial and canteens all had to reinvented themselves in order to survive, from making sauces to cakes, elaborate and simple home cooked meals, the public could and are still enjoying fantastic selection of takeaways from home cooked chef meals for curbside collections.
Most do not have a second skill set to rely on, so we do what we can do best, cook or serve. It has become clear that a second skill will become a requirement in order to survive, this is only the start.

What we can agree on is the fact that people have lost jobs and families are in need of immediate support.
Late in March a call for help went out from chefs who immediately identified an urgent need to feed marginalized families affected by the virus. This is still ongoing with selfless farmers donating supplies and selfless chefs contributing to feeding people every day. It is not like they have businesses that need to survive or have anything else to do, these people continue to fight long queues of hunger.

A number of years ago we started a journey at the hotel, we had a vision and I was hell-bent in achieving our vision, working less, having quality time, accountability, transparency, ownership became our buzz words. Our careers and focus became more about the people and relationships than serving a pretty plate of food, we were so close. Then the ship went into lockdown.
As leave was the only option, it was the first time in my career that I had more time to reflect than my mandatory holiday reflection.
The uncertainty of where to next when we went into the first lockdown is nothing to what followed, the continuous nauseating roller coaster ride has become unbearable to watch and I still have a job.

The hospitality industry keeps on fighting an unfair one sided battle as chairs remain empty. The ripple effect is real as it is not just the restaurants and the people in it who suffer. Farmers, wine producers, bottle producers, pot washer, tour guides, hawkers, brewers, butcher, taxi drivers, printers, designers, content creators, fishing communities, delivery drivers, parking guard, waste collectors, they all suffer and so will their families and the suppliers they support, this is a second pandemic that we will be facing, and it is coming very fast.

Travel demands will fall, flights will decrease, tourists will disappear, the industry will have to change as we need tourists to survive and grow. We continue to see bookings move to later dates, putting occupancies in single digits, this has an unsettling effect on all our futures.
Nothing prepared us for the hurt in saying goodbye to friends, we shared ideas, visions, struggles, sweat and tears. We lost three quarters of our kitchen family, it was a devastating year! Dreams and visions were shattered. There simply was no alternative, many have moved on and reinvented themselves.

Selfishly I used the initial lockdown as an opportunity to reflect on my own needs, to reinvent myself and look at what makes me happy, what is my passion, did I have any passion left. I could not just go into a depression after all I still had my job, even if I felt a certain amount of guilt.
Pencil, acrylic, charcoal, paper and canvas became good companions and allowed me to focus a little, but it was getting back into the kitchen even if it was at home experimenting making cheese, tofu and fermenting everything that made me happy and somewhat content.

As operations opened up and we looked forward to a bright future, albeit a different one to what we imagined, nothing could have prepared us further for the stench as the roller coaster ride did not want to end. Everyone was just patching together their lives and their businesses and some light was visible, rules were implemented with no thought of consequences past sandy beaches.
It was supposed to be a joyful festive celebration as we were supposed to see the tail end of a virus. We should have known better as the virus keeps bouncing around causing havoc. Continued travel restrictions keep on putting doubt in the future of the industry. Another announcement and more legends relook at the landscape and the future, pockets are only so deep, then you are left with no choice but to cut the apron strings.

Some still have their strings attached, but for how long before they too must face the reality of financial ruin as they leave behind empty seats, empty spaces and empty dreams.
We have lost so many professionals in our industry, we just hope they have the strength to return and continue to provide great food and service.
There are many establishments who followed the rules during lockdown and even more who choose to rather remain closed as it was simply not viable. There are many establishments out of desperation who continued to trade even if it meant breaking the law, serving alcohol and not enforcing protocols from social distancing, wearing masks to maximizing capacity. It is a paper thin line to cross.

We want to continue our journey, we want to support our small suppliers, we want to invest in our employees, and we would like to remain optimistic about the world of hospitality and travel.

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Gourmet Guide 2020 – Haute Property Award


At the time we had not operated for long enough under the Lord Nelson name to receive a plate award. But we have managed to make some noise and got noticed. We received this beautiful Haute Property Award based on potential. People come to celebrate a true sense of occasion with table side service and a reawakening of some classics. Congratulations to a wonderful team.

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Fedhasa Cape Sustainable Restaurant Cook-off Champion 2019

The Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA) recently challenged members to a cook off in partnership with WWF-SASSI in a mystery box cook-off that was held at Cape Town Hotel School in Granger Bay.

We have championed sustainable fish choices for years, it has been a challenge we have had with ourselves, at one point I asked SASSI to remove me form their trailblazer list, as we could not follow the list 100%. We made mistakes, not often, but we felt guilty. After discussions with SASSI our minds were put to rest, as it is not following the list 100%, but rather working at making better choices over all, educating others in making better choices. We are still saddened when we see all the crayfish leave or shores to foreign destinations, tourism suffers from this.

In our kitchen we have adopted the same traffic light system used by SASSI (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) instead of following the guidelines by SASSI our policy and guidelines provide guidance in terms of how much green, orange or red listed species we are allowed to buy in a calendar year. It also gives us guidance in how much fish may be imported. We have included the importance of buying only MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) approved suppliers if we buy from abroad.

Within our guidelines we have given ourselves room for mistakes, as species are sometimes mistakenly labelled, we have also in the past used fish when we have had no other choices from the red list, but we have within our policy allowed for less than one percent of our yearly purchases for this.

The objective for the cook off that was to create awareness around sustainable food choices and to cook creatively with using basic ingredients supplied. Chefs are the driving force in making the decision on what is placed on menus, these choices ultimately influence consumers. If consumers are informed, then chefs will make better choices.
With this cook off each captain was given a team of chefs they have never worked with before and a challenging selection of fish to work with, frozen hake, frozen half shell mussels, frozen calamari rings, frozen sliced smoked salmon. Initially we were thrown by the frozen selection, but then the thought downed on me, what if this is the only choices we have in the future…
With only 45min we were given the task of coming up with a great dish showcasing our talents but also highlighting sustainable choices.
As we did not know each other, you do not know the strengths of the members, we were lucky as our team quickly established duties and tasks, we clicked and we could decide on a basic menu and strategy.
As the items were previously frozen we had to come up with a dish that would mask the frozen fish.
For the hake we made a flavoured brine with fennel, pepper corns and ginger. The hake was left to brine for 10 minutes before dusting the skin in flour and sesame and pan frying in butter with garlic, ginger and chili.
The mussels were removed from the shells and added to a curry sauce with calamari and offcuts of hake. The smoked salmon was mixed with spinach, cream cheese and put into a tortellini and tossed in butter to finish.TEAM SASSI FEDHASASASSI FEDHASA COOK OFF

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Wasted – Smoked Trout Cheese Cake


I have previously touched on the waste of fish as well as trout. This is an extension of some further investigation with a lot of trials. We have some beautiful farmed seatrout from the west coast, as we have a fair amount of flesh left after filleting. We started looking at different options, previously we used the meat we scraped of the bones for a tartare.

We have smoked the fish of cuts before but needed an idea where the fish could be used not in small amounts, but all of it. We needed an application where the demand would be greater than the waste produced. In this recipe we cured the fish on the bone then smoked it on the bone, removing the meat after it has cooled. 

At the same time we were working different ideas for afternoon tea, we were looking at adding a second fish item to the savoury selection. As the marriage between cream cheese and smoked salmon works well, the idea for a savoury cheeses cake started. Not something new as there are many recipes using the prime cut of hot smoked salmon or cold smoked salmon. The application of using off cuts off hot smoked trout pieces made a lot of sense, nice looking pieces are not required as it would be flaked into the mix before baking.

Hot smoked trout and dill cheesecake was introduced onto the savoury tea selection!

In the picture we I also looked at the possibility for a starter in the future with fennel, capers and dune spinach.


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The Golden Vine Award at De Wetshof and the Celebration of Chardonnay, 9 November 2018.

Every second year we look forward to a day of chardonnay, it is not an ordinary day because everything else gets cancelled to ensure attendance, and only a hand full of people get invited from the food and wine industry.

The day is filled with celebration, and for good reason, chardonnay of course.

Two years ago I had one of the best tasting experiences ever, as the part of that day older vintages were celebrated. With a 1997 Thelema Chardonnay and a 1993 De Wetshof Finesse Chardonnay, these did not only stand out, they were notable because these wines aged beautifully and tasted far beyond my expectation. These wines still showed freshness and complexity.

I could not wait to return.


Tanya Liebenberg, Danie De Wet, Louise Jardine, Wine Fairy, Rudi Liebenberg and George Jardine

This year was no different as the panel of wine makers each shared stories about the vine, the soil and chardonnay. We tasted fantastic chardonnays with the panel going through four flights for breakfast. With stories of the Judgement of Paris from key note speaker Steven Spurrier, this was a highlight, the man is a legend. We then continued with the remaining 28 chardonnay choices for lunch. The problem is that one never gets to taste all.

This year was made even more special as I was the recipient of the 2018 Golden Vine Award, an honour bestowed on a leading South African chef during the De Wetshof Celebration of Chardonnay. Awarded to a chef for his or her contribution to the country’s cuisine in the food and wine legacy.

I am humbled by this award and being associated with the De Wetshof family as well as the celebration of chardonnay with good food.

Johann De Wet with Rudi Liebenberg

Johann De Wet with Rudi Liebenberg

“Since the advent of the Celebration of Chardonnay 14 years ago, the Golden Vine Award has become known as one of the industry’s leading honours. To have it bestowed on at one of the country’s leading wine events is a highlight in my career.”

Previous recipients of the Golden Vine include Garth Stroebel, Luke Dale-Roberts, Peter Veldsman and Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen.


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The JHP Gourmet Guide 2019. One plate award.


For the third year we have been included in the JHP Guide 2019, and for the second year we have retained our one plate rating at the chefs table. When we talk about having guests in our kitchen it is bringing them into our happy space, and it shows. It is about the stories and the passion when the young chefs talk about the food when they present each dish, you are in their home.

View From Kitchen with space for 15

This year the JHP Gourmet Guide featured 25 restaurants, each receiving a plate rating. Four restaurants receiving three plate award, 8 two plate award with 13 restaurants receiving one plate rating.

We are once again proud of our team for the one plate rating for excellent cuisine. Congratulations to my Chefs Table Team for the contribution towards serving great food and maintain a high standard.

One plate rating award is given to restaurants for excellent cuisine.

Two plates, for exceptional dining that demands a detour.

Three plates – awarded for world-class destination dining worthy of a flight, was awarded to four restaurants which included The Greenhouse, La Colombe, Restaurant Mosaic and the The Test Kitchen.

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