“The foundation of our process starts with respect: Respect for the ingredient. Respect for the process. Respect for the end product. Respect for the guest.”
Rudi Liebenberg is the Executive Chef at the Belmond Mount Nelson and has been in position since 2009. Taking the helm in The Nellies kitchen was a long way from his start in the industry; he came to the hotel with over 25 years experience and a string of industry awards and achievements.
He started his career working in a pizzeria part time whilst still at school and then trained as a chef during his compulsory military service, which led to a formal qualification at the Technikon Witwatersrand Hotel School. From there his career took him through various hotels in South Africa leading him to The Parktonian Hotel where he was awarded his first position as Executive Chef.
From there the milestones grew and Rudi worked at establishments such as Park Hyatt, Michelangelo Hotel and Sheraton Hotel & Towers before teaching at the prestigious Prue Leith College of Food and Wine. Following a spell at The Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg, Liebenberg then came south and joined Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel.
Chef Rudi is almost as iconic as the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel and is known and respected by the regular guests as well as his team. He demands the best quality from the very best ingredients and is passionate about what goes into his food, both ingredients and design.
His style of food is a combination of local and international flavours and trends and the hotels flagship restaurant, Planet Restaurant, illustrates this perfectly.
“We want to create a transparent process from soil to plate”
Dine Chefs’ Choice award 2008 for consistent artistry
Finalist in Top billing lifestyle award for Fine dining, 2008
Eat Out People’s Choice Top Ten for Hotel Dining 2008
South African Chef’s Association President’s award 2008
Golden Circle Alumni Award 2010 – in recognition of contribution to industry
2011 Fleur de Cap Top 10 Places to Eat in Cape Town
Eat Out Top 20 nominee 2011, 2012, 2013
Sunday Times Chef of the Year 2012
Top 10 Hotel Restaurants in the World (Hoteliers Magazine 2012)
Over time, Rudi has represented South Africa in various international competitions. The highlight was a gold medal at the IKA Culinary Olympics in Erfurt in 2008
Dion Vengatass, chef de cuisine for Planet Restaurant
Dion is keenly enthusiastic about his chosen career “we must have high standards” he proclaims as he lays out his array of professional kitchen knives with the same attention and care as a surgeon before an operation, polishing and sharpening them to “perfection”.
Dion has worked in all the many kitchens at the hotel but he feels that Planet restaurant is where he shines. Why? “I can be confidently creative (but never pretentious he asserts), knowing that I am working with the best quality ingredients”. His ambition is for Planet to earn a place in the top ten restaurants in the country (currently it is in the top 20). On a personal level he is working on launching a Vengatass line of foods, starting with his favourite combination of spices.
His current favourite dish on Planet’s menu is spicy: monkfish cooked in traditional Indian Poulie curry spices and lots of tamarind. Talking about the direction of SA cuisine – what Dion would like to see is the wholehearted embracing of pan African cuisine using flavourful ingredients such as cassava, okra, madumbi, marogo, “let’s look more to Africa and less to Europe”
Dion doesn’t hold back about having grown up in a ghetto and he is proud of what he has achieved. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge with the many youngsters who start in the hotel’s kitchens and he loves being involved in training them and “brushing them into shape” he says. Very recently two of his and Pastry Chef Vicky Gurovich’s protégés, Willem Verwey and Kirstin Hellerman won the Nestlé Professional Gold Chefs Hat competition.
Chef Jaco Goosen has pretty much worked in every kitchen that I have, so he pretty much knows most of the secrets. Recipes that I have lost years ago he still cherishes in his small black book. With this he understands the requirements better than most. I would have no other chef to look after the engine, the back bone of our kitchen. From the cold, the hot and fabrication everything is done centrally to ensure the best quality and standards are maintained all year around.
In Jaco’s world there are no short cuts and every recipe is followed to the T, his pride and joy is when he makes sauces and he gets tremendous satisfaction when his base stocks turn to jelly, you can see how he gets that extra jump in his stride and a smile in his eyes. In addition it helps that he his is slightly OCD, just a little…
Everything in Jaco’s life Is about systems and procedures, making sure every order is placed checked and scrutinized. Quality is foremost when it come to ingredients coupled with the right skill set, anything is possible.
He is a keen forager that will go and find the most interesting ingredients for our kitchens. In a kitchen that prides itself in making so much he finds himself at home, as part of our philosophy aims to zero wastage, it is respect that drives him. As sous chef in production he ensures that every little part is used and he ensures that every ingredient finds a home and not the bin.
He is a strong supporter of SASSI, ensuring that we only buy green fish where possible. In his fabrication kitchen he makes magic! As you can not buy what he and his team produces, beautiful delicate smoked trout and hot smoked dusky kob as just a small part. Jaco is a driving force in our kitchens philosophy which is anchored in respect of for ingredients.
Pastry Chef Craig Thomas Hibbert
We have never seen him angry, we have never seen him stress and he does not panic! NEVER!.
But a chef must have a weakness, in his case it is the love of making macarons and the anger that he shows when Man United is a goal down.
In September 2014 Craig returned to The Belmond Mount Nelson as the Executive Pastry Chef a position he aspired to since initially working at The Mount Nelson almost 16 years ago under Wade van der Merwe at the time.
Before he started to carve a career in the kitchen he completed an advertising diploma in graphic design before joining the madness.
His culinary career started as an apprentice in 1997 at the Cape Grace under Grant Cullingworth. Working his way around all the sections of the kitchen he found his passion in Pastry, as it was an amazing avenue to channel his creativity.
He left South Africa for London, working at the Dorchester and expanding his repertoire. Returning to South Africa in 2002 to get married, he and his wife, also a chef, returned to the UK to work at the new The Grove Hotel.
He and his wife returned to South Africa, where he was offered his first executive pastry position at The Palace of the Lost City and then relocated to Cape Town as a much larger family, where Craig took the position of Executive pastry chef at The Westin working again with Grant Cullingworth.
Look out for Craig’s favourites on the afternoon tea buffet like peppermint crisp crémeux, passion fruit delice, streusel crusted eclair and the yummiest home made strawberry jam served with clotted cream and warm baked scones.
Master Baker – Togara Mabharani
Six years ago the kitchen night shift dynamic looked completely different to what our current set up is. Our baker at the time was hard headed and did not share the passion and common vision of doing things slowly. We were looking for the essence of life only found in a really warm croissant.
Vicky my pastry chef, her assistant Jac and myself had long discussions of what we needed and only to find that baker boy either did not know how to change or was not interested, needless to say from bad good will follow. For two years we went through one baker after the next, some good some brilliant and some just failures. Our journey could have been a lot simpler, but in our minds failing was not an option.
Enter man with dreads, none other than our star baker, Togara.
He got it, almost as if he had a special gift. Patience, dedication and the love for bread, it does help that he a big pair of hands. Together with Jac and Vicky they set up an awesome space. One would not be far wrong when entering the bakery at the dead of night that one has entered a holy place, so quite. In this space Togara produces and gives, night after night, bread that makes you smile. Once you have tasted a crusty sour dough any other bread will taste fowl. He has ruined me for the rest of my days.
This humble man gives and teaches, he allows young chefs to grow and learn, giving and parting with skills that one cannot buy in a book shop. His career started early working in a pastry kitchens while still in school in Harare where his father was the food and beverage manager at a Luxury Hotel. He furthered his studies and continued to work at the Meikles hotel pastry kitchen. Not only has he developed a unique skill in baking, but he makes great ice cream.
He enjoys the process in creating from scratch. He and his assistant Michael create close to 50 different items everyday.
Everyday it is perfect…..a smile