Thirty-something-year-old Sanel Esterhuyse, the new executive chef at the superior deluxe African Pride 15 on Orange Hotel in Cape Town, had a dream when she was young to become an architect. After a year of study she had a change of heart and went on to complete a degree in psychology and political science, but her passion had not yet been found. Sanel discovered it in a kitchen, creating dining experiences that share with guests the flame that drove her to pick up her first pan.
Sanel has worked in some of South Africa’s best kitchens, including the Arabella Sheraton Grand Hotel, the Cape Grace Hotel, One.Waterfront and Beluga.
1. How would you describe your cooking style?
My philosophy is based around flavour-driven food where the focus is on the ingredients; knowing your ingredients and understanding what goes with what.
My approach is modern and simplistic with the emphasis on the provenance of ingredients. I want to serve great produce from great people and enhance it - be a bit clever, but not too clever. It is based on classical cooking methods, with a contemporary twist.
2. What is your favourite dish on the current menu in Savour, the a la carte restaurant in African Pride 15 on Orange Hotel?
Beef tartar - classical dish, done simply well with exceptional ingredients.
3. Will you be making any menu changes?
I am not looking at making drastic changes immediately, but I will definitely bring my own personality to the food over time.
4. Kitchen's can be quite heated. How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe in leading from the front, treating staff, guests or ingredients with equal respect and they will in return respond to it. I belief in trying to see the bigger picture and adapting to the circumstances accordingly.
Yes, I do have temperamental moments, but by being organised and planning ahead for the unpredictable minimises the risk of things going wrong, and staying calm and rational under pressure at such times is more constructive than losing your head when you need it most.
5. If you're cooking for a dinner party at home, describe the menu.
Comfort food. And I am an avid supporter of local artisanal producers. I would probably start the day at a market and see what inspires me. Some lovely charcuterie, olives and fresh bread for everybody to nibble on, followed at this time of the year by homemade pasta tossed with collected wild mushrooms. I prefer spending time with my guests and not in the kitchen and thus would probably not serve dessert.
A good tip is to serve a big block of good Couverture (chocolate) with a sharp knife for everyone to break pieces off and offer it with some great dessert wine or port. Alternatively, a beautiful cheese platter with which to end the evening.
6. Is sweet or savoury king in your book?
Savoury all the way - If it is sweet, it should be very sweet; or chocolate chocolate chocolate!
7. What do you want diners to experience when they're eating your food?
Satisfaction, delight and a little surprise.
8. What's your best time-saving kitchen tip?
Work, clean and tidy as you go – it sounds silly but tidying up constantly will save you time in the end.
9. What advice would you give to an aspiring chef?
Cooking is incredibly demanding, yet can be a very fulfilling career. You need to be 100% committed. It is a life style choice and not just a career choice, and you cannot do it in half measures. If it is truly your passion, the heat, the tension, the innovation, the camaraderie in the kitchen makes it all worth it.
10. What most excites you about your new position at AP 15 on Orange Hotel?
The hotel is new, modern and clean in architecture and design and the food offering must reflect it. It will be a fantastic challenge to meld and reflect these styles in a way that satisfies all our guest needs. The hotel is still fairly new and developing an identity and reputation for itself and it is exciting to be part of the process. I also am excited to be part of a team who are truly motivated to bring excellent service and food to their guests and exceed in guest expectations at every level.