South Africa is known for its vibrant culinary offerings. With a rich and complex make-up, the country’s taste buds have become accustomed to a myriad of dishes and delectable delights ranging from traditional to more sophisticated palates.
Following the international success of Restaurant Week in the US, Europe and Asia for many years, this exciting celebration is making headway locally. Since its launch in South Africa three years ago, it has proven to excite South African foodies. Many have already enjoyed a Restaurant Week dining experience at one or more of the country’s most popular restaurants.
With names like La Colombe, Mosaic at the Orient, Newton Johnson, Central One, oneNINEone, De Kloof, Durbanville Hills and Marc’s Table, offering lunch and dinner specials at R150 and R250, the buzz certainly has started. Preparations for the first Autumn Edition of culinary event Restaurant Week are in full swing: in just two weeks, over 65 restaurants have enthusiastically registered for participation.
Among those which have signed up for this year’s event are some of South Africa’s top restaurants, including the likes of Pigalle, Atrium, oneNINEone, Central One, Arque Champagne Crescent, L’Opulence, LBV Bistro & Wine Bar, Punchinello’s, La Vie en Rose and many more, Mosaic at the Orient, De Kloof, Geet, Al Fiume, Prosopa, Laughing Chefs and many more, La Colombe, Gallagher’s, Simon’s, HQ, Mondiall, Marc’s Table, Kitima, Meloncino, Raya Kitchen, Tobago’s and many more like Newton Johnson, Bosman’s, The Red Table, Miko, Fresh at Paul Cluver, Durbanville Hills, Racine, Eat @ Simonsvlei, Overgaauw Restaurant, Glen Carlou.
While Restaurant Week diners will, between 21 April and 1 May, be enjoying the best South Africa has to offer at 100 top restaurants in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and the Winelands, the master chefs and their teams will be cooking up a few storms as usual behind the scenes.
One restaurant that will undoubtedly draw a lot of attention, is Arque Champagne Crescent, a 100% female- owned, and 80% black owned and directed restaurant in Sandton, Joburg. Arque was formed in partnership with Perrier-Jouët Champagne and Pernod Ricard South Africa. It is a very special partnership in South Africa and Africa, as Arque is really the home (brand temple) of Perrier-Jouët on the continent.
Ayanda Khumalo is the Executive Chef at Arque Champagne Crescent. Inspired by his travels, most of Khumalo’s dishes have an international influence. When it comes to his love and passion for food, he says it all started a long time ago when he used to watch his mother being creative in the kitchen.
Born in Tugela Ferry, a small town situated between Dundee and Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, Khumalo says growing up in a rural environment was no breeze, but that as a youngster, he never paid much attention to the fact that they grew up without proper facilities.
“So we enjoyed it. It really had a big influence on me working hard, hoping for a better life in the future because my mom was working as a domestic worker and I wanted to help her support my siblings since my father was not around. I later completed high school at Damelin College in Johannesburg and studied to become a professional chef at Birnam Business College,” Khumalo says.
“Entering international cooking competitions was a big step for me. That is when I understood myself as a chef in terms of how much I have grown in the culinary world as a whole, as well as working in the world’s best hotels, such as Jumeirah Hotels Resorts and The Address Hotels Resorts to mention but a few,” he says.
When asked what some of the best dishes has been that he has prepared, Khumalo points out that there are quite a few. He says following every dish, he would double check to make sure that quality is impeccable. When it comes to his own favourite dish, Khumalo says it was a meal he had at Jumeirah Beach Hotel: steamed seabass with wok fried vegetables and Japanese rice dumplings, tomato foam and teriyaki sauce. Being frank about the fact that his palate can be hard to please, Khumalo says “when it comes to favourites, to the day, I still think about my mom’s food.”
Reflecting on who some of his own inspirations and role models in the industry are, Khumalo highlights Gordon Ramsay as one of his personal favourites. “I think he is the most successful chef in the world and I like his approach towards food and the respect he pays to each ingredient that he uses in his dishes,” he says.
In terms of his own aspirations for one day owning a restaurant, Khumalo says plans are already underway and once his finances are sorted, he hopes to get the ball rolling. He says the restaurant will be a small, exclusive Vodka, Wine, local drinks and Tapas bar, while the cuisine will be a combination of both modern and fine dining. Khumalo plans to have the restaurant situated in a trendy township or at the airport.
Looking at some of the challenges black chefs face when starting their own restaurants, Khumalo says most challenges revolve around financing. He says currently, there are a lot of young black people entering the hospitality industry, and he hopes that in 10 years’ time, the numbers would have even doubled.
Asked about his biggest achievements to date, Khumalo says the one that stands out most is receiving a gold medal in an international cooking competition in Dubai in 2006. Becoming an executive chef was another dream realised.
So what can be done to encourage more black people entering the restaurant industry? According to Khumalo, Government must do a lot more in terms of providing sponsorships, since it is expensive to study hospitality at the moment. He also mentions that business people should get involved and offer bursaries to school leavers in this regard.
When asked what he considers some of the most important things in the restaurant business to be and what he has learned so far, Khumalo says that importantly, you have to spend a number of years working in restaurants before opening one of your own, so that you are well aligned with the industry.
Why would Khumalo recommend what he does to others? He says it can be very rewarding, especially if you love cooking and travelling the world. “I do not think I would have seen so many countries if I was not a chef,” Khumalo concludes.
Restaurant Week Fast facts
The concept of Restaurant Week has been a success in Europe, the US and Asia for many years. Since 2013, Restaurant Week has proven to bring excitement to South Africa too. Last year, 10 000 diners enjoyed their Res- taurant Week Specials at the country’s top restaurants like The Tasting Room, The Restaurant at Newton Johnson, Durbanville Hills, The Black Bamboo, Central One, Pigalle and The Grand. Bookings for this year’s Restaurant Week open on 1 April at www.restaurantweek.co.za.