Young Chefs Share What’s Hot in their Winter Kitchens

Young Chef

What do chefs love about winter? What piece of kitchen equipment can’t they do without? And how does plant-based eating feature in their kitchens? Here’s a catch up with current and past winners of the S.Pellegrino Young Chefs Academy Competition.

Winter is a time when the heat in the kitchen is a blissful refuge, seasonal ingredients dictate hearty fare and local chefs (sometimes) get a chance to breathe for a moment or two after a full-on summer season. Current and past edition South African winners of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy Competition – Zanté Neethling, Paul Prinsloo, Callan Austin, and Marcus Gericke – spared a moment from their winter kitchens to chat about life beyond the competition.

Zanté Neethling – head chef at Nest Food Bar in Knysna

2023 Africa, Middle East, and South Asia Regional Winner of the S.Pellegrino Award for Social

Moving up to Knysna, opening Nest Food Bar, and participating in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy regional finals has meant a very busy year for Zanté. “My life has really been enriched through this competition. I was contacted by Gourmet Guide, and the South magazine for interviews, Eat Out invited me to be part of a chef’s table shoot where I was able to network with great chefs. It has brought so much exposure, support, and value to my life,” she says.

What seasonal ingredient are you loving at the moment?

Eriocephalus africanus known as wild rosemary is now in bloom here in Knysna. Its medicinal property is anti-spasmodic, relaxing the muscles in the stomach and intestines and easing symptoms that arise from the gut. I like to use it with any kind of vegetables or legumes as well as game meat and lamb.

What else do you love about winter in the kitchen?

Soup time! A lovely seasonal vegetable soup is one of my favourite winter dishes served with crusty wood-fired sourdough bread from Ile de Pain. The Best!

A piece of kitchen equipment you can’t do without?

My pruning shears for foraging indigenous plants in the bush. Otherwise, I will be breaking even more scissors than I have in the past.

Any current kitchen obsessions?

I am furthering my knowledge on the responsibility of being more sustainable and working towards the Food Made Good certification of the Sustainable Restaurant Association, which is working towards a global standard of sustainability in the hospitality industry. Not only for the conservation of our environment but also for the well-being of our bodies and minds. We need to do what we can to move to a greener economy and protect our natural ecosystems.

Callan Austin – head chef and co-owner at Dusk in Stellenbosch and Executive chef and co-owner at Nocturne.

(2021 Grand Finale Winner of the S.Pellegrino Award for Social Responsibility hailing from Africa & Middle East Region)

Together with his mentor, chef Darren Badenhorst, Callan opened Dusk in Stellenbosch in September 2022, which is already winning them fine-dining accolades.

“Being awarded the Eat Out Retail Capital Best New Restaurant last year really helped in getting the ball rolling for a busy season and cemented our concept ensuring that we were on the right track,” he says.

What seasonal ingredient are you loving at the moment?

“I love the ingredients that come with the winter months. As a team, we’ve collected a literal ton of mushrooms this season. With Stellies producing a fantastic flush of porcini, pine rings, chicken of the woods, slippery jacks, boletus, and even a few wood blewits. And winter herbs such as nasturtiums capers, sorrel, pine needles, and geranium

In the kitchen, we’ve been experimenting with various preservation and fermentation techniques to ensure our hauls will last us through the summer season.

What else do you love about winter in the kitchen?

Winter has given us some much-needed time to relax, re-centre, look back on past successes and mistakes, and start planning for the next season. We have been doing a lot of team building which is really cementing a strong comradeship.

A piece of kitchen equipment you can’t do without?

At the moment, our Thermomix is one of the most in-demand pieces of equipment. She’s old, but gets the job done! I reckon at some point before next season we’ll have to source a new one.

Any current kitchen obsessions?

With some extra time off now I have been ripping through cookbooks. Some of my favourites have been David Kinch’s Manresa, Jeremy Chan’s Ikoyi, and an old French cookery terminology book.  In the kitchen, we have been diving much deeper into koji fermentation and other methods of preservation.

Paul Prinsloo – head chef at Gåte at Quoin Rock

2019 Africa & Middle East Regional Winner of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition

Having taken over the position as head chef at Gåte in October 2021, Paul has been consolidating the restaurant’s reputation for exquisitely elegant dining with new tasting menus every few months. “I’ve been growing into my own identity and cooking style. The mindset has become I want to make food the way I make food at home, so there’s an element of comfort food but still very neat and meticulous with the style,” he says.

What seasonal ingredient are you loving at the moment?

If I had to choose just one vegetable that’s nice in winter I’d say celeriac – there are so many things you can do with it: bake it, roast it, puree, make paper or glass from it… The flavour you get is really good, nice, and earthy.

What else do you love about winter in the kitchen? I love that it’s not as hot – we’re a closed kitchen so it gets really hot in summer with all the tops and heat lamps on. In the winter you actually appreciate the warmth.

A piece of kitchen equipment you can’t do without?

A Thermomix – a blender that works on heat. For the strength of the blender for purees. It’s a piece of equipment we use all the time.

Any current kitchen obsessions?

I’ve had an obsession with making really good sauces for our last two menus. I put a lot of time, focus, preparation, and thought into the sauces served with the dishes. The dish on its own has to be great, and then you add a sauce that takes it to another level. When you are all together you go, Oh wow that’s beautiful!

Marcus Gericke – head chef at Chorus by Bertus Basson

(2019 Africa & Middle East Regional Winner of the Fine Dining Lovers Food for Thought Award)

This past year has seen Marcus join Bertus Basson as head chef opening Chorus at Waterkloof Wine Estate. “It’s been really busy at Chorus, we have definitely found our stride and are excited to be turning one in October,” he says.

What seasonal ingredient are you loving at the moment?

Pawpaw, we use it in our new pork belly dish where we utilise the sweet flavour to balance the spicy massaman curry and our cured pork belly.

What else do you love about winter in the kitchen?

Foraging is a big part of winter. Using all our knowledge of foraging spots on what is edible and passing that knowledge on to younger chefs and students is amazing. It also allows for a lot of creativity as the ingredients are even more seasonal. If you don’t find them, you change the menu.

A piece of kitchen equipment you can’t do without?

I would have to say my sharpening stone. It’s become a weekly tradition now that we’re settling into Chorus, for me to sharpen the team’s knives. Seeing their reaction when it’s super sharp makes it well worth the effort.

Any current kitchen obsessions?

My dad always used to say that simplicity is key – working at Chorus this has become the theme. Whenever we come up with new menu ideas, we remove items instead of adding them. Chef Bertus Basson is a huge advocate of that approach as well. It becomes more sustainable and allows for the main ingredients to shine through and be the stars of the show.

Plant-based eating in fine-dining restaurants

Now more than ever a hot topic, we also asked our young chefs for their thoughts on plant-based eating:

“Plant-based eating has definitely intrigued me in the last 2 years, and I have become quite the advocate for it,” says Marcus. “Last year in August, I ended up doing a 7-course pop-up tasting experience called “imagination re-planted” which was completely vegan.” At Chorus they offer pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan menus as alternatives to the main menu.

“Plant-based eating is the future!” says Zanté. “It can help us conserve what is left after urbanization and commercial developments threatened biodiversity. My dream as a chef is to have a self-sustainable farm that is in symbiosis with nature, a kind of retreat to reconnect with nature and consume what is meant for us.” Nest always has vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu.

“I think that it’s important for any chef to have a few vegan recipes and dishes up their sleeves to cater for such dietary restrictions,” says Callan. “However, I believe with educated sourcing and ethical practices there is no need to convert completely to plant-based cooking.” At Dusk he has a vegan tasting menu, which guests can request upon booking.

“It’s quite difficult when you’re changing menus every few months to think of new vegan dishes that are on par with the tasting menu,” says Paul. “This winter I’m focussing on creating vegetarian menus where each dish can easily be transformed into a plant-based one. It’s important to cater for it. If you have a group with one vegetarian or one vegan, they dictate where the rest of the group will eat.” At Gåte they offer vegan tasting menus which can also be complemented with wine-pairing options.

Keep an eye on these incredibly talented young chefs as they make further strides in their careers. The future of fine dining in South Africa is in good hands with these lifelong friends of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy.