JW – How did you get into working as a chef?
“When I left school, I had no idea what I wanted to do when a friend of a friend asked me to help out for day at his catering company. After frying 15kgs of Bacon and half a million eggs for a breakie buffet, I had to stuff flavoured butter under the skin of some chicken legs. I had seen Janie Oliver doing it on TV a week or so before and I was just loving it. At the end of that 16 hour shift, the guy gave me some cash for my efforts. I couldn’t believe I just got paid for having such a jol mucking about with food, so I suppose that was that!”
JW – Have you had any international cooking experience?
“I’ve had three UK missions but never at any fancy restaurants. I was the sous chef a restaurant on Leicester Square and I ran a breakfast restaurant in Mayfair. I also ran a pub kitchen in Bournemouth during my gap year but at that point I was more about the party than the work. I learned most of what I know at GINjA Restaurant in Cape Town and the rest I got from my enormous book collection and old faithful Google!”
JW – You presented a show on TV I hear – tell me a little more?
“That was a hoot!!! It was a kids cooking show called What’s Your Flava. Kids sent in their own recipes then two crazy twins and I had to cook them up under a heavy time constraint with no escape from the cameras. Heaps of fun but I had to keep a close eye on my language and sense of humour. They used to edit out half my jokes and lots of bloopers”
JW – Anymore TV appearances in the pipeline?
“I’ve been brainstorming a couple ideas lately but I’m in no rush at this point. I’m busy wrapping up a degree in Accounting so I’m trying not to over commit to anything else. Once I get those extra letters behind my name, banks will to be a lot easier to squeeze money out of. I’m not sure I’m finished with TV yet.”
JW – What inspires your menus and cooking style?
“Most definitely the occasion I’m cooking for. Whenever I invent a dish I always consider who it’s for, what’s in season, how much effort it’s worth and most importantly how its going got be eaten. My style has changed dramatically in the last two years from hard core fusion fine dining to unfussy, relaxed country style. Whatever ingredient I’m working with, I always try to find a way to enhance the flavour as best I can. I used to find myself wasting so much time making my food look precious that I often neglected the actual deliciousness of it. I rarely pimp my dishes with fancy garnishes (so nineties)! You’ve got to keep it real.”
JW – What other chefs inspire you?
“He’s received a lot of criticism but I really enjoy Jamie Oliver. He’s all fun and games on the outside but he’s a cunning businessman and he’s built up a fantastic brand with his name. He also made cooking cool. Before he came around we had Keith Floyd and Delia Smith so I think he’s had a huge influenced on people’s perception of food. Some others would be Nigel Slater (when I read his books I want to eat the pages), Gordon Ramsay, Nobu Matsuhisa and Thomas Keller (although I think he talks too much).”
JW – What do you eat at home?
“I eat quite healthily during the week. Lots of salads, pulses, grilled chicken with light sauces and dressings, tomato pastas and the occasional soup. On weekends though, I’ll chow just about anything. My favourite is a thick steak with mushroom sauce and fat cut potato wedges with some roast cherry tomatoes, rocket and shaved parmesan. In summer I go nuts for seared tuna with simple soy dressings fresh thai style salads and stir fries. I’m also a bit of a sushi slut.”
JW – So what is your advice to young chefs thinking of getting into a job as a chef?
“Firstly, I would recommend doing some job shadowing. Chef school is expensive and I’ve seen so many chefs do the training at college and buckle once they hit the real kitchen because they can’t handle the pressure or the hours. Best get a sneak preview before blowing all that cash on something that doesn’t rev your motor. It’s flipping tough and senior chefs aren’t renowned for their leadership abilities and people skills. I would also recommend honing your business skills. Some of the greatest chefs in the world still have no idea how to run a business. Whether you’re working for yourself or a restaurateur, someone in the picture will be trying to make some cash. If you can manage your food cost properly and talk business with non foodies, you’ll be ticking extra boxes that make you easier to employ or lend money too.”
Jonno is currently the Chef and Marketing Manager at Cloof Wine Estate – a man of many talents!