Home Lifestyle Mzansi Flavour Care and passion the secret to creating delectable dishes

Care and passion the secret to creating delectable dishes

Spier Farm Café head chef Hennie Nel cooks honest, authentic and unpretentious food

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The key ingredients to creating mouth-watering dishes are not readily available in any supermarketbelieves resident Spier Farm Café head chef Hennie Nel (35). Instead it takes care and passion,” he says. “Those two things are key to making a dish delicious 

Another key ingredient can, however, be found in your kitchen pantryhe addsWithout salt you might as well close your restaurant doors, he affirms 

RECIPE: Chef Hennie’s British piccalilli

In October 2019 Nel took on the role of head chef of the Spier Farm Café in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. As a seasoned fine dining cuisinier he is not a fan of fussy, fancy cooking. “For me, the secret to a great meal is honest, authentic and unpretentious food made with the best quality ingredients, he says. 

The young chef says he is a simple man with simple taste. “I really enjoyed the pancetta and portobellini tagliatelle that we served at Winchester Mansions way back in the day When Jonathan Staley was still running the Kitchen,” he says. 

His career in the kitchen was not planned. When he was a young boy growing up in Sea Point, Cape Town, he spent his school holidays and free time earning pocket money behind the till in his dad’s Seven/Elevesupermarket. It was either hitting the cash register or making meals and baking bread in the bakery. I soon realized I had a great passion for working with food,” he says. 

Nel takes the reigns as head chef of the Spier Farm Cafe in Stellenbosch.
Nel takes the reigns as head chef of the Spier Farm Cafe in Stellenbosch.

By the time he finished high school, his father’s bakery had become a takeaway operation and Nel decided he wanted to become a chef. His newly chosen career path stunned his dad who had been expecting him to study architecture or law. But he brushed those expectations aside and enrolled into the Zevenwacht Culinary School in Stellenbosch in 2004.  

“Even though those three years involved tough, hard work with long hours, it set the standard for what to expect moving forward with my careerChef Tim Woodford taught me to respect the industry, its equipment and the guy standing next to you on the line, he recalls.

“If you decide to be a chef, then do it with all your heart and energy.”

Born from a family of cooks, his passion for food stems from his mother’s and grandmothers’ teachings. My cooking inspiration is my mother, she is always experimenting, and her food is delicious. I admire her, watching her cook and the love and care she put into our food was amazing,” he says. 

My grandmothers are also great cooksI think seeing how satisfying it is to watch your family sit by a table and eat and enjoy themselves is firmly rooted in me and it is important to have that connection with food and take the preparing of it seriously,” he affirms. 

After graduating from Zevenwacht culinary school in 2007 the chef began his journey in the professional kitchen as a commis chef at the Winchester Mansionsnear his dad’s supermarket.  

He gained further fine dining training at the One & Only where he worked under chef Eric Bulpitt at the RoundhouseAlthough he has gained a vast array of experience in the culinary world, Nel recalls his most memorable stint as the time he worked at Buitenverwachting under Austrian born chef Edgar Osojink 

He remembers an epic incident where he was challenged to gather live crayfish from the restaurant’s aquarium. This was a test of his will to succeed in the industry he says. I opened the door and there was an aquarium full of massive live crayfish sitting there,” Nel says. As a concerned trainee he shortly returned to confirm if he should physically fish the crustaceous creature.   

“It’s not easy and you will have days that you want to give up, but those are the days that you show them. Never ever give up, take it on the chin, say ‘yes Chef and progress. 

I ran back up with a look of disbelief and asked the Chef the ones in the aquarium?’ He then shouted Yes the ones in the aquarium! Bring me my crayfish! 

I ended up lifting the crayfish up with a spider (kitchen utensil) and the fight between me and the crayfish was on! Eventually when I got it up the stairs, me completely wet, he took the crayfish with one hand and killed it swiftly with a knife in seconds and a few seconds later I saw the crayfish on the grill and then on a plate, fresh as it gets. Needless to say, I had to go fetch a few more in the short time I was there,” he reminisces. 

His days as a trainee chef prepared him for his journey with Spier anfatherhood. “As a father it becomes a bit tricky having to juggle time between work, your wife and kids,” he says. 

A tenacious and spirited chef, Nel believes it takes grit to make it in the industry. His admirable work ethic has opened many doors and led to the opportunity of a lifetime. I2017 he was recruited to work at the Spier Wine Estate by PJ Vadas, then head chef at the Hog House Bakery and Café, and his hard work ethic would soon result in him taking the reins as head chef with the Spier Farm Café in 2019.  

Nel advises future chefs and home cooks to remain resilient regardless of criticism. 

If you decide to be a chef, then do it with all your heart and energy,” he says 

“It’s not easy and you will have days that you want to give up, but those are the days that you show them. Never ever give up, take it on the chin, say ‘yes Chef and progress.  

RECIPE: Chef Hennie’s British piccalilli

Noluthando Ngcakani
Noluthando Ngcakani
With roots in the Northern Cape, this Kimberley Diamond has had a passion for telling human interest stories since she could speak her first words. A foodie by heart, she began her journalistic career as an intern at the SABC where she discovered her love for telling agricultural, community and nature related stories. Not a stranger to a challenge Ngcakani will go above and beyond to tell your truth.
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