Head chef at Anastasia restaurant, Nelly Engelbrecht, is slowly transforming Kimberley into a fine dining hotspot. The restaurant at the Nare Boutique Hotel is a hidden gem with the first of its kind rooftop bar, and at the forefront is Namibian-born Engelbrecht.
Diners from across Mzansi are raving about Engelbrecht’s fresh take on food in the Northern Cape hub.
Just 13 years ago she could never have imagined that she would be called to add value to small restaurants around the province. “People trust me to do go into their kitchens or go into their restaurant business and open their kitchens for them and make it operational,” she says.
While she had always wanted to be a chef, she started her food journey as a waitress at the Protea Hotel at the Big Hole.
Building a food dream from scratch
An opportunity arose when one of the cooks fell ill and Engelbrecht was invited to cook in their place. “I helped in the kitchen for a while, for three months.”
She later moved to Lime Acres, a mining town just 150km from Kimberley where she worked as bartender and receptionist at a guesthouse. Noting her passion for food, her boss offered to fund her studies at the Butler’s Hotel School in Kimberley. “The chef dream has always been a thing for me. I think it is in my blood,” she says.
“You know when you are passionate about something, you always focus on that thing. Even though I was made head waiter I was always looking at the cooking area.”
Engelbrecht later worked at the Mittah Seperepere convention centre before she moved to Johannesburg to spread her culinary wings.
Creating a fine dining culture
She has also travelled across the province from Aggenuys to Kimberley, helping business owners realise the value of the professional kitchen.
“People give me opportunities to grow as an individual, as a chef. People who come to me always tell me that the kitchen was an afterthought, and that is where I come in. I take things that are not seen as valuable in that moment and make it valuable,” she says.
“That is how I started at Nare Boutique Hotel, before the rooftop restaurant was operational. I started at the bottom. We started getting busy with just me preparing my dishes and that is how the menu got perfected.”
Engelbrecht shares more with Food For Mzansi:
Where does your love for food come from?
My late mother, Constance, and father, Michael, inspired my love for food. Mom was always in the kitchen and my father used to go fishing on the weekend, and he would bring back all this seafood like crab, line fish and we would have this every weekend, every single Saturday.
We grew up eating food that we would grow in our garden, my mother used to cook meals that were vegetarian or vegan and lean proteins like fish. Today all the fish dishes I prepare at the hotel are inspired by my childhood.
What are the realities of looking for work in the culinary industry?
To be honest it is very difficult. Sometimes you find yourself in a place where you do not really want to be, but at the end of the day if you find a job then that is great. I never thought I would come back to the Northern Cape because I was in Johannesburg. I was planning on laying roots in Gauteng and then going overseas, but then I got the opportunity to come back to Kimberley and open a kitchen for a boutique hotel, which is the best thing ever for any chef.
Where have you drawn inspiration in terms of your journey into the culinary world?
Most people will mention Jamie Oliver, but I draw my inspiration for food from my spirituality. Food, and being a chef and being on this journey is a gift I believe. I am fortunate enough that cooking is my gift, and I get to share this gift with different people who walk into the restaurant every day.
Let’s also not forget passion, if you do not have the passion for it, then you will not be able to work seven days a week, 15 hours a day.
What are some of your favourite go-to meals you like to make in your own kitchen?
I cook from the heart, most of the dishes I love making are Italian. I do not know where I get my love for Italian food because I have never visited Italy, but I would like to go. I love a simple pasta with tomato sauce made with a great olive oil, fresh herbs, tomato, onions and garlic, salt, and pepper. Fresh ingredients are very important. I always prepare the pasta from scratch; I roll my own pasta. I love using fresh ingredients and preparing simple dishes.
What have been some career highlights for you?
Two presidents have enjoyed the food I have cooked. I once served Jacob Zuma, and our current president Cyril Ramaphosa, walked into the kitchen where I worked just to come and see me. I have also had the opportunity open a few kitchens in the Northern Cape. My highlight is people trusting me as a chef to open their kitchens. People give me opportunities to grow.
Do your dreams begin and end in the kitchen?
I want to open my own chef school. Currently we have eight students for the next six months that I am training. I want to educate people how to handle both food and the business side of the industry. It has been a good experience for me to train them because it is also an opportunity for me to grow as a chef and a mentor. Not everyone is blessed to work with numbers, or study as a doctor or a lawyer, there are opportunities in the kitchen too, I would like to teach youth about those opportunities.
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