Cape Town-born chef Shanon Peters (29) was just a teenager when he first realised he had a desire to become a chef.
The youngest member in a family of four, he was often teased by his older brother, and relatives for being the only male child in the kitchen while the other boys played football and climbed trees.
“At the time, only the females were in the kitchen, so we’d always banter about that. Good times,” recalls Peters.
Born in the Mitchell’s Plain’s coastal suburb of Strandfontein he never imagined his culinary curiosity would see him cook for international tennis stars and Wimbledon title holders, Serena Williams, and Roger Federer.
“It was a very tough upbringing, you either worked a government job, or you had a questionable side hustle.
“Growing up, you’re always answering the ‘what would you like to be when you grow up’ question with an answer that seems safe.
“I didn’t know anything about the culinary world, but I knew I liked cooking and experimenting with food.”
Today he takes the reigns as the head chef of Sotto Sopra, a trendy Italian restaurant in Rosebank, Johannesburg. He sees this as an opportunity to build the restaurant’s reputation as well as his own.
‘Take your time climbing the hierarchy ladder. Do not rush to the top without building a solid foundation of experience.’
His vegetarian sense guides him in the kitchen creating a carefully crafted menu bringing vibrant fresh meals to life at Sotto Sopra. “I enjoy exploring different ways of cooking vegetables and animal-free products. Otherwise, if I have family or friends over, I always opt for an Italian dish, because who doesn’t love pasta?”
Teenage kitchen dreams
Peters was only 15 years old when he started his culinary journey. From the age of 15 to 17 he would spend every weekend in the hotel kitchen of The Capetonian, where he worked for free.
“I realised the kitchen is where I wanted to be after enrolling in a job shadowing program in grade 10 at a hotel in Cape Town. I might have been too young to get paid, which I didn’t mind, but I gained invaluable experience, plus I just liked being there.”
Peters credits his interest in the culinary arts to his grandmother, Cathy Sparks and mother, Charmaine Peters. His hero chefs include Gordon Ramsey, Marco Pierre White and late French restaurateurs Roux brothers, Albert and Michel.
When he matriculated in 2008, he started his internship at the Vineyard Hotel in Newlands, Cape Town.
“I spent four years learning about different kitchen sections and determining which one I liked best. I did this while completing my diploma. A month after my 21st birthday, I was offered a position in Dubai, which I accepted immediately,” he says eagerly.
‘Hello Dubai glitz and glamour’
“I couldn’t pack my bags fast enough to get on that plane,” he jokes. In Dubai he worked at The Irish Village.
“What a place that was! There I discovered the exciting world of cooking for celebrities, maintaining international standards and preparing dishes on a scale larger than I’ve ever known.
“After two years, I moved to the Grand Hyatt Hotel, also in Dubai, where on any given day, a fully booked hotel meant 1 800 people, besides the 14 restaurants on the premises.”
Getting noticed and promoted was hard there due to competition from 180 other chefs looking for recognition.
In 2016 he decided to bring his culinary knowledge and experience from abroad back to Mzansi.
“I worked at multiple Kove Collection restaurants until 2018 when I received an opportunity to work alongside Evan Coosner at Open Door.”
In 2018 his work at Open Door, saw him become the youngest chef to be inducted into the Mondiale de la Gastronomie Association, a culinary guild first conceptualized by French King, Louis IX.
‘I didn’t know anything about the culinary world, but I knew I liked cooking and experimenting with food.’
“It is way harder to get into the French one than it is to get into the South African one.
“They invite 50 food writers and influencers, who come and have a four or five course set menu that you have prepared for them and if you get the go ahead from each one of them, they induct you.
“It is very difficult to do five fine dining courses for more than 40 people at once, it is more of a competition challenge before you get accepted.”
While he may be a young inductee of the prestigious culinary guild, his 14-year career has also seen him serve high profile guests like Serena Williams, Rodger Federer, Novak Djokovic and former president Jacob Zuma.
“I’ve had the privilege of cooking for world leaders, presidents, ambassadors. He [Zuma] really wanted a South African to cook for him, luckily for me I was the only South African working at the Grand Hyatt.”
Inspired by his time in the culinary industry, Peters hopes to see the doors of his own restaurant open one day.
“I have come to know the ins and outs of what works and what doesn’t, which trends are long-term, and which are fads.
“With that said, I aspire to put together a restaurant that seats no more than 50 people, offers an exceptional food and wine menu and is based in an up-and-coming suburb in Johannesburg.
“I’ve drawn up a business plan and financial projections of what would be needed to kickstart this project, so we’ll see what happens later.”
He reminds young chefs to, “Take your time climbing the hierarchy ladder. Do not rush to the top without building a solid foundation of experience, knowledge, and education.”