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Chef Dirk shares his foodie passion on International Chefs Day

20th October is International Chefs Day and is an opportunity to celebrate this noble profession. This year International Chefs Day will focus on sustainability and the environment to ensure a healthy planet for future generations. Morukuru Family has always advocated the use of local, seasonal fresh produce. All our Chefs are committed to reducing the impact that the production and consumption of food have on the environment.

Dirk is our head chef at Morukuru Ocean House and Morukuru Beach Lodge. We chatted to him about his career, his favourite ingredients, and supporting International Chef’s Day 2021.

 

You are surrounded by plenty of local food producers from the Overberg region - what are some of your favourite seasonal ingredients for Summer?  This year’s International Chef’s Day theme resonates with me, as we rely heavily on  seasonal fruits and vegetables. We work that into our menus as often as possible. My favourites include mango or melon, vibrant in flavour and colour. Watermelon is close to my heart because it had a deeper meaning growing up. Let’s just say that the rinds make for a perfect “food fight”, and it happens every summer. So that is the memory I associate with it.

Healthy living is on everyone’s mind these days. There are more and more people following vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. Do you enjoy this type of food prep, and what are some original, delicious plant-based dishes you have created? Healthy living has definitely been on the rise in the last couple of years, and as Chefs, we need to pay attention. When you start researching and developing, each ingredient gets broken down and prepared in numerous ways; there are molecular changes and different reactions. Think of vinegar and cream, it doesn’t work together when mixed, but they can be incorporated with different techniques. I take dietary requirements very seriously and always try to have a backup recipe for every dish that can be fully vegan but not jeopardise the overall quality.  Our dishes range from a hoisin marinated king oyster steak to a coconut curry aubergine steak with salsa and lentils.

What made you decide to become a chef? Growing up on a farm, I always had respect for fresh ingredients. We were involved in the working of the farm. When I was a child, my mother worked the night shift, took over the cooking to assist my mother. The love just grew from there.

The best food is often the most simple food - what is your favourite, simple dish to prepare?My favourite simple dish would be a stir-fry as the focus is on the limited ingredients. With the fundamentals in cooking, it is often better to keep it simple. One of my food heroes is Marco Pierre White, and he says that mother nature gave us ingredients, all we need to do is allow them to stand for themselves.

Tell us about a signature dish you have created, especially for Morukuru Beach Lodge.           I recently started working on a Fynbos Smoked goats’ cheese with pickled candy beetroot, a beetroot gel, black garlic gel, and a beetroot sponge. All those vibrant colours make it present like a painting itself.

Herbs are the friends of physicians and the pride of cooks (Charlemagne). What are your favourite herbs? Can you share any medicinal uses for herbs? Maybe from the local fynbos?

Dune sage – makes for an excellent tea for coughs, sneezes and colds. I also use sour fig in jams, but the leaves are a natural antiseptic and can make a mouth wash.

Spice it up! Are you good at creating spicy rubs, curries - something with a bit of heat? Tell us some of your secrets? I very much enjoy spicy food; I eat spicy food at every opportunity. The most common misconception is that heat only comes from chillies, but other things to consider are ginger, cinnamon, garlic, cloves because they all add heat. It is critical to get a good balance so that no one flavour is dominant.

Fruit is nature’s candy - tell us how you are introducing seasonal fruits into your menu. Fruits and healthy eating play a bigger and bigger part in the kitchen. I tend to use fruits like mangos and peaches in purees that complement the dish. I’m working with mango and coconut for Curry and an apple and walnut slaw with ostrich.

Best piece of kitchen advice you have ever received.  Always steal with your eyes. The old school Chef’s never just sat you down and shared knowledge with you, you had to earn it, and you needed to pay attention to what they were doing to learn from their experience. I have moved my station numerous times to be able to spy on my Executive chef’s before.

What is Your Favourite Kitchen Equipment Or Gadget? Thermomix! Hands down, without a doubt. It is the only piece of equipment I would always request. From making silky smooth puree’s to making a meringue, it can sous vide and ferment. It replaces 15 kitchen gadgets in one sweep.

What ingredient could you not manage without?  Potatoes. Much like an egg and chicken, it is a very versatile ingredient with numerous applications. It has carbs and is gluten-free, so it frees up a lot of options on a menu.

Tell us about your dream four-course meal to prepare and to who would you love to serve it? I will answer this as cliched as possible, and I don’t feel bad. I would love to cook my mother the perfect 4-course meal. She has been a pillar of strength in my life and supported me throughout my whole career, even when it didn’t benefit her in any form. And yes, I have cooked for her my whole life, but it is not the same as what I do at work.  I think I would choose the perfect calamari plate, a green bean and bacon soup (her #1 dish she makes), so I would love to put a few twists on that. Sea bass will definitely be on the menu, and for dessert, it would be my signature chocolate mousse.

Do you have a mentor, and who is that?  Chef Brett Ladds was the person that got me into cooking from the start. His lack of patience but level of humanity is what sculpted me. He is more than just a chef mentor. He is the kind of man I wanted to become in life. I will always be grateful for crossing paths with him.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to follow a career in food and beverage?      Enjoy every second of it. It is a very, very tough industry, it’s not for everyone, but there Is no other career like it out there. You deal with people and change their lives every day, even the small things like sharing the recipe they loved, giving them a list of must-see places in Cape Town or South Africa, the hidden gems. It comes with sacrifice, a lot of it. Every public holiday is peak time, weekends are Mondays to the normal people, and Mondays are weekends.  But the reward of changing people’s lives, and seeing that reaction with every bite, is worth every second.      

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