Meet Chef Aaron Mokopane

Morukuru Family Madikwe welcomed Chef Aaron Mokopane to our team earlier this year. We chatted to him about his journey from being a teenage kitchen sensation at home to realising his dream as a professional chef working at an award-winning safari lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve.

  What made you decide to become a chef? I discovered my passion for working in the kitchen when I was about 16-years-old. I took on many cooking responsibilities at home, and I discovered I was pretty good at putting tasty, inventive meals on the table. I also saw that my food was always more popular than that of my siblings. Weekends and afternoons after school, you would find me in my happy place - the kitchen!

What Is your favourite food memory? In 2015, I was still an assistant - learning the ropes - but I entered a cooking competition. My menu of garlic mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and rump steak won me the position of top candidate amongst others trainees. Doing what I love and doing it well is a great feeling.

Explain your typical day as a chef? No day is typical at Morukuru Family Madikwe. I usually work long hours without any breaks, and I have to be agile and create special requests for guests such as vegetarian or vegan dishes and other special dietary requirements.

You have a reputation as a dessert specialist. What is it about sweet treats you find exciting?Making desserts, cakes, treats - that’s my sweet spot! Hah Hah! It just puts me in the best mood - it is sort of like therapy for me - it heals me, calms me down. Plus, I know guests look forward to dessert - so I need to deliver top-level dishes that work well with all the other pairings. I think chefs are judged by their dessert game - so I’m always pushing myself.

What is your favourite dessert ingredient to work with? No dessert is complete without cream!

Tell us about a signature dessert you have created especially for Morukuru Family? Panna cotta with poppy seeds and fennel. Here I took a classic dish and elevated it with my own “mark” - the poppy seeds and fennel. It is an interesting combination, and our guests really enjoy it. And it is my favourite one to eat too!

What are your top 3 main course dinner recipes? It’s tough to choose only three...but here are my favourites: • Beef Wellington is my signature dish! • Pan-fried Salmon with lemon hollandaise sauce - with a selection of asparagus, charred grilled baby onions and carrot puree. • Butternut Risotto with extra butternut cubes, butternut puree and parmesan shavings.

What are your favourite savoury ingredients to cook with? I’m never far from the garlic, lemongrass, pistachios, herbs and cheeses. When cooking for fussy eaters or guests with food allergies – how do you adapt? I don’t see these guests as “fussy” - I see them as guests with special preferences. My way of making sure all guests - including those with dietary requirements have the most enjoyable food experiences is to chat to them and find out what they are into. Guests love helping plan the menus.

What do you eat when you are at home? Nothing beats traditional South African food like pap and tripe.

Best piece of advice you would give a home cooking enthusiast? Don’t crowd the pan when sautéing.

What is your favourite kitchen equipment or gadget? I’m in love with our Pasta Machine - the texture and flavour of freshly made pasta are unbeatable.

Your death row meal is…. Spaghetti - (freshly made with that machine!)