Darren Badenhorst needs no introduction to local foodies – as executive chef of The Restaurant at Grande Provence, he’s either won you over with his degustation menu or he’s on your dinner bucket list.
Right about now Darren’s celebrating making the San Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 top 10 list for Africa and the Middle East, which means he could be heading off to Milan in June to compete for the global title. CTE.com caught up with this talented young chef in the meantime…
We’ve heard you originally studied marketing. What made you switch to becoming a chef?
I always had a passion for and an interest in food, but I didn’t realise at first that it was actually a viable career option. I’m from Durban originally and the food scene and culinary awareness is far less there than in the Cape.
How would you describe your culinary style today? And do you conceptualise everything on the menu yourself or is it a collaboration with your team?
I am trained in classic French cuisine, the building blocks of which are vital for the growth of any young chef. However, I take influences from Asian cuisine in terms of textures, natural acidities and preservation methods, and I merge the two to form a unique blend. I do all of the menu compilation and planning from start to finish. The dishes then grow and evolve through their life on the menu too.
Franschhoek is considered by many to be the culinary capital of South Africa. What makes working – and eating – in the Winelands such a different experience?
I think the most important aspect is the diversity of all of the establishments and that with so many restaurants competing it really brings out the best in the area from a food and service point of view. ‘Competition breeds excellence’ is what I always say.
What inspires you to return to the kitchen day after day? (Those spaniels must be impossible to say goodbye to every morning…)
Haha, yes they really are! I have invested a lot of time and effort in this industry, but it’s what I love to do – the creativity and personalities you encounter every day are changing all the time, which makes each day very different from the previous. I am doing what I love with like-minded people, what more do I need?
Twitter stalking reveals you’re a musician and photographer in your spare time. Should we be expecting an album and exhibition any time soon?
They’re purely hobbies … I’ve done a few live sets and shows but I prefer the comfort of my own home. I collect instruments, so with well over a dozen different ones, I always have something to keep me entertained.
What would you like to see more of from local chefs?
Collaboration and inter-property exchanges. I feel that the best possible way to grow the industry in our country is to empower those starting out. A simple staff exchange for a week does wonders for the growth of young chefs, as well as cementing the passion of an otherwise very daunting career choice.
What would you say to average Capetonians who think the likes of a meal at Grande Provence is not for them?
Be open-minded – a meal is not just about the food but rather having an experience that may take you out of your comfort zone. My team is very passionate and this will come through in every aspect of your visit. You will be pleasantly surprised.
You’ve made a name for yourself in the industry and you’re not even 30. So where to from here?
Growing myself personally is my key goal. One can never stop learning and growing. I am extremely happy at Grande Provence and in Franschhoek, so no plans to move in the near future.
Which are your favourite haunts when you’re in the Mother City?
Casual spots mainly. Chilled lunches with a view in summer, and picnics, and cosy restaurants with good wine lists and a fireplace in winter. I often go to The Piano Bar for fantastic and intimate live music. Then Aces n Spades with friends for a night out on the town.
For the finals you entered a dish of Parma-wrapped, slow-cooked rabbit with palm sugar, Szechuan rabbit liver brûlée and pumpkin seed gremolata…
I have a serious soft spot for this dish. Rabbit is a very underutilised ingredient in South Africa, yet is has great potential in a variety of preparation and cooking methods. I start with the whole rabbit and use every aspect of it from bones to livers, loins to saddles. I think the key to cooking rabbit is the cooking method. I sous vide it at 63.5°C for 3 hours, ensuring perfect tenderness, and add natural fats to moisten the otherwise lean animal to ensure both tenderness and optimum flavour. It takes hours of preparation, but the end product is well worth the effort.
Photography Courtesy and @GP_chef