Cape Town is a coveted dining destination for gourmands, nothing new in that. But aside from the brigade of award-winning chefs gracing the Mother City’s top end eateries, there are a number of uber cooks flying under the recognition radar who between them have chalked up blue chip resumés with stints at El Bulli, The Fat Duck, The Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club and on MasterChef South Africa. Who even knew? Ladies, we see you -step forward and take a bow.
Sepial Shim, Sepial’s Kitchen
The late Anthony Bourdain called Korean cuisine “deeply satisfying, flavourful and interesting”, and chef Sepial Shim relates as she describes the “argumentative flavours” of her food. Her namesake dining space, Sepial’s Kitchen, opened seven months ago in the cool Salt Orchard precinct in Woodstock, touting an Asian-inspired menu.
After studying engineering and dabbling in the film industry and NGO sector, Sepial felt she was on the brink of burnout and made the call to move her family from Seoul to Cape Town for a gentler lifestyle. That was seventeen years ago, and she hasn’t looked back. Her reinvention began with a desire to work with her hands and “make people happy, right away, within two seconds” and cooking felt like the best fit. Her subsequent foray into food started only three years ago with one year spent training at Silwood and three weeks spent between The Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club. Feeling the time was right, she opened her restaurant in December 2018, an intimate sixteen seater eatery.
People-centric to the core, Sepial is a warm host, a genteel presence in chef whites who greets new and familiar customers like old friends. Her menu caters to vegans, diabetics and celiacs and everything can be changed up to accommodate carnivores. Her pièce de resistance is the bibimbap, a traditional Korean dish served with warm black rice combined with barley and lentils, a dome of deliciousness topped with strips of potato, pickled daikon, onion, baby marrow, fried egg, seaweed and carrots, garnished with homemade gochujang sauce and spice oil. One of the most in-demand side dishes is the kimchi, (salted and fermented vegetables), so much so that it’s bottled for sale and is the focus of one of the weekly workshops on offer. With her co-chefs Amanda Nomzamo Seti and Yalezwa Snaigo this formidable all-girl team is flying.
Sepial’s Kitchen | A1 Salt Orchard, Briar Rd, Salt River | www.facebook.com/SepialsKitchenCT/ | 061 715 9371
Carmen Rueda, head pâtissier and chocolatier at Coco Safar
Carmen Rueda has always favoured the sweeter side of the kitchen. As the head pastry chef and consultant at Coco Safar, a retro-chic French styled café in Sea Point, she leads the talented team responsible for the restaurants superb sweet and savoury patisserie selection.
From espresso sides like raspberry-rose-litchi croissants (pictured below) and orange-rooibos-cranberry scones to fancier occasion-cakes, her gateaux have been hailed as couture pâtisserie and it’s easy to see why. Born and raised in a small village in Spain, Carmen studied to be a chef in Madrid, did her classic pastry training in Barcelona and then moved to France to hone that skillset in Perpignan France with one-time world pastry champion Olivier Bajard. From there she accrued serious cred working alongside some of the World’s finest, most notably Ferran Adrià at elBulli in Catalonia and with Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck in London where her last gig entailed heading up the pastry section in his experimental kitchen. At one stage, those two establishments held six Michelin stars between them, and she embraced the opportunity to absorb everything from technique, to work ethic and food philosophy. It’s no wonder that she has a quiet confidence when it comes to experimentation.
Like any chef on his or her A game, Rueda is propelled by passion, ever learning, and adept at creating multi-sensorial experiences through her creations. Her speciality and first love though is chocolate, and in the past she has met with great success in competitions like the World Chocolate Masters in 2017 where she placed in the top eight. She relishes the complexities of chocolate, adores making bonbons and has just returned from Vietnam where was she on a quest to find new ways to experiment with high quality sôcôla (chocolate in Vietnamese). As part of her research into the making of chocolate bars, she met with farmers at a cocoa plantation and connected with the artisans at Maison Marou in Saigon, a specialist bean-to-bar factory that champions traditional, additive-free methods and product.
A recent offering at Coco Safar and one bound to benefit from her recent choc adventures, is the dessert bar experience (DBE) where several micro dishes are prepped and plated in front of guests and paired with craft cocktails developed by in-house mixologist Marshall Siavash. The aim is to take gourmands on a culinary trip around the world, a whirlwind journey through taste. “The culinary world is about innovating, creating emotions, sharing knowledge and feelings.” Mission accomplished, now please pass the cake.
Coco Safar, ARTEM Galleria | Sea Point | 0214331336 | www.cocosafar.com
Yen Nguyen | Yen’s Vietnamese Street Food at the Oranjezicht City Farm in Granger Bay
Yen Nguyen made her first lunch-to-order when she fifteen and it was a mean feat. A construction crew working across from her house in Ho Chi Minh City had knocked on her mother’s door asking if they could buy whatever it was that smelt so good. It was Yen was at the stove that day and she attributes that moment as the start of her journey into food. Yen moved to Cape Town in 2006 after meeting her South African husband Philip Eksteen although she didn’t pursue a career as a chef until much later. Bored by her business ventures at the time and frustrated that she’d not been unable to find authentic Vietnamese cuisine to her liking anywhere in the Mother City, she decided it was time to do something about it. A meeting with entrepreneur-come-market- manager Sheryl Ozinsky led to her opening her eponymous stall at the weekends-only Oranjezicht City Farm Market in Granger Bay. On a strong trading day Yen has been known to plate 120 bowls and she often works solo. Queues form early for traditional dishes like Pho Xao, made with sautéed prawns, shallots and noodles, swirled around in soy and sriracha sauce (chilli peppers, sugar, garlic, distilled vinegar, and salt), and served with a sprinkling of peanuts and sprigs of coriander. Her number one dish to cook is Pho Bo, a hearty beef bone broth dished up with rice noodles, slivers of rare beef, bean sprouts, basil, onion, Hoisin sauce and Sriracha.
“It’s Vietnam in a bowl,” she says of her homeland throwback, and a top favourite with customers. The market is a simple and unfussy way to trade and she loves the customer engagement that happens organically as people watch her cook and plate their meals. It’s food theatre and she loves the people-proximity. “It’s so much better than being out of sight in a conventional kitchen- having face-to-face interaction is important to me.”
Yen’s Vietnamese Streetfood | Oranjezicht city Farm | www.ozcf.co.za
Abigail Mbalo | 4Roomed eKasi Culture | Khayelitsha
When Abigail Mbalo reached the top six in the 2014 season of MasterChef SA, she reckoned it was time for a change. After almost two decades as a dental technician the vivacious Gugulethu-born chef reinvented herself completely, starting with a events food truck and expanding into her 4Roomed eKasi, a food and lifestyle concept space on Makabeni Road in the vibrant township of Khayelitsha. Abigail has been putting a twist on hearty traditional Xhosa cuisine ever she can remember and her food experience pulls a crowd. Popular with foreigners and tour groups, eating at the 4Roomed eKasi is more than just a meal-it’s an opportunity to delve a little deeper into the community’s backstory, pre and post-apartheid, and a window into heritage and the history of the four roomed living concept that was so prevalent back in the day. “My cooking reflects my upbringing and reminds me of my late Mother and good times spent around the communal table.” For locals, 4Roomed eKasi conjures nostalgia and is about eating culturally true food that’s been given a new lease of life. Take the mngqusho or samp, made from crushed dried corn kernels and often served sweet with milk and sugar, or with gravy as a savoury side dish. Abigail’s version is made with coconut cream and tarragon, comfort food at its best. What bumped her up on MasterChef was her mleqwa (chicken), duck and turkey terrine, filled with a row of quail’s egg down the centre and served with an orange reduction. The spongy butternut squares made with mielie meal and nutmeg and garnished with truffle oil are like heaven in a cube, and good for you. Weighing in on Abigail’s innovative approach to age old recipes, MasterChef judge Pete Goffe-Wood said, “Abigail was one of the most creative contestants that season with an eye for beautiful plating and always thinking outside the box.” Abigail loves the idea of bringing different cultures together through feasting and sees 4Roomed eKasi as a way to bridge gaps, educate, and celebrate our interconnectedness through food. Ubuntu!
4Roomed eKasi Culture | A 605 Makabeni Road, | Khayelitsha | 076 157 3177 | www.4roomedekasiculture.com