The original version of this interview- written to coincide with Women’s Month- first appeared in the Sunday Times SA on 19 August 2018
In a male dominated arena, female chefs are owning the culinary space in fierce fashion. Meet Vanie Padayachee of Marigold in Franschhoek, cooking in the Cape with aplomb.
Vanie Padayachee, Executive Chef of Marigold in Franschhoek, wasn’t too confident when her boss, international tycoon Analjit Singh first proposed opening a North Indian eatery in the heart of the chic French Huguenot village just outside Cape Town. Two weeks later, undeterred and armed with her own selection of no fewer than 189 popular dishes endemic to India’s upper provinces, she was gently dispatched to Delhi at Singh’s behest to spend time with a local specialist chef who was to coach her through detailed recipe deconstruction and recreation. Day to day, she listened, observed, experimented and made copious notes until the time came to prepare a feast for Mr. Singh and his delegation, in the city on business. Impressing such an esteemed party pf people was an intimidating prospect as she recalls, but the dinner was a success and she nailed the ‘audition.’ Two months later, buoyed by the experience, she was back in her own kitchen, whipping up marvelous creations in her tandoor oven and curating the vast authentic menu that has been delighting patrons since Marigold opened its doors eighteen months ago.
The dynamic Executive Chef, 44, whose heritage is both Sri Lankan and South Indian, has an impressive bio that includes opening the restaurant at Grand Provence for Alex van Heeren, and a six-year stint with Margot Janse at Le Quartier Français, the iconic property acquired by Singh’s Leeu Collection and located right across from Marigold in Heritage Square.
Good Indian food is a heady experience, loaded with flavour and aroma and ideal for sharing, a delicious social enabler that invites participation. With the snap of a poppadum the dipping starts and the platters don’t disappoint. The Palak Chaat is an addictive introduction, crispy spinach leaves in gram flour batter topped with sweetened curd, tamarind, chilli and onion. The Vegetarian Thali is loaded with variety and new taste sensations such as Aloo Ghobi Adrakhi, a marriage of steamed cauliflower and potatoes, sautéed with garlic and high on ginger, and the unforgettable soft Paneer Tikka, marinated overnight with saffron, yoghurt, cream cheese and traditional mix of Indian spices, basted and grilled in a tandoor with peppers, onions and tomatoes, garnished with onion rings and green coriander served with coriander mint chutney. Find space for the dessert -the Basen Ladoo, sweet chickpea flour fudge topped with a light creamy cheese cake filling infused with cinnamon and served with star anise fruit compote and frozen yoghurt ice cream. Quite the finale!
At Marigold, dishes may be simple in composition, but the plating is sophisticated- “street food in a Wonderbra” as Vanie puts it. And helpings are generous so take the pace down a notch and settle in for an evening of slow eating.
Vanie Padayachee’s food offers a peek into another culture, brought all the way from the Himalayas to the ‘Hoek, deliciousness right on our doorstep.
Vanie’s word of inspiration for aspirant female chefs: “Being a women chef in a always male dominated has taught me to work harder and smarter. Never give up. Dedication and perseverance will get you to where you want to be.”
Marigold, 9 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek. 021 876 8970 / www. marigoldfranschhoek.com/
This dinner was hosted by the Leeu Collection and my accommodation for the night was at the chic Franschhoek Boutique Hotel. All opinions are my own.