Head Chef at Hartford House Hotel in the KZN Midlands Chris Papayannes took over the kitchen there almost a year ago and is making his own mark at this award-winning establishment.
1. What’s your earliest cooking memory?
On one occasion when I was about 14 years old, my mother had planned spaghetti bolognaise for dinner and even though I wasn’t interested in cooking back then, I offered to make it. I added my own touch, using various herbs and spices and that got me into trouble because I didn’t follow the traditional recipe. At that time, food was regarded purely as sustenance; not something that could be turned into a different adventure.
2. Where do you draw your inspiration?
Currently, from the amazing fresh produce and the farmers that surround me, and the new produce I find and the new farmers I meet.
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3. If you hadn’t become a chef, what career would you have chosen?
I’d planned to be an architect because I have a creative side, but I lost interest when it came to fundamentals like learning about bricklaying and concrete. I enjoy creative writing, art, and sketching so I’d have been drawn to something creative if I’d not discovered my passion for cooking.
4. What’s your favourite food?
A really good curry – I love spices and enjoy Durban curry, Cape Malay curry, and Chicken biryani is a great comfort food. I also like pasta dishes.
5. Which country’s cuisine intrigues you the most?
Australia. It has lots of unique ingredients I’d like to experience. Also, there’s a method of cooking food underground in a ditch that’s lined with coals then covered. It’s a community event and everyone sits round a big table to eat. That’s real heritage food! The USA also has some phenomenal restaurants, and I’d really like to explore South American food.
6. What are essential ingredients in your kitchen?
I go for acidity so I use citrus and vinegars widely. Butter too – never margarine. And soy sauce as a seasoning instead of salt.
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7. How do you want your cooking style to evolve?
I want to fully pursue a heritage food style which means creating dishes based entirely on the character and ingredients of a specific region.
8. Are you an adventurous diner and if so, what’s the most unusual food you’ve eaten?
I’ll try just about anything at least once. The most unusual food I’ve had is 100-year-old eggs. They’re used in Chinese cuisine and aren’t really that old but they’ve been through a fermenting technique. They’re interesting from a different cultural perspective but definitely an acquired taste.
9. Is there anything you won’t eat?
Some proteins are taboo. I won’t be specific but let’s just say I’m wary about the origin of proteins.
10. Have you ever had a grand flop that turned into a grand success?
On a daily basis! As a whole though, the only way to grow in your career is to consider yourself a student always and to keep your passion alive. Approach every day and every mistake as part of the learning curve.
Words Andrea Abbott
Photography Craig Scott
Meet our December Country Chef Jaco Grové.