Chef of the month (December) Neil Nel.
From a very young age, one would always find me in the kitchen. I grew up in the small town Louis Trichardt in a very social family where we would spend hours in the kitchen and around the dining room table in my grandmother’s house. One could walk in at any time of day and find something delicious to eat. My whole family loves eating just as much as cooking.
As a kid I always wanted to become a chef, I was always in the kitchen trying out a new recipe or dish, I made it my life’s goal to one day become a chef. When not playing around in the kitchen I would be outside playing and helping my mom in the orchid greenery. I seem never to have had time for TV.
As soon as I had the opportunity to go to college, I grabbed the opportunity and made the best of it. I promised myself that I would spend all my free time reading and improving my knowledge on food. I spent many hours in the college library reading and researching. As a new generation chef, it is very important to keep up with the latest trends and cooking methods.
Being from a small town, the term “fine dining” was a completely new thing for me as the only food style I was familiar with was the typical South African “Boere Kos” which I grew up with.
I was very fortunate to study at Prue Leith Chefs Academy, which opened up a whole new world for me in food and wine. I became hungry for knowledge. After receiving my Grande Diploma in food and wine from Prue Leith I had endless opportunities waiting for me. While at college I was assigned to do my practicals at the Silver Orange Bistro, owned and managed by the Patron Chef Leon Nel. At Silver Orange I learned a lot under Chef Leon with his country style fine dining, he has a great knowledge of food and wine and more than willing to share his knowledge with me.
A few years later I found myself in the bush. A totally new industry for me, I enjoyed every moment at Moditlo River Lodge owned by movie producer Cobus Van Den Berg. It was at the lodge where I was able to develop my cooking and plating style fully; I also learnt to be resourceful, being in the bush one doesn’t always have access to the shops and produce farmers, one has to make due with what you have. It taught me to continuously think outside the box and your comfort zone.
When it was time to seek a new venture my path lead me to Zest restaurant. Zest is one of the top rated restaurants in the Lowveld. After my time in the bush where your recourses are limited it is a great pleasure to work alongside Patron Chef Gertinus Lundie; who keeps our line of work interesting and exciting. We get to play around with all kinds of flavours with our bi-weekly food and wine pairings and off-site catering. It’s a great thrill to learn directly from one of our industry leaders.
We have a vibrant menu full of colour and flavour. We often change the menu to bring in new ideas and dishes to excite our guests. Since joining Zest, I rediscovered my love for wine and pairing the wine carefully with our food.
Food is not only my passion but my life.