I love giving rising stars a platform to showcase their skills. Saxon Hotel’s Terror Lekopa won the junior category of Unilever’s Chef of The Year Awards recently.
Clinton Dean spoke to the talented chef on his cheat meal, going to France and his two worst ingredients.
What did it feel like to win the Chef of the Year Junior title?
I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. It was both unbelievable and overwhelming at the same time. I did not expect to win, but am incredibly appreciative of the honour. No words could describe the feeling I felt the moment my name was called, and I walked on stage to get my award.
How would you describe your culinary journey?
I have come so far since the beginning of my culinary training. I would have not made it to the point I’m at today if it wasn’t for all the support I received from my MD, George Cohen, executive chef I work under, Jane Therese Mulry and my colleagues. I have grown immensely in the four years I have been in the kitchen, especially during my time at The Saxon Hotel. There’s no denying the value of how my time here has allowed me to develop my skills.
What is your favourite meal to prepare and why?
I am a huge fan of lamb curry, although I don’t like it too spicy. It is always my first choice when I’m feeling home sick.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what 3 ingredients would you need to survive?
It would have to be bread, canned tuna and mayonnaise.
How do you adapt your cooking style to deal with fussy eaters?
Everyone is different, therefore I prefer to cook as if each of my guests is a fussy eater. I can always adapt a recipe to an individual’s preference. For example, if I make a puree, I am always sure not to add salt or garlic until shortly before plating – once I’ve determined a guest’s preference.
What are the best restaurants you have eaten at?
I prefer eating in the comfort of my own home. This way, I know exactly what I am eating and how it was prepared. But I would like to try out The Test Kitchen in Woodstock, Cape Town, if I ever get the chance.
What does a typical day in your life entail?
My days entails dealing with guests and their special requests, the challenges of working in a kitchen, and plenty of laughter at the end of each day.
What do you consider the main challenges faced by chefs on a daily basis?
Working consistently long hours can take its toll. In the early stages in your career, there can be little recognition for your hard work, but persevere, recognition will come.
How do you handle high pressure situations?
I try to stay calm and be consistent in my standard of cooking. I have also worked hard to develop my time management skills.
What is your least favourite ingredient to cook with?
I have two actually, garlic and thyme.
If you had to visit anywhere in the world, where would it be any why?
Coincidentally, it happens to be France, which is where Unilever Food Solutions is sending me to apprentice with Chef Jan Hendrik in his Michelin-star restaurant. France is where most traditional cooking methodology originated.
What are your thoughts on SA foodie culture?
As the food and beverage industry becomes more accessible through online platforms, there are more opportunities for the average food-lover to get involved and share their opinions and experiences of their favourite foodie spots. I think this is great for the industry, and I can’t wait to see how the culture develops and influences the restaurant scene going forward.
What do you consider a “cheat meal” and why?
It has to be a classic spaghetti bolognese. It’s simple and quick to make – made the right way, it cannot be compared to any other quick dish.
What do you hope to gain from your trip to Nice?
I’m hoping to learn more from Chef Jan Hendrik in his Michelin-star restaurant. I am interested in how he is able to incorporate South African cooking into the dishes on his menu. I plan to bring back what I learn in Nice and apply these new skills in The Saxon Hotel kitchen. I am beyond excited for the trip.