According to a report by FOOD XX, a platform that delivers empowering content for women by women in South Africa’s food and drinks industry, out of the 30 nominees for South Africa’s Top Restaurant at the 2018 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards, only FOUR had female chefs at the head of the kitchen (Chantel Dartnall, Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient in Pretoria; Kayla-Ann Osborn, The Chef’s Table in Umhlanga; Hilde-Lee Olivier, at Jardine Restaurant in Stellenbosch; and Fernanda Cardoso, Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen in Cape Town).
While there are certain indisputable physiological differences between the genders, the palate, and subsequent ability to innovate visionary, game-changing, delicious cuisine, is not one of them. And so, as Women’s Month comes to a close, we’d like to celebrate these extraordinary female chefs and all they have accomplished, not only in a personal capacity, but in smashing gender stereotypes in Cape kitchens!
Amy Young, Head Pastry Chef
Since October 2017, Amy Young has held the position of Head Pastry Chef at De Grendel Wine Estate in Durbanville. Before that, and for an impressive nine-year run, she was Pastry Chef at The Greenhouse Restaurant at the Cellars-Hohenort Hotel in Constantia, one of the country’s top 10 fine dining eateries. Amy was born in George but raised in Cape Town, where her schooling in home economics convinced her to become a chef. In 2009, she graduated from the prestigious Silwood School of Cookery and has enjoyed long runs in highly respected, award-winning kitchens.
[As a woman] “sometimes you have to work harder for your opinions to be heard but never give up and keep on going; eventually your passion will be noticed.”
Ash Heeger, Head Chef
Another Silwood School of Cookery graduate, Ash Heeger is the Head Chef of Riverine Rabbit, an eco-conscious fine dining restaurant in the heart of Cape Town. Born in Mthatha, raised in Cape Town, and inspired by the world at large, Chef Ash Heeger is on a culinary mission that just keeps getting bigger, better, and more exciting. Not only has she trained under the acclaimed Chef Luke Dale Roberts at La Colombe and then at The Test Kitchen, she also spent time abroad in Michelin 2-Star kitchens. Now, having returned to South Africa, Ash and her sister Mandy are the driving force behind Riverine Rabbit, which is as unique, edgy, and innovative as the Chef behind its excellent cuisine.
“The trick is to stand up for yourself,” says Ash on creating space for herself in a male-dominated industry. “Never let yourself be intimidated by ANYONE in a kitchen, regardless of gender. Be strong and stand your ground.”
Carolize Coetzee is Executive Chef of the restaurant at Tokara Wine & Olive Farm in Stellenbosch. Here, she innovates terroir focused contemporary cuisine paired with the estate’s award-winning wines (and spellbinding views over the winelands and False Bay beyond). Carolize has a CV that would impress even the stuffiest of Michelin-star chefs, with experience in Delaire Graff, Makaron Restaurant at Majeka House, Haute Cabrière, Equus at Cavalli, Cuvée at Simonsig, Bodega Restaurant at Dornier Wines, and finally Tokara Restaurant, where she is now kitchen boss! Carolize, who was inspired by her mother’s cooking and family recipes, grew up in Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape before moving to the Cape to learn at, and graduate from Hurst Campus (The Culinary Academy) in 2010.
Jess Van Dyk
After a few years spent travelling and exploring the world, Jess Van Dyk returned to La Colombe to assume the role of second-in-command of one of South Africa’s very best restaurants. Jess was formally trained at the Silwood School of Cookery, after which she ran the gauntlet at La Colombe as sous chef. She then pursued a little overseas adventure, spending a season on the yachts in the Mediterranean before returning home to South Africa and to La Colombe. Jess’ love of food was nurtured by her typical Afrikaans upbringing in the Platteland and then by her teenage obsession with BBC Food programmes.
There isn’t a dish we’ve sat down to by Kerry Kilpin, Head Chef of Bistro Sixteen82 and the newly opened Tryn at Steenberg Farm, that hasn’t been utterly extraordinary. Since 2014, when she was appointed Executive Chef here, Kerry has developed a fantastic reputation for supporting sustainable dining initiatives (ABALOBI, for example) and for combining her love of local ingredients with unexpected ingredients and flavours inspired by her trips abroad. Prior to her current station, Kerry worked at La Colombe as chef de partie in 2003, and was appointed Sous Chef in 2004. In 2006, she opened the Foodbarn restaurant in Noordhoek with Franck Dangereux.
Isabelo Charity, Franschhoek and, previously, The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français
For two decades, chef, mentor, and Eat Out’s chief judge, Margot Janse was the woman in charge of The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek. During the course of her time here, Margot was named Eat Out DSTV Chef of the Year in both 2002 and 2012, and The Tasting Room was named 8th best in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and, by 2012, had been named in the Top 10 list of South African restaurants on 11 different occasions. In 2017, however, Margot left Le Quartier Français to dedicate herself full-time to her charity, Isabelo, which supplies nutritious meals to needy children in the Franschhoek Valley. Margot has now headed to Brussels, Belgium, to team up with some of the world’s top chefs in aid of the charity.
Michélle Theron is the visionary, talented, and skilled Executive Chef behind Avant-Garde Restaurant’s (at Hazendal Wine Estate) Russian-South African fusion cuisine. She began her career with a hospitality and catering diploma from Boland College before joining the team at De Volkskombuis and De Oewer in Stellenbosch. She then worked at Laborie (Paarl), the Cape Grace Hotel, some Michelin-starred restaurants in Holland, and Pierneef à La Motte in Franschhoek, where, in 2014, she became executive chef. In 2018, she took the reins at Avant-Garde and has been impressing diners with her interpretation of Russian cuisine ever since
Nicolene Barrow is Executive Chef of Le Lude Estate’s Orangerie Restaurant. She trained as a chef in Europe before returning to South Africa to establish Orangerie Restaurant at the beautiful Franschhoek-based wine estate. Here, she presents French cuisine with a contemporary twist, combining “the purist, disciplined approach of the European masters with a hint of individual, modern creativity” to create dishes that look as good as they taste. Quite a prestigious achievement: Nicolene is one of the latest members of the international gastronomic society, La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the membership of which is by invitation only!
Vanie Padayachee, the “Spice Girl”
Born and raised in Durban, Vanie Padayachee studied at the ML Sultan Hotel School before dedicating the next 10 years of her career working with award-winning chef Margot Janse at Le Quartier Français. Then, in 2013, she shifted her focus to delivering cooking classes until 2015 when the Leeu Collection acquired the restaurant. Vanie concurrently established her own cookery school in Port Alfred. In 2016, after travelling to Delhi to master Indian cuisine, Vanie returned to the Leeu Collection as the Executive Chef of Marigold Authentic Indian restaurant in Franschhoek.
While we have focused predominantly on Cape Town, no list of inspiring female chefs would be complete without including Chantel Dartnall, Executive Chef at Johannesburg’s Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient and 2017 winner of the Best Female Chef in the World! Also voted SA’s Chef of the Year, Chantel has enhanced South Africa’s status as a gourmet destination on the international culinary map thanks to her meticulous approach to modern fine dining. She trained in Michelin three-star restaurants under top chefs, such as Nico Ladenis of Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane in London and Michael Caines of Gidleigh Park in Devon.