At 33, Wandile Mabaso has the calm intensity of an old master. His culinary skills were honed under the mentorship of chef Olivier Reginensi and the legendary Alain Ducasse at Le Meurice and Hôtel Plaza Athénée.
After 10 years in New York and Paris, Mabaso has cultivated not only Zen-like composure, but also passion, precision and endurance. ‘Being a chef is first a craft. Once mastered, it turns into an art,’ he says. With Reginensi he refined that craft, learning how to bring out the best in each ingredient. It informed his food philosophy of ‘deliberate perfection’, where every element is meticulously considered. Nominated by Ducasse as the ambassador for French cuisine in SA, Mabaso recently announced that two junior chefs from his team will be sent to Paris for six months. Ofentse Mathunjwa (21) from Tembisa and Vuyile Tshabalala (26) from Soweto will train under Ducasse at the two-star Michelin Le Meurice. ‘I love to train, nurture and inspire young cooks. It gives me a great sense of purpose,’ says Mabaso, who‘s a co-owner of the SA Culinary Club, a creative culinary space with an open kitchen. ‘I want it to be a game-changer in the food industry here. I’d like young chefs to look at it at as the blueprint to a new culinary era.’ Mabaso’s currently hard at work developing his own crockery range with a visual artist and this month he’s heading up Bombay Sapphire gin-and-food pairings in Jo‘burg and Cape Town. saculinaryclub.com
How do the ingredients of each dish complement each other?
In general, I believe in contrasting flavours and textures, so when I have a sweet vegetable, I’ll add a spicy glaze and if I have a rich protein, I’ll make the sauce more acidic. All the elements need to meet each other halfway and work in harmony on the palate.
Are there any special ingredients that you had to hunt down?
My time in France has made me obsessed with hunting down the best ingredients. It’s something I do at least once a week. For these dishes, I visited Chinatown, which specialises in fresh exotic vegetables that can’t be found anywhere else.
Red snapper fish with parsnip puree, purple cabbage, swiss chard, Chinese spinach chips and fennel jus.
For the purple cabbage
• 20g lard or pork belly, diced • 1 red leaf cabbage, shredded • salt and white pepper, to taste • half a white onion, diced • 1 clove garlic, chopped • 1 sprig rosemary • 1⁄4 cup
red wine vinegar • 5ml (1 tsp) brown sugar
In a pan, heated to medium temperature, sweat the pork belly until the fat has completely rendered. Add the cabbage, season with a pinch of salt and white pepper, and cook on a low heat for 2 minutes. Then add the onion and sweat until translucent.
Add the garlic and sweat until you can smell its aroma. Add the rosemary and sweat for another 30 seconds.
Deglaze with red wine vinegar.
Add sugar immediately. Once the liquid has reduced, the cabbage should be cooked.