With the advent of TV cooking shows, we all tend to think that we are professional food critics…. Or, at least I do, don’t you? We look closely at the presentation, discuss in detail whether veggies are al dente or just too darn crunchy….is there enough salt and did the Chef actually taste the food before he sent it out? Yes, we are all critics these days which, I suspect makes it even more difficult for the poor Chef to actually get it right and please everyone.
With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to learn a little more about the “person” in charge of the kitchen.
I chose Jonathan Hodder, the Executive Chef at RiverBend Lodge in the Addo Elephant National Park as my first victim.
Jonathan hails from the United Kingdom. He was lucky enough to meet his South African wife, Vicki at a wedding whilst she was working over there. Vicki brought him back home and now, with their 3 month old son Dylan, it looks like South Africa is set to become a permanent feature. And, after eating his food, all I can say is “Thank you Vicki!”
Jonathan started training at the Bournemouth and Poole College of Hospitality when he was 17yrs old. He has now been cooking for 16yrs and says that he loves the fact that there is still so much to learn and discover – it keeps him from getting too comfortable….well, I can relate to that, I have been cooking for about 30yrs and am still learning
So, here goes the interview:
How would you describe your style of food?
My style of food can be described as a modern interpretation of familiar flavors, taking what is most loved and memorable about food, breaking down the elements and then putting them back together with my own personal touch
What do you love about your job?
Giving a memorable experience to my guests – this is what makes all the hard work in the kitchen worthwhile. There is a lot that goes into food at this level and when you have guests leaving day after day excited about what they have experienced, it give you motivation to go further
I also enjoy seeing young talent absorbing and learning with keen interest, seeing them grow stronger in the kitchen, this for me is a buzz, simply because I know how satisfying it is to create something special
What is the most unusual thing you have eaten or drunk?
When I was at the Fat Duck Restaurant, there was a course on the menu called “hot
and cold iced tea” – it was a clear glass which contained quite literally hot tea in one half of the glass and iced tea in the other. When drunk from the front of the glass it was the strangest sensation. I learnt how to make this but I am not allowed to tell anyone, that one is only for me!
For those who have not heard of the Fat Duck Restaurant, here is a quick lowdown:
- The Fat Duck is a restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, England. The restaurant is known for its menu of unusual dishes following the principles of molecular gastronomy
- Best Restaurant in the UK and 10/10 score – Good Food Guide 2008, 2009,2010,2011, 2012
- It has a three-star Michelin Guide rating
- Click here to see the Tasting Menu where “hot and cold iced tea” is featured
What is your most guilty food pleasure?
Haribo gum sweets, the sour ones! And chocolate
What do you like to eat when you are at home?
I like to braai (barbeque) a lot, I guess I’m making the most of he weather in South Africa
Where do you like to go on holiday? Beach, culture, adrenalin?
I like heading to the beach, there’s something tranquil about watching the ocean. My family and I like to hire a beach house and chill for a few days
What is the best place you have visited? Worst?
The best place would be Dublin, I love that city, however, I am getting older now so the hedonistic life I used to have is calming down! Only a bit though!
The worst would be Plovdiv in Bulgaria, it reminded me of poverty stricken Russia and it was freezing cold which I cannot stand
What is your first holiday memory?
When I was 12, my family and I went to Greece for a week. I had never been on a plane before or experienced the heat like they have in Greece so I will always remember this. I also remember the food, proper Lamb Souvlaki and Tzatziki is amazing!
Who would be your ideal holiday companion?
My wife, she is the most organized person I know so she is my essential travel partner
What would be your dream destination?
I have always dreamt about going to Tokyo, Japan – they have the most amazing restaurants and culture. It has always fascinated me; I also have a friend there so it would be good to visit. My other dream destination in the one I am in now, South Africa!
It seems to me that Jon is fast becoming a local….he has already taken up the national past time of braaing and says he likes going to the beach when he needs a break, but hey, he is living an hour away from the beach in sunny South Africa so think he must go “on holiday” quite a lot???
Love the answer to his ideal companion to take on holiday – Vicki, his wife, it seems is “essential” as she is organized….mmmm….
So, next time you are criticizing the Chef, remember, he is just an ordinary guy like you and me trying to do his best and live his life.
PS Don’t forget RiverBend Lodge has special winter rates so, kill two birds with one stone, go on safari and get to taste Jonathan’s gourmet food!
PPS If you book two nights on their special winter rate, you also get a third night FREE