Clico boutique hotel and restaurant in Rosebank has recently announced the appointment of a new head chef to keep up the high standards that patrons have become used to. Their appointment Neo Mkhwanazi has been appointed from the position of sous-chef to finally take command of his own kitchen and its a move that many who know him will say has been a long time coming.
Mkhwanazi has a long storied history in restaurants, particularly when it comes to working in the hotel industry and it’s this experience that sees him now the king of the kitchen.
“My first head chef was my mom. When I was 15, she started her catering business. We would go to school from Monday to Friday and on Fridays, she would give us taxi fare money, so that I could get myself to the event she was catering at. We would work all weekend with little sleep and get home on Sunday evening to do homework and get ready for school,” he laughs.
His family experiences definitely moulded and shaped him and his family’s love of food and eating has been something he has taken with him into his work environment.
“I come from a family that loves to eat and experience food outside our ‘traditional taste’. Because of my upbringing, there was a lot of food that I had never experienced. My dad is Zulu and I learnt how to butcher and eat things that not everyone else would. I always was that young man that didn’t ask questions. If you said it was amazing, then I ate it,” he says before freely admitting that he still loves simple foods.
“I need a Kota once in a while. When I am home, mommy makes the best beef and dumplings. I still love my braised cabbage and pilchards and I feel out of balance if I don’t have my pap a few times a month,” he says, before hastily admitting that he and his wife do put extra effort into most of what they eat at home.
“I have made it a thing to cook at home like I do when I get paid to do it. Lizelle is a pastry chef, so you can imagine. We make everything – my kids are blessed. We make our own bread, pastas, sauces, rusks, biscotti etc. We buy raw products and turn them into great food. I just love having control over what my family consumes. Our diet is based around a lot of fruit and veg and not some much meat,” he says.
Starting out at Alpine Heath in the Drakensberg, Mkhwanazi has moved through the ranks at Misty Hills, then Nkomazi Game Reserve where he says he developed a love for French cuisine, before moving to Hermanus and learnt fine dining under Chef Chad Blows.
“Chef K taught me discipline and Chef Peter Templehoff showed me what it means to do something with style and grace,” he says, adding that it was at And Beyond where he really found his feet and a team that understood the food in the same way he did.
“I joined a team that was focused on creating world-class experiences. These chefs were people who just loved cooking. Their mantra was always flavour trumps presentation. They had never heard of some of the things I knew, but they had a real taste for flavour,” he says.
From And Beyond the natural step was a place in the kitchen at Clico where he says he is allowed to live his dreams. With the motto “consistently consistent” Mkhwanazi says the most important thing a head chef can bring to a kitchen is discipline.
“I cook from memory – everything is based around what I felt and experienced at the time and I try to share that with my guests. I started at a young age and loved it; now I get to do something I love every day,” he says, “having my own team and also adding value to people I interact with is a real highlight. Sharing a bit of my story, through a plate.”
Surrounded by his life partner Lizelle and children Alexander and Zoe it seems the story Mkhwanazi has to share is a good one. From the early years in Soweto to the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal and the frantic dashing from kitchen to kitchen around the country, it seems all the experiences have finally come together in the perfect place to create a life that the new head chef describes as being “a bit slower and sweeter”.
Clico can be found at 27 Sturdee Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, South Africa and can be called on 011-252-3300 or 010-493-2697,