We recently shared a travel piece all about our trip to Gondwana Game Reserve and today, we’re getting to know Chef William, head chef at the reserve. We were treated to a few of his meals during our stay at Gondwana and were thoroughly impressed with the quality of the food and the attention to detail that he put into his menu. Read more below to learn more about how he got into food and his tips on plating like a pro!
So, Chef William, tell us about yourself. Where did you study and how did you get into food?
That’s always a question that takes me down memory lane. My family has been involved with food since I can remember, as we owned a few butcheries and at one point, my father had a rather large catering company. My fondest childhood memories are of times spent around the dinner table with my grandparents, with my oupa telling us enthralling stories from his younger days. I remember that I was always eager to help my grandmother in the kitchen, especially when it came to tasting all of the incredible dishes she would make. My mother, being the creative one in the family, also involved us with cooking from a young age. I guess it sort of stuck and I got lucky with some of my mom’s creative genes. I ended up studying at the Eden School of Culinary Art under Francois Ferreira in George.
Was food something that you were always passionate about?
Yes, I think it has always been a big part of who I am as it reminds me of family, which I am very passionate about. The satisfying feeling of seeing someone enjoying something that you made is right at the core of what makes the long hours worthwhile.
How would you describe your menu at Gondwana?
LOVE, LOVE and more LOVE! The whole idea is to not go too far out but to “do food” in a way that everyone can relate to and that will make you, as a guest, feel at home. We want our guests to create memories of an enjoyable experience at the dinner table. The idea with the menus at Gondwana is to bring people from all walks of life together. The team’s passion and hard work are reflected in the quality of Gondwana’s dishes.
View this post on Instagram
What is your inspiration behind your menu at Gondwana?
It’s really all about what I can source locally and to make our guests feel special and at home… even if it’s just by presenting something as simple, yet different, like a freshly baked croissant with beetroot dust in the morning. The whole feel of our menus is to help people escape from mundane day-to-day experiences and to showcase the Gondwana culture.
What’s your favourite dish on the Gondwana menu?
Joh! You are putting me on the spot here! I would have to say the “Eland and Wagyu” potjie. Everything is local and the way the flavours come together is really something special.
What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
I think having had the opportunity to work with top chefs in some of the most elite establishments in the USA. It broadened my horizons, really made me look at the industry differently and I got to experience how people from different cultures interact with food.
What is your favourite part about working at Gondwana and how did you start working there?
I have to say it’s the culture and how you feel when you are out on the reserve. It’s beautiful and peaceful, and you really get the feeling that you are away from the day to day rush – a welcome reprieve. Everyone on the team plays a massive role in how it all fits together and to see teamwork like this is honestly something special.
A long time friend and business associate introduced me to the owners of Gondwana, Mark and Wendy Rutherford. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was on my way out of Sandton and on my way to Gondwana. My wife was expecting our firstborn at that stage, so it really made sense to move to the Garden Route, to work closely with these wonderful people on this new adventure.
The plating of your meals is so beautiful! Can you share some tips for our readers on how to make their meals look and taste 5-star?
Organized Chaos!!! That’s probably the best way I can put it. Food does not always need you to make it look beautiful. Food done correctly in itself, 90% of the time, is a work of art. All you need to do is to let the food do the talking, but playing with different textures like purees and crispy elements is always fun… and obviously playing with different dimensions on the plate. Don’t take yourself too seriously!
We noticed that your menu at Gondwana has some game on it, what is your favourite type of meat to cook with?
It has to be wildebeest. I really think venison is underrated and that we, as South Africans, unfortunately, tend to look at it as wild and dry. Wildebeest is really some of the best meat that I have worked with that it is extremely flavourful and very tender. Add to that the big plus points of no added hormones and the fact that it’s completely free-range, and you have a winner. All venison needs most of the time is a little butter, salt and white pepper. It’s usually all the other things that we end up putting on it that spoils the taste.
What has been the strangest meat/ingredient that you have cooked with or eaten?
I once worked at a resort in Maine where a chef had us make dishes with lobster roe. This is something I will never forget as it’s rather tasteless and has an almost wax-like texture to it. Not my cup of tea at all, but I believe one should try everything at least once. The end result of the dishes we prepared was not bad, but it’s something that really does not go well with okra!
Quick-fire round with Chef William
Favourite recipe book?
What are your top 3 must-have pantry staples?
Truffle, cilantro, butter
What do you cook for comfort?
What is your go-to meal to cook for the family?
Lamb loin and risotto
What do you do in your downtime?
I love spending time with the family on the beach
As if you needed another reason to visit Gondwana Game Reserve, Chef William’s menu is not to be missed!