While many foodies around the globe are caught up in creating new ways to push taste boundaries, Abbi Ben Yehudin, 30, and Gizelle Kennel, 23, are on a mission to make food taste like it’s supposed to. Having both been educated at a holistic Waldorf school, which emphasises mind, body and spiritual development, and raised in homes where organic and homegrown food was the norm rather than a fad, the two are hardly strangers to healthy produce that’s more about natural taste.
One thing’s for sure: they’re not food fascists. In fact, the two go out of their way to create interesting and edgy recipes that aren’t just tasty, but look good too. Food played an integral role in the talented twosome’s formative years. “Both our families are really into cooking – in fact everyone in our family thinks they’re the chef, it’s only recently that we’ve been allowed in the kitchen at family events,” laughs Gizelle. The younger of the two, she recalls Saturdays spent with her grandmother baking and preparing “the best crayfish curry ever” as one of the cornerstones of her chosen career as a chef, although she also goes on to say that her parents are talented cooks. “My dad makes the best bean soup in the world and my mum was always very experimental – I was eating chickpeas and polenta from childhood, way before it became a fashionable thing,” she says.
Despite having won a scholarship to study engineering after school, Gizelle opted to go the cordon-bleu route and went on to complete her studies at Silwood in Cape Town. Work placements took the young chef to award-winning game lodge Singita, where she learnt to cope with long hours and varied requests that required quick and inventive thinking in the kitchen. After that, a short stint working on a movie set led to her cooking for Hollywood action star Steven Seagal.
As famed for his martial arts prowess as for his commitment to a macrobiotic lifestyle, Steven soon had Gizelle flying around the world cooking for him, at his homes and on film locations. The seven months spent working for the star had a profound effect on Gizelle – coming up with innovative ways to feed a food-particular person three meals a day can only serve you well when you’re starting your own catering company. While Gizelle’s career has followed a formal route, Abbi’s has evolved naturally.
Her introduction to food came from her days as a young waitress, where she graduated to the kitchen spending time under local chef Phil Alcock. What would have been a baptism of fire for any newcomer turned out to be the basis of Abbi’s dedicated work ethic and unyielding attention to detail. “I’d spend hours and hours turning carrots until they were absolutely perfectly cooked – there was simply no room for not doing things properly,” she explains.
Like Gizelle, Abbi’s career has taken her all over the world and it was while living on a kibbutz that she met her husband Avner. “I grew up with so many different food influences and now with a Yemeni father-in-law and a part-Iraqi part-Polish mother-in-law, I’ve got a dictionary of favourite dishes in my head,” she laughs. Having grown up together, gone to the same school and followed the same career path, it was only a matter of time before the two cousins would go into business together. “When I returned from my travels we decided to just go for it,” says Gizelle. And go for it they have. Since starting their own catering company, Two Brown Onions, earlier this year, the two have catered for government department get-togethers, intimate art launches, and many lunches and dinners.
The common denominator, however, remains stylishly presented and healthy food that’s big on natural taste and flavour. The “onions” also cook for a local Waldorf school, providing healthy and wholesome food for their Friday morning markets.
The pair is open to any foodie challenge and is determined to cook healthy food that still has a fashionable slant. Abbi explains further: “It’s easy to be creative with wholesome ingredients when you’re passionate about them – more and more people are coming to us because they’re tired of being shown the same menus over and over again – and we love the challenge each function brings us. Most of the time, people don’t even know that they’re eating food that’s good for them – they just comment that they can really taste the flavours. That’s what’s most important to us.”
For more information on Two Brown Onions, call Abbi Ben Yehudin on 073 359 6267.