• From a royal wedding to a regal environment, Kevin Joseph creates meals fit for kings at the Oyster Box Hotel in KZN.

    Kevin Joseph is the first to admit that he is blessed. As culinary custodian at the Oyster Box Hotel, surely one of the most beautiful hotels in the world, who could argue? Perched on a bank overlooking Umhlanga’s landmark lighthouse, the Oyster Box is the grande dame of the holiday town’s hotel strip. With an easy elegance and perfectly curated luxurious interior, being ensconced within her walls is bliss indeed. Kevin received his basic chef training in the navy and, along with work in local hotels, paid his dues at the likes of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and Michelin-starred Tamarind and Claridge’s restaurants. He joined the Oyster Box Hotel 10 years ago when it was owned by an old Umhlanga family and its chic was more shabby than stylish.

    It was purchased by the Red Carnation Hotels group and Kevin was one of 30 staff members retained while the multimillion rand renovations stretched over a two-and-ahalf- year period. This allowed him a sabbatical of sorts as he travelled locally and internationally within the group, opening a hotel in Bali and working in Guernsey and London. “Joining Red Carnation has been a highlight of my life because of the international experience I have gained through the whole company. Mrs Tollman [Beatrice Tollman, founder and owner of Red Carnation Hotels] is a chef so, from a chef’s point of view, it’s the most awesome thing because I know she understands that I need equipment and fancy ingredients. I haven’t been told ‘no’ yet,” he smiles.

    When asked about standout moments, hosting a royal wedding party remains etched in his memory. “Being asked to do the menu for Prince Albert and Charlene’s wedding stands out… and the nervousness, as they didn’t taste it until two days before the reception,” he says. Kevin is very settled in his home town, surrounded by all the local flavours and produce that moulded his palate. “There is a large Indian community and I serve food that has lots of flavour,” he says, referring to mixing spices. “One of the big compliments we get about the food is that it has a lot of flavour. I am not big on traditional recipes.” The seaside location has fostered an enormous demand for seafood and every month the hotel serves four to five tons of it but, in serving fresh fish, there comes a responsibility. “We are very green when it comes to the kitchen. We don’t serve kingklip, not even for the owner,” Kevin says adamantly. “I don’t serve sole because some are on the endangered list and you don’t always know what you are getting. We only serve fish that is local to our waters.” The hotel’s name is more than lip service and eating oysters here seems to have become a rite of passage. “We use only wild oysters and our beds are out on the north coast.

    We have four oyster beds and we employ 12 people who only harvest oysters. Our oyster tanks (at the hotel) take 22 000 oysters. We keep between 10 and 12 000 in stock and between 5 000 and 7 000 are consumed each week. We have an oyster menu that includes the dish from the royal reception, Oysters Charlene, with all her favourite ingredients – lentils, spinach and curry.” Kevin hands day-to-day cooking over to his wife who is a chef and lecturer. “I do cook once a week on my day off, on a Sunday afternoon, when Shakila is not allowed in the kitchen. It’s just me and my two boys (aged 11 and 15) and we cook together. My boys are potential chefs and they can argue any point,” he says with obvious affection, adding that he developed the granadilla cheesecake recipe with them and they were adamant that using a curd was cheating. “I’ve got to give them credit, they do challenge me.” Given Kevin’s credentials, that is quite a statement.

    Oyster Box Hotel, 2 Lighthouse Road, Umhlanga.
    Call 031-514-5000 or visit www.oysterboxhotel.com.

    Clinton Friedman

    By Tracey Gielink