• Executive chef Malika van Reenen and her team at the Cape Grace Boutique Hotel add a personal touch to the dining experience.

    By Zaza Motha

    “I remember my grandmother cooking Jungle Oats and the smell of cinnamon when I was aboutfive years old,” beams Malika van Reenen as she thinks back to when she fell in love with cooking. “I always wanted to use cherries and angelica as garnishes back then, the way my grandmother did when baking for weddings.”

    Once she completed school, Malika was interested in baking, especially pastry, but did not enjoy the precise measurements required for baking. This did not deter her passion for cooking though, and she soon found her niche in the hot kitchen.

    “While I was doing my first practical when studying to be a chef, I ended up in the main kitchen where I could add, substitute and measure according to what I felt was right.” Malika has cooked in restaurants locally and abroad and in 2008 joined the Cape Grace as sous chef and six months later was made executive chef.

    “Being a South African female chef in a five-star establishment was a real accomplishment for me.” She oversees the hotel’s food and beverage outlets, which consist of Signal restaurant, Bascule Whisky and Wine Bar andafternoon tea in the library overlooking the marina. The Cape Grace Boutique Hotel was established in 1996 and the interior juxtaposes modern elements with artefacts and original antiques, which pay homage to the Cape’s trading legacy. The personal touch is a recurring theme in all the hotel’s food outlets.

    The fine dining Signal restaurant takes its name from the tradition whereby a cannon is fired from Signal Hill each day at midday. “The Signal restaurant has a gorgeous setting and focuses on what makes people happy,” says Malika. “It infuses international trends with food that celebrates Cape Town’s rich heritage.” Malika is intrigued by the flavours and aromas of spices and creates dishes with a contemporary flair sprinkled with her Cape Malay heritage.

    Her festive menu was designed to complement the perfect summer weather and consists of beetroot cured salmon, smoked paprika risotto topped with saffron aïoli and grilled seafood and a lovely chocolate mousse dessert. “When planning holiday meals, stick to what you are comfortable with and add your own personal touch. You can create a festive feel by using nuts, spices and cloves,” says Malika.

    Roelene Prinsloo