Name: Chef Coovashan (Coo) Pillay
Establishment: Protea Hotel by Marriott ® OR Tambo Airport
Q. How would you describe your style of cooking? What inspires you?
A: I would probably have to say home style with a chef’s touch. I enjoy rustic style of cooking and bringing in the formal elements of plating and garnishing. Ingredients inspire me, having grown up on a farm I had the opportunity of having freshly grown produce right on our doorstep. This is what I still carry through my cooking, I enjoy spending time at the market, farms, butchers etc to source ingredients and create my menus. I have at my current hotel implemented a kitchen garden and this gives me the chance of going back to my childhood of planting and cultivating some fresh ingredients. I believe in fresh ingredients. In recent times, there’s many products that have been made available however they contain many preservatives and sub standard products, this is evident in the increase in many health related diseases. There are a few products in the market that I would use however the rest is prepared using fresh ingredients.
Q: Describe a typical day in your restaurant?
A: Being the Executive Chef of a large hotel with multi outlets, no day is a “typical” or the same. This is what I enjoy about our industry is that everyday is exciting as we are faced with challenges as well as successes. I start off my day with a very busy breakfast at the restaurant, as we are an airport hotel we have a lot of travellers who stay with us. I engage with our guests at breakfast and spend my morning chatting and even having a cuppa or two with them. I then do my rounds through my kitchens and getting an update from my team of Sous Chefs who ran my various sections.
Banqueting forms a huge a part of our business, so I spend time in the banqueting kitchen and checking on the presentation etc of the snacks for the day. I then spend time in the hot kitchen and looking at the days menu for banqueting lunch and al a carte. By this time, my stock sheets have been submitted by my Sous Chef, I go through them and place orders accordingly with my suppliers. Attend the hotel daily HOD morning meeting. Following that is where my day actually starts, I spend time with my trainee chefs, checking up with the kitchens, inspect the buffet offerings etc. During this time I may be in meetings with potential clients. Supplier reps also call in from time to time. I also receive requests for customised menu requests, which I work on. Around 14h30, I have a catch up with my entire team, where we discuss their shifts, go through guest feedback and reviews.
I spend the rest of the afternoon analysing purchases for the day and plan menus and forecasts for the following days. I also try to connect with other chefs and spend time on social media and other streams to keep updated on whats trending for the day. I then do my buffet checks for dinner in the restaurant. Spend time on the pass for the al a carte dinner shift, send out a few orders before calling it a day.
Q: What have been your proudest moments as a chef?
A: 1. Being seconded off the traineeship program into a permanent chef position with the Three Cities Group.
- Relocating to Jhb and single handedly opening a new kitchen with no previous experience in this regard and in unfamiliar terrority.
I have had the opportunity to cook for celebrities and high profile personalities but my greatest reward is the simple compliments that resonate from my diners in the restaurant, this speaks more volumes and for me it is job satisfaction.
Giving back to trainee and junior chefs by training, developing and imparting knowledge and knowing that the legacy of chefs continue. Seeing these chefs succeed and coming into their own.
Q: What has been your biggest learning curve?
A: People… They either make you or break you. Not all people are out to support you and one has to choose wisely of the people you choose to trust.
Q. What are your favourite ingredients? And, 1 ingredient that we will never find in your kitchen?
A: Garlic, coriander, chilli
Convenience dessert products… Want something good, do it the proper way, no short cuts.
Q. What is your favourite dish that you enjoy cooking?
A: Enjoy working with spices. Roasting, mixing, blending. I enjoy making sauces, pickles, pastes and dips.
My favourite dish would probably be a home cooked lamb curry with all the trimmings.
Q: Six people (dead or alive) who you would like to cook for?
Q. What trends / challenges are restaurants facing in 2017?
A: Diners are a lot more conscience and aware of food, which is good. However this has to many menu alternatives for eg, low carb, gluten free, vegan etc. High costs of living has resulted in a decline of diners. Diners are very conscience when spending. Menus need to be cost effective.
Home-style trends definitely still strong. Diners are moving from fine dining to more family style, contemporary food. Lots of Asian influences coming through as well.
Q. The #1 thing that annoys you in restaurants?
A: Unruly diners and diners who don’t appreciate and understand the Chef’s concept or menu.
Q. Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
A: A passion for cooking and all things culinary lead me to swap a career in accounting for my Chef’s whites and knives. I completed my training with the Three Cities Group at the DISH Restaurant at the Royal Palm Hotel in Umhlanga, working under the guidance of former Group Executive Chef Shaun Munro. I grew up on a sugar farm in a quaint yet beautiful coastal town on the North Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.
My passion for cooking comes from being brought up in a very large family with a huge obsession for everything about food, together with the abundance of fresh produce around me. I am a firm believer of being humble and staying true to one’s self. I have the utmost admiration and respect for all chefs out there and each one has achieved in his or her sphere and we need to celebrate these and not try to and bring people down. We can all learn from each no matter age, qualification, level of position or experience. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have received and from the experiences I have had. I take the time of giving back, as I believe it is only by giving back and mentoring and developing young chefs can we succeed and ensure that our industry is evolving and that cheffing remains a lifestyle and not a job.
Win a meal at Chef Coovashan’s restaurant in the Protea Hotel by Marriott ® OR Tambo Airport
To win, simply share this post onto Facebook or Twitter and follow @JoziStyle – or you can tell us why you want to go below.
Entries close on Saturday, 25 February, 2017 at 2PM.
The winner will be selected by an online random generator.
Winners will be announced Sunday, 26 February, 2017 at 1PM.
The winner will be announced on JoziStyle.joburg and informed by email.
Prize is not transferable nor exchangeable for cash.