Interview with KZN’s Chef Isla Rechner: From Kloof to King’s Cross

Isla Rechner

At the age of three, Isla Rechner was obsessed with a cooking show that featured a “lovely woman with a broad Scottish accent.”

So it’s not surprising that 31 years later she is the Group Pastry Chef for all four branches of celebrity chef Bill Granger’s Grange & Co restaurants located across London.

“I started dabbling in the kitchen when I was young, gaining more confidence with each passing year. In my teens and throughout my 20s I hosted many a dinner party, testing out recipes on my fantastic friends and family.,” she says.

Although she’s far from Kloof in KZN where she grew up, Rechner still refers to herself as a “proud Kloofian” and confesses that Shongweni Farmers Market is always one of the first places she visits whenever she returns home for a holiday. It was there that Rechner ran a little pastry stall, after studying her craft – first at 1000 Hills Chef’s School in Botha Hill followed by a patisserie diploma under Chef Eric Beruiller at Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Durban campus.

In 2013 with the itch to travel too strong to resist, Rechner made the big move to London, working first at one of acclaimed chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s eateries, before being hired as a pastry chef at the King’s Cross branch of Granger & Co. Rechner has since become the Group Pastry Chef for all four branches of Granger & Co – which are owned by celebrity chef Bill Granger – a role which she says she “utterly relishes”.

Isla Rechner

We managed to tear Rechner away from her hectic schedule to ask her a few questions:

You are currently looking for recent Capsicum graduates to join your team. Tell us a bit about this
As well as being the Group Pastry Chef at Granger & Co, I also assist in recruitment. Being a Capsicum alumni, I know graduates have had hard work and attention to detail instilled in them, which is vital qualities for chefs to have in our fast-paced kitchens.

Why do you think so many Capsicum alumni have been so successful?
I think that Capsicum sets up their training in way that ensures that students receive a holistic look into the industry. As well as the practical side of things, Capsicum also focuses on the theory of food. Once you have a strong foundation you can build on it with every experience making you a better chef. I think Capsicum alumni have a strong work ethic and good teamwork ethos hence why there are so many successful graduates.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to make a career in the hospitality industry?
Be a culinary sponge. Read as much material you can lay your hands on regarding food. Also, delve into a cuisine that is totally different to what you are used to. Travel will also help with that because as you immerse yourself in different cultures, food is inevitably tied in with it and you will be become a more rounded chef. Also prepare for hard work! If you love it, it doesn’t really feel like work but sometimes you can have long shifts and that can be very tiring. I think the industry is really striving for more balanced hours but it will never be a career that will be a 9 to 5 from Monday to Friday.

Would you recommend cheffing and the food industry as a career?
I would wholeheartedly recommend this as a career. Even after working in the industry for over a decade it is never dull. Chefs are an eclectic lot that you probably wouldn’t meet in your everyday. Also, the creativity and fast pace of a kitchen can be quite addictive. And of course there’s the food …

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?
I have had my fair share of really great mentors. First being my pastry lecturer, Eric Beruiller. He is a gregarious Frenchman that really took me under his pastry wing, teaching and nurturing my talent. Second would have to be my first head chef at Granger & Co, Mark Welch. I never had really experienced the fast pace of a service kitchen until I started working for him. He assisted me with my ability to lead and how to cope while still keeping a happy demeanour. And he became a great friend.

What three famous chefs do you follow and why?
First and foremost, it has to be Raymond Blanc. I just love his passion and also sense of humour. You can see he really loves what he does. Closer to home it has to be Jackie Cameron. She is so passionate about local South African produce which I find inspiring.
Last and certainly not least is Bill Granger with whom I have worked in his restaurants for quite a few years now

What are three latest food trends?
I think food trends are still in the same vein of sustainability; veganism is the fastest growing food trend globally, and I think pastry will start becoming mindful of reduced sugars and unconventional flours.

Do you still watch food shows on TV?
I am utterly obsessed with Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa and I quite enjoy The Great British Bake Off  for its sense of fun.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Down the track I would like to carry on educating myself more about food as you can always learn more. Before becoming a chef, I studied journalism, so marrying both skills at some point would be great.

And finally – as a fundi – what is your favourite pastry?
So to be honest its something fairly simple. A perfectly made lemon tart is hard to beat. Beautiful buttery thin pastry with a silken citrus filling will tick the boxes every time.

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