Winning a bursary to study at Capsicum Culinary Studio changed Genghis San’s life. The 31-year-old has been appointed as the executive chef at AKA Lead Kitchen at the Radisson RED Rosebank.
This wasn’t Chef San’s only major achievement during his stellar career. He also reached the regionals for Unilever’s Junior Chef of the Year and achieved executive chef status at the age of 24.
He explains how the bursary came about: “My sister decided to enter a magazine cooking competition and pushed me to do the same. In the end, we were both in the top three and I won a bursary to study with Capsicum. I studied the International Professional Chef’s Diploma at the Lonehill campus (which has since moved to Rosebank) and graduated in 2011.”
San says without the bursary he would not have had the chance to hone his craft: “My time at Capsicum was amazing. The most unexpected and interesting part was the theory. I enjoyed sharpening up my skills but the best part was aligning my experience with the knowledge and theoretical competences that were taught to us.”
San says that it’s hardly surprising that he’s found his calling in the kitchen: “I grew up in a family of chefs! I’ve always loved food and cooking but I never thought that it was my calling. That was until I had the chance to work professionally in a kitchen.
“My dad has been my mentor my whole life. He was the first chef that I ever watched in action and he passed on his passion for food to me. I’ve also been lucky to interact with many other excellent chefs who have influenced me. Two that stand out from my time during Capsicum studies are Chef Dewault Koetze (at the time head lecturer at Capsicum) and Chef Chad Humby.”
San answers some questions for us and shares his recipe for a heart-warming prawn and pork wonton soup:
Tell us about your journey from graduation to where you are today
After graduating, my mom experienced some health issues and I stepped in to help her run her Kosher Canteen. I then began working as a chef de partie and quickly moved to sous chef at two major hotel brands. By January 2014 I had been promoted to an executive chef position. I was only 24 and my career was just beginning! Since then I have been privileged to open two hotels with two different brands and have more than 15 years’ experience in the kitchen.
Tell us about your new position as the Executive Chef of AKA Lead Kitchen, what diners can expect and what you hope to achieve?
This position feels like the most exciting thing to happen to me. I’m loving the brand and diners can expect a true RED menu. What does that mean? Get ready for unexpected flavour pairings, new takes on old favourites and out of the box fusion cuisine. Overall, my team and I are crafting an experience that will leave diners excited and wanting more. I’ll also be showcasing my interest in African and Asian cuisine, which was sparked by shadowing my father in Portuguese, Chinese and Afrikaans restaurants when I was a youngster.
Your message to the culinary and hospitality industry during this pandemic?
This time has been a real test to the industry. I would urge my fellow chefs to stay motivated. People need to eat and there is always a niche to find where your talent will be appreciated. I know that it is hard out there and we are all feeling it but I have faith that the industry will bounce back. Keep your mask on and don’t put that chef’s hat down!
Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
I would like to carve out a space for myself to grow my brand and share my unique way of cooking. One element that I love is mentoring and I would like to spend more time growing the incredible potential in South Africa and on the continent.
Anything else you would like to add?
Support local. We all need to get behind our community – not just when the times are tough.
Name five things always in your fridge or pantry
Rice, soy sauce, garlic, chilli, eggs
What would be your last meal?
A spread of Asian foods – a buffet! Sticky ribs, bao buns, soups … don’t get me started!
If you had to cook dinner for three famous people, who would they be and what would you make them?
I would love to cook for Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela and Mariah Carey – doesn’t that sound like a good dinner party! I would fill the table with traditional African food with a fine dining twist.
Your favourite TV chef and why?
Jamie Oliver, because he is very natural and authentic. I like that his love and passion for ingredients speaks through his work.
What do you cook on your day off?
I never waste an ingredient. Generally, on my off day you will find me cooking up something interesting with whatever I can find. For example, if I have corn on the cob and yesterday’s roast chicken, I will turn it into a hearty chicken and corn soup. Nothing ever ends up on my plate without a twist.
Chef San’s Prawn and Pork Wonton Soup
For the soup:
500ml chicken broth
5 drops sesame oil
3 baby bok choy (quartered)
1 green onion (finely sliced)
For the filling:
1 garlic clove (peeled and smashed)
2g ginger (sliced thin)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 prawns, cleaned and roughly chopped
10g bamboo shoots
20g water chestnuts (tinned, roughly chopped)
100g ground pork
2g corn starch
salt and black pepper (as needed)
12 wonton wrappers
Place all the filling ingredients in a bowl and mix until combined.
Fill wonton wrappers with about 1 teaspoon of the filling (there are many ways of folding them, I like doing triangles).
In a sauce pan add the chicken broth and bring to boil.
Add wontons and boil for three minutes then add baby bok choy boil for two more minutes Plate in deep bowls and finish off with sesame oil and green onion.