Twenty nine year old chef Tamzyn Ehlers – who has heads up Durbanville Hills Winery’s Tangram Restaurant – is fast making a name for herself as one of the country’s top chefs, with her unpretentious yet sophisticated cooking. It’s no surprise that Tangram picked up three awards at the annual Haute Grandeur Global Restaurant Awards held in Malaysia in October last year, including Best South African Cuisine on a Global Level, Best Restaurant Manager in South Africa (for Dirk Steyn) and Best Gourmet Cuisine in Africa.
Ehlers – a graduate of Capsicum Culinary Studio – took time out from a busy kitchen to answer a few questions about her journey so far, her plans for the future and what not to serve her if you ever invite her over for dinner!
Tell us a bit about growing up, where you lived and family life
I was born in Cape Town and have lived here all my life. We are a small but close-knit family, very supportive of one another’s dreams and we all have the same sense of humour so there is always laughter when we are together.
When did your love for cooking start?
I have always really loved cooking. The science behind it has always intrigued me. I finally realised that it is my passion in my early twenties and decided to leave the beauty industry to go study Pastry and follow my passion.
Why did you decide to study at Capsicum?
After visiting the Cape Town campus, I really had a positive feeling. The staff was really friendly and overall it had a welcoming feeling. The kitchen looked inspiring and I could immediately see myself cooking there.
Tell us a bit about your time at Capsicum – the course, the lecturers, the work etc.
My time at Capsicum was definitely one of the highlights of my life. The lecturers were always supportive and ready to give extra to those who needed it. I loved the fact that we had tablets in order to record practical classes and save photos on. The campus itself was new so everything was well taken care of. There was always a welcoming feeling when you were there and we always had fun, even when we were stressed out about exams. Our lecturer made the courses fun and interesting, telling us a lot about her experience within the industry. What I really appreciated about the lecturers is they told you exactly what to expect when going into your internship and the industry. They were honest about how tough it could be and never sugar-coated anything.
Can you tell us about your journey from when you graduated to where you are today?
I was fortunate to complete my six-month internship at Jason’s Bakery in Breë Street, so after graduating in 2015, I was offered a permanent position as a Chef De Partie. My time there was truly enjoyable. I learnt so much about the baking side of the industry and a workday was always fun, although very demanding. I then decided to pursue my love for novelty cakes and was employed at Aegean Café. This was a whole new experience but I was able to push myself and develop new skills in decoration. Wanting something different and a new experience, I applied for a pastry chef position at Durbanville Hills Winery. I started in 2016 and have been here ever since. I was promoted to Sous Chef, but still headed the pastry section while gaining experience in the hot kitchen as well. After three years of being here, our beloved head chef moved on and I was offered her position. This was a huge step for me and I decided to accept the challenge head-on. Although this industry is extremely demanding and challenging, if you have the right support and passion, you can surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to get into the industry?
If you truly have a passion for cooking, stick it out. It is a tough industry and a lot of hard work but if you really want to be a chef you must be able to handle the good and the bad. Work hard, learn from your mistakes and enjoy the banter in the kitchen along the way.
What is your signature sweet dish?
Fudge! I love experimenting with different flavours and ingredients. The science behind it is amazing and the delicate process is intimidating yet so rewarding once you have finished it.
What would be on the menu for your last meal?
My last meal would be buttermilk fried chicken burger with lots of mayonnaise and thin-cut fries.
What do you dislike eating?
I do not eat offal or oysters at all
Name three ingredients always in your fridge
Butter, cheese, mushrooms
What is the one piece of kitchen equipment you could not live without?
Definitely a paring knife.
Who is your food hero?
I really admire Marco Pierre White. He has a certain calmness and patience about him and he is always willing to share his wisdom.
What are your future plans?
Short term, I want to bring new experiences to Tangram with unique food evenings, live music with tapas, a new menu designed around our Collectors Reserve wine, and sundowners on the balcony with its spectacular views. I’d also like to create a storytelling menu with food photography that’s beautifully styled and truly capture the dishes we prepare.