Sun International announces the appointment of a new Executive Chef at its flagship urban property The Maslow
Garth Johnson has just been appointed Executive Chef at The Maslow, Sun International’s luxury urban retreat situated in the heart of Africa’s financial hub, Sandton.
He might be just 29-years-old, but Garth has packed a lifetime of experience into the last decade since he graduated from the Warwick Chef School in Hermanus.
His credentials include a stint as a cook on “the Ships”, Chef de Cuisine and consultant at Reubens Restaurant in Franschoek, his time in the One&Only kitchen in Cape Town, and being Executive Chef at Square Café.
Namibian born Garth, who has called Cape Town home for the last 10 years, is delighted with his move to Africa’s capital, Johannesburg.
“I have an excellent team to work with. And, The Maslow is one of the most amazing properties I have ever been to – and I’ve been all over the world,” he enthuses.
He has immersed himself in all the food areas of The Maslow and says he is simply looking and learning before committing himself to anything.
In keeping with his age, Garth favours the new school ideas of cooking and food.
“I believe that the old way of cooking has its place in the culinary annals and have huge respect for the greats – like Keith Floyd. But the zeitgeist of the new food age is as exciting.
“The “new” chefs, for example, do not consider pre-prepared spices and condiments as verboten. Instant noodles, enhanced-instant gravys or shop bought chicken-flavoured soy sauce are used not just for convenience in some of the leading aisian restaurants, for example, but also because they are the best available of their kind. So its pointless trying to reproduce them in the kitchen. Flavour comes from different things.”
On a recent visit home to Namibia, Garth visited the local Windhoek market, to try Kapana – similar, but not exactly like, South African Shesanyama – where meat is eaten straight off the coals.
“It’s not for the squeamish; slaughtered beasts in the background, with bits being hacked off, cut into slices and braaied. Customers eat right off the braai – dipping their slivers of meat into bowls of spice, salsa or accompaniments.” Not for the faint hearted he says again.
Garth embarked on his food journey because, he says, “It’s the only thing that made sense to me.”
Cooking, he says, “is always happening. It’s the thing that takes place in the home every day, sometimes several times a day. It’s intricate, but fun – and has great rewards: at the end, you eat what you’ve made.”
He quotes a chef he admires, Australian Neil Perry, who says that good food is food you love.
“It doesn’t have to take three days to prepare it. It doesn’t have to be a consommé that’s been strained 8 times till it’s completely clear. If you love it, its good food.”
Fine dining, Garth acknowledges, has its place in the culinary world. But he says that the term encompasses all things food related – the quality of the service, the story of the wait staff, the heritage of the building, the choice of crockery and cutlery…
Garth says he is not, like Heston Blumenthal, a molecular gastronomy acolyte.
But he does love food that surprises. There are a number of chefs he admires, whose style of cooking he finds inspiring.
Jason Atherton, Executive Chef of Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin star Maze in London before starting his own restaurant group, The Social Company, is one of them.
“He likes hearty food, a solid plate of food, not fiddly bits on a plate.”
Garth says he is still learning, discovering food and how to cook it and how to serve it and how to eat it.
“For now, I am doing my research at The Maslow, looking at menus. This place was born with Michelin star chefs consulting. The bar is high. I want to respect that.
“Our customers have dictated what it is they want and I will continue to give them that. But, I will also surprise them.”
There is little doubt that 29-year-old Garth Johnson will.
Best Ingredient? That’s tough. I like tough cuts of beef, pork and venison, meats that need finesse in extracting flavour, in making them tender and delicious.
Best Meal? I worked on-board a cruise liner going around the world – as a staff cook. 80% of the staff were Filipino and demanded the best Filipino food. They cook things by boiling them, really bland food to which they add interesting cuts of meat and layered flavour. One of my favourite things to eat is Chicken Adobe – chicken on the bone marinated in black pepper, grated onion, lots of bay leaves, grape vinegar, chilli, garlic flakes, some sugar and fish sauce. The next day you boil it in chicken stock and throw in vegetables as you go along. You serve it with spicy sticky rice. It’s utterly wonderful! There is no caramelisation, no fine trimming… and yet the flavours are delicious.
Best Books? Thomas Keller’s Bouchon ; Michelin 3 star Indian Chef Atul Kocchar’s Benares; Mr Hong, Dan Hong’s Asian Cookbook; Danish cook Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park
Death Row meal? I don’t know what I will have, but I do know who I will want to cook it: Michel Bras. His Gargouillou is genius on a plate. Its food art, its fresh and comes out of the garden and the province – all natural. It’s what I would want my last meal on earth to be.
American author of A Life Worth Eating, food critic Adam Goldberg said this of the Gargouillou: A simple medley of garden vegetables and flowers, each individually blanched to its ideal time, assembled together as a Leviathan of flavor and beauty. This is evidence that when nature is left to speak for itself magical things can happen. This salad was as fun to look at as it was to eat.
The Gargouillou gives new meaning to garden diversity. With over fifty ingredients — some as scarce on the plate as a single leaf — each bite was completely different.
A thin slice of cured meat was buried beneath a heap of flowers and leaves adding salt and depth. The fat from the meat somehow coats the vegetables and enhances their flavor making each component taste much more intense.
So many aspects of this dish were given careful consideration and thought: it is perfectly balanced. Crunchy but soft elements give the dish an overall consistency that overcomes clashes of flavor creating a coherence rather than a collection of individual ingredients. This salad is a true trip to the nearby meadow.