Mark Coombe, Principal at Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Pretoria campus, is forever grateful he opted to go into the food industry after leaving school.
“Choosing to be a chef as a career has meant that I’ve always had a job and a steady income and also been able to work around the world,” he says.
Born in England, Coombe has more than 20 years’ experience in the catering industry – from working in a bakery from the age of 15, running chalets in the French Alps, to becoming executive chef of two highly successful restaurants in the UK.
“In 2009 I was given the opportunity to come to South Africa and while here I ran my own restaurant for two years and consulted. Then I was given the amazing opportunity to be the principal at Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Pretoria campus and pass on what I have learnt to a new generation.
“I tell my students being in the hospitality industry is hard work. It is not glamorous but the rewards can be impressive. Things are always changing in the culinary world. That’s part of what makes the industry so exciting. My top tip would be to try and broaden your horizons, by travelling and experiencing a variety of catering cultures to increase valuable knowledge.”
We managed to pull Coombe away from the kitchen to ask him a few more questions:
What are your food predictions for 2020 and beyond?
The new food trend for 2020 is definitely going vegan and promoting healthy eating. More and more people are changing their meat “high protein” diets into plant based and vegan diets. People are now thinking about their futures and staying healthier for longer.
What do you think has had its day and we’ll see less of going forward?
The molecular gastronomy has passed its best before date in my opinion. Foams, gels and spheres are almost a little “vintage” now.
What impact do you think the rise of veganism has had or will have on the food industry and cheffing?
There are more vegan restaurants popping up now. Its trendy and the new “in” way to eat. People are going back to their “roots” literally…
Do your students get involved in vegan dishes and the preparation thereof?
One of my chef lecturers is strict vegan and he is experimenting more with vegan foods and keeping up with the trends. For example, we created a “pulled pork” dish from mushrooms and “scallops & bacon” from mushrooms and carrots. It tasted really good and you wouldn’t know that it was a vegan dish
Plating has become an important aspect in serving food in restaurants and at dinner parties. What are your key do’s and don’ts when plating?
Plating is a fine art and there are many different styles. There should always be a “hero” of the plate, don’t cover the “hero” with unnecessary microgreens that add no value to the garnishing of the plate. Your garnish should always be edible, don’t use whole peppercorns, cloves, cayenne pepper to garnish your plate it will ruin the taste of the dish.
Can you give us three of the best kitchen tips you had learned?
Keep your knives sharp, if you’re going to cut yourself do it with a sharp not blunt knife; don’t use a wet dishcloth to hold hot oven trays, the moisture soon turns to steam and can give you a nasty burn on your hand; always use the freshest of ingredients and know where they come from
Name five things always in your fridge
Soul fire sauce – it goes great on pizzas; fresh garlic and fresh ginger, I really enjoy making curries from scratch; baby spinach – a must for all salads; coconut oil, a healthy option to cook with and adds a delicious flavour to your dish; a good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc
What would be on the menu for your last meal?
Lobster Thermidor – if done correctly nothing beats it.
What do you not eat?
Not a fan of fresh whole tomatoes. They need to be diced up really small when I eat a salad
Can you give us a recipe for a simple yet delicious dish?
I will give you my tried and trusted Lobster Thermidor recipe
30g fresh mature Cheddar cheese, grated
30g fresh parmesan, grated
1 shallot finely chopped
300ml fish stock
50ml white wine
100ml double cream
½ tsp mustard
2 tbsp chopped parsley
½ lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and place the lobster in, simmer for approx 6-8 minutes (a little longer if the lobster is large). Plunge into cold water and cool for 10-15 minutes.
Cut the lobster in half, lengthways through the tail and head and remove the meat from the tail, discarding all the contents of the head and reserving the shell for plating. Crack the claws and remove the meat. Leave to one side.
Cut the meat into bite-size pieces and place back into the shell.
For the sauce, put the butter in a pan, add the shallots and cook until softened. Add the stock, wine and double cream and bring to the boil. Reduce by half.
Add the mustard, herbs, lemon juice and seasoning.
Pre-heat the grill and spoon the sauce over the lobster meat. Sprinkle with the grated cheese. Place the lobster halves under a pre-heated grill for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. You can also sprinkle some breadcrumbs in with the cheese to give the Thermidor a crunch on top.