Foodies will discover a hidden gem in Melville at La Petite Maison.
Chef Tyeya Ngxola and Chef Tim Stewart are both Michelin trained but I personally like the way they source South African ingredients, using mostly French cooking methods. It is fine dining, so there is a degustation menu – and it is a journey running through seven places in South Africa that inspired the dishes.
We were very fortunate to interview the two chefs who are elevating South African flavours through classic French cooking techniques.
How would you describe your style of cooking? What inspires you?
Our style of cooking is best described by the four pillars that we always bring to mind when creating any dish. These are namely Seasonality, Rawness, History and Culture. The history and culture stems from the teachings we received in Italy and we realised how important it was for people to understand a little more about the food that they eat. The seasonality stems from the fact that ingredients are always best served at their prime which is when they are in season. The rawness is inspired by the understanding of how different an ingredient tastes when it is raw than when cooked. So when the different elements are plated they evoke different senses in your mouth that are inspired by theses four pillars.
Describe a typical day in your restaurant?
Our mornings and afternoons are very quiet. The mornings are about waiting for deliveries and running around getting anything that cannot be delivered by our suppliers. This is also the time we use to prepare for the evening service. Its essential to ensure that all prep is ready because during the service rush one unprepared ingredient can throw us completely off. This is also the time when Tyeya tries to catch up on all admin. Then there is the calm before storm between between 4pm and 6:30pm, this is when all staff comes in and Tim prepares food for them and we have a quick brief about service for that night and have the restaurant dressed. When the first customer walks in, it’s go time, no matter how tired we are, the adrenaline kicks in and there is no stopping us until the last customer walks out. In between all this rush we make time to go speak to our customers and engage about their experience at La Petite Maison.
What have been your proudest moments as a chef?
For Tyeya: one of my proudest moment was graduating at the top of my class in the international school, ALMA in Italy, competing with students who had previous experience working in the kitchen and I having none.
Together our proudest moment was the day we opened the doors of La Petite Maison. Although we have not really made time to celebrate our milestones but we certainly won’t forget that evening that ended with a round of applause. This was so reassuring for us because that was the cheer to say to us we have to keep going.
What has been your biggest learning curve?
Biggest learning curve has been the business end of things. When we were putting the idea together our biggest focus was the menu. We started doing our research about the ingredients we wanted to use and how we would use them. We started testing our dishes but little did we know what was was lying behind running this show. We had spoken to to people about our venture and some were leaders in the industry, and received quite a lot of advice but nothing could have prepared us for the teething problems that we encountered. When we had our meeting with our mentor about a huge roadblock we came across, he said to us “sounds right” and was excited for us.
What are your favourite ingredients?
Plums is one of Tim’s favourite ingredients. It has a nostalgic memory of a time when he was on his grandfather’s farm picking plums.
For Tyeya it has to be butter because of the richness in the taste of butter and honestly, brings great flavour to food
What is your favourite dish that you enjoy cooking?
The pork belly. Its such a beautiful ingredient to work with and yet so easy to get wrong. We have found a technique that brings out the best from the cut, that is making the fat perfectly crisp while keeping the meat soft and juicy. We plate it with cauliflower purèe and fermented cabbage, fresh figs caramelised onions and rainbow carrots which are sautéed in butter. This dish also speaks to the four pillars that we mentioned earlier that inspire all our dishes.
Five people (dead or alive) who you would like to cook for?
I think the question is a really hard one. Family members pops into mind first. My late mother and father. Otherwise i think cooking for people is a blessing regardless of who it is.
What trends / challenges are restaurants facing in 2019?
A modern challenge in any kitchen is trying to reduce wastage. Another is trying to source products as ethically as possible. Local and sustainable! . Then there is the dreaded load shedding that has wrought untold havoc on restaurants across the country. We are very conscious of the fact that load shedding does not just mean the lights are out, it totally disrupts every part of business from deliveries to staff transport. I think soon we are going to see “load shedding menus” start popping up.
The #1 thing that annoys you in restaurants?
Bad service and too much noise!
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Visit La Petite Maison.