MEET: Chef Chesray from Signal Restaurant

by Kyla Van Heerden
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Chef Chesray Assur. Executive Sous Chef. Cape Grace Hotel

Bio:  

For Chef Chesray, cooking is a passion. Despite not being classically trained, he says he got into cooking “mainly to stay out of trouble.”  After getting an opportunity at the President Hotel, where he worked for a few years, he headed to USA . In the US he worked in various hotels and restaurants. There he focused on banqueting, private dinners, wine & spirit pairings, personalised menus and private cooking classes. When he came back to South Africa, he worked in various restaurant and restaurant projects. He then worked as the Executive Sous Chef at the Westin Hotel and recently joined Cape Grace as the Executive Sous Chef. 

1. How would you describe a chef versus a home cook, and why do you think that cooking at home can be as much fun as in a chefs kitchen?

The thing about cooking is that everyone has their own style and people should not be afraid to learn and experiment. Cooking at home, whether for yourself or for your family, is all about the love and effort you put in. Cooking together as a family is very similar to a chef’s kitchen. It is all about bringing joy. About working as a team to create something special together. 

2. How would you describe your overall cooking philosophy?

Cooking should be an opportunity to learn and express yourself. The kitchen should be a place of development and collaboration. I like to work closely with my team and encourage them to use influences from their culture, background and experience to create something new and exciting. Drawing on culture and local inspirations. Anything can be an inspiration for your next exciting dish. 

3. Name the three kitchen tools you can’t do without?

a. Chef tongs, because they have so many uses and they should be a staple for all chefs. You can do so much with it. 

b. A quality chef’s knife. It is the foundation of a quality kitchen and you can do some much more with a quality knife. Sometimes it feels like the chef’s knife choses you. A good chef should have at least four different knives. My favourite is the Victorinox Pastry Serrated Knife. 

c. The humble kitchen towel. Not only does it ensure cleanliness in the kitchen but it also allows you to work with different temperatures. Cooking over an open flame is a lot more fun and allows you to create a very natural flavor. 

4. How would you include wine paring in a menu?

A wine paring can be very personal. You get the opportunity to examine the backstory of the wine. Where does it come from, what was the process of making that wine. Once you know that backstory, you can match it to certain food flavours. The soil that grapes were planted in, the efforts of the winemakers and the food all plays a part of that story. 

5. How do you control the quality and consistency of dishes to ensure customer satisfaction?

The first step you take is to ensure that you work with quality suppliers. It is very important to work with local small suppliers because they know their products intimately. That way you can ensure that, you always get quality and you that you work closely with your community. The second step relates to training your staff and collaborating with a team to create something that delights guests consistently

6. How do you address food waste as a means to decrease overheads?

One way to decrease wastages is to create recipes in such a way that you use all aspects of your ingredients.  There are many creative ways to use ingredients. 

7. Signal restaurant offers a “taste of the veld” dining experience with a menu inspired by the indigenous fynbos. How did this culinary inspiration transpire? 

Taste the veld developed out of a desire to focus on flavours found all around us and a desire to create something exceptional with familiar flavours. To draw on nostalgic and something that locals would recognise, while at the same time giving it a Cape Grace twist of elegance. 

This menu was put together to take us back to our childhoods, to what we grew up with; to be outdoors, to run carelessly in the veld. Many locals can relate to the memory of falling into a thorn bush and having a grandparent apply some of the plant’s sap to soothe the pain. Our stories lie in the little things that are often overlooked by others. This menu is meant to reflect these memories while at the same time paying homage to all that makes Cape Town special. 

To create the menu we had to stop and thing: What does Cape Town look like? Who are the people who live here and what kind of food do they grow up eating? What kind of food did our team grow up with? By using indigenous flavours, inspired by local cuisine and local vegetation, our team has created something truly unique and special to us. 

Read more about the “taste of the veld” here: https://essentialflavours.co.za/essentials/edible-fynbos-species-and-their-fascinating-chemistry/

8. What food and beverage trends do you follow and how do you incorporate them into your menus? 

I am greatly inspired by local and current fashion trends. Natural and bright colours are seen throughout my recipes. I am always looking at what the latest fashion trends are and what is to come in the world of fashion. Again it is all about self-expression and letting that self-expression lead the way. In the same way I am really intrigued by the work of graffiti artist and local break-dancers. Looking at how they express themselves. The trick is how to bring that fashion, self-expression, art and frankly joy into the kitchen. 

9. What chefs do you follow on social media and why?

There are many celebrity chefs on social media but truth be told I am inspired by amateurs cooks and home chefs on social media. I like to follow what the local food trucks are doing. Food truck culture in Cape Town is very interesting because they are often people who represent their communities and the food found in those communities.

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