Chef Candice on Pushing the Envelope at Grei
SA Chef caught up with Chef Candice Philip of the renowned restaurant Grei at Saxon Villas, Hotel & Spa to find out how she’s taking her kitchen to new heights.
A force to be reckoned with, Chef Candice Philip has always had a love for food, but it wasn’t until a chance internship at Gallagher Convention Centre that her passion for the kitchen was fully ignited. Since joining the Saxon in 2005, she has grown in leaps and bounds, and this year saw Grei take its place as number #—– in the Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards recently. She shares her journey into food and more with SA Chef.
Why did you become a chef; what makes you passionate about food?
I love the creativity and finesse that goes into the fine dining side of things, the way we are able to play with flavours and give diners an unexpected experience. I’ve always wanted to have my own restaurant – from as young as four or five years old. When I left school, I actually wanted to study interior design. Instead, I got an internship at Gallagher Convention Centre (in those days it was called Gallagher Estate) and then in 2005, I joined the Saxon. It’s been a real journey and since joining the Saxon. I’ve been privileged to work alongside some of the country’s best chefs – including Chef David Higgs, Chef Luke Dale-Roberts and Chef Rudi Liebenberg.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration for your green beans dish at Eat Out awards recently, and Grei’s placing in the Top Restaurants?
The common ingredient that had to be used this year for the amuse bouche was green beans. I wanted to showcase something that we would do in Grei, as the garden party theme of EatOut this year fitted in quite well with my herbaceous concept. Also, making something quite unexpected was key for me. That’s when I thought of doing a baked green bean cheesecake. I needed something acidic to cut the richness, so I created a lemon gel. Cheesecake usually has a biscuit base but in this case, I did a Spirulina crumb – I needed that fresh, crunchy texture so I made a green bean and granny smith apple salsa. And lastly, the playful element was my ‘no sugar’ green bean marshmallow. I loved this dish and the way it came together, and I was proud to serve it at Eat Out.
Grei has done so well this year, featuring across the board in the majority of the local awards. I could not be prouder of my tiny team and how far we have come. The definite cherry on top for us was being part of the newly launched 50 Best Discovery – an international list which showcases newly-discovered restaurants from around the world that are making their mark. This list is sister to the internationally-acclaimed World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
What’s your favourite dish to make right now? What’s the winning ingredient?
My dish of the moment would be our cauliflower dessert because it’s so unusual and mind-bending. The winning ingredient is the cauliflower because it’s featured in the most unexpected way.
Who are your go-to suppliers for your kitchen?
Pico Gro. I love the way they are farming, the way they try to go the extra mile if we need things. I also love our vegetable garden, Sarapana. It really is the heart of our restaurant. Linda and the team from Sought After Seedlings work closely with us, as well as Chef Jane-Therese and the team from Qunu Restaurant (the other restaurant at the Saxon), discussing what we want to put on the menu for the upcoming season and then plant and maintain the garden for us.
What are your thoughts on SA’s hospitality industry?
This industry is so big yet so small and I feel that we need to up our game in terms of sustainability. Education in relation to the sustainable farming sector in an urban environment is crucial. I also feel like there should be more forward-thinking. Many people tend to stick with what they know instead of pushing forward.
Which celebrities would you love to cook a dish for and why?
David Attenborough and Louis Armstrong – two people I have always loved. I love the life that David has had, the places he has been and the things he has been fortunate enough to see. Louis Armstrong because I’ve always loved his music since I was little. The honesty of it and the way you can literally see what he saw through his songs.
What culinary trends are you loving right now?
At the moment I’m loving pushing people into an unexpected space with unusual flavour combinations the general public would never consider – such as cauliflower for dessert!
Which chefs are doing amazing things that you admire or are inspired by?
I admire many chefs but at the moment I’m really loving what the chefs at Fyn are doing just because it’s completely different.
Any words of inspiration to young people who want to follow in your footsteps?
Be patient, don’t create to please others – this is your journey. Stay strong and trust the process.
Our industry is one that continually evolves, so it’s important that you keep up in terms of what’s new, what’s happening around the world, new ingredients, new techniques, what the focus is at the time, sustainability, etc. Put in the hours, ask your questions, learn as much as you can while you can, build a foundation you can work and draw from. It is easy to get left behind – you don’t want to be that person. Initiative and determination go a long way. Stay relevant.
And most importantly, look after yourself. Don’t be afraid to push boundaries but stay true to who you are, what you believe in and how you carve your way. Success means different things to different people but it doesn’t happen overnight. Perseverance is key!
Don’t miss out on Chef Candice’s moveable feast at Grei. Book your spot now at www.saxon.co.za/restaurants-bars/grei.