Michael Cooke resonates with me when he uses the term “Locally-sourced, globally-influenced”. He is the head chef at the award winning Camphors situated on the Vergelegen Wine Estate.
Interview With Michael Cooke
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
There have been quite a few influential people in my life…
My staff influence a lot of what we do currently, and the growth of our food has been due to their individual growth as chefs – we are only limited by our own capabilities, and their influence has pushed me in many new and exciting directions that I possibly wouldn’t have taken before.
From a career perspective, I’ll always be tremendously grateful to Peter Tempelhoff for his mentorship in my career – he’s been hugely instrumental in the way I work and my approach to food.
What started you on the path of cooking?
Simply put, the need to eat. I always enjoyed cooking, and meals were a big part of many special occasions growing up. I loved what it represented and how it created such togetherness. It was never going to be a career choice, but it was something I wanted to learn to do for myself so that I knew how – I decided after school that instead of taking a gap-year I’d learn to cook, and once I got into it I really enjoyed the creative aspect of it.
Which three ingredients could you not live without?
Salt, good quality oil, and any type of charcuterie
Which of your kitchen tools would you take with you anywhere and everywhere?
My knives – they’ve taken me all over the world, and into some incredible kitchens.
Do you have any pet peeves in the kitchen?
I have a few (although I’m not totally unreasonable when it comes to some of them!)…
I can’t stand it when chefs are untidy and don’t take pride in their appearance, or they work messy and disorganised – it shows no self-respect, a lack of responsibility, and poor planning – and it shows in the work.
“No-shows” – a massive trend these days. People don’t understand the impact that it has on the restaurant as a business. Not surprisingly, restaurants are now taking deposits from guests to secure their booking reservation to discourage this from happening.
… Rant over.
Which meal is your all time favourite?
I love the whole “small plates” / tapas way of eating. No matter what “style / origin” of food I’m having, it’s a great way to eat. It epitomises everything that a good meal experience should be – a shared experience through good food, encouraging conversation between the people you’re with.
Which restaurant could you visit over and over again?
It’s a small tapas-style restaurant that my brother took me to in Sheung Wan on the Hong Kong Island. Just getting there is an experience in itself! The road is so steep to get there that you have to take multiple escalators to make your way up the sheer vertical streets. I’ll never forget the experience – a really special food memory for me.
If you could only have one recipe book, which one would it be?
That’s a tough question – a very big hobby of mine is collecting cookbooks, and over the years I’ve collected a lot! I don’t really use the recipes, but I love reading the stories in them that have influenced and inspired the recipes and dishes. Currently, I’m really enjoying “Relae” by Christian Puglisi.
If you could work alongside one chef for a day who would that be?
Simon Rogan – his food is pure, his flavours are honest and he is very detailed in his cooking approach.
Which ingredient will you not eat or cook with?
Okra. Or Kale. I’ve yet to see anything good come out of those ingredients.
What is on top of your bucket list?
A food journey through South America or a trip to Tokyo.
What is your food philosophy?
Any parting words for the readers?
The key to any great meal starts with great produce.
Food doesn’t have to be complicated – less is often more. Instead of looking to see what you can add to a dish, it’s often what you should be taking away from it that makes the difference.
Flavour is king, but don’t disregard texture.
Disclosure: The interview with Michael Cooke was facilitated by Phumi Mdima from Mango OMC. This post is in line with my blogging policy.