I have eaten Virgil Kahn’s sublime Asian inspired dishes on a couple of occasions and each time he seems to take the whole thing a step upwards. I decided to find out more about this remarkable young chef who was cooking great Asian food before he ever visited the east.
Where did you train as a chef?
I only realised a little later in life that I wanted to be a chef. Food was always part of my upbringing, but I never had the dreams of being an aspiring chef until I worked as an intern at the Westin Hotel. I completed my studies at the CPUT Hotel School in Granger Bay.
What do you like to eat most?
Definitely Asian food. I like food that is light and clean. Food with various flavours. My palate is used to all the different spices used by the Malay community of Cape Town.
What’s your least Favourite Food?
I don’t like the French cuisine that much. Food that is too creamy, heavy and rich is not for me.
Do you have a childhood, Mom or Gran food memory?
This is a tough one – so many actually. Samoosas, Malay inspired Koeksisters and cabbage.
What is your morning routine?
Get out of bed, shower and off to work. When I get to the kitchen, coffee is a priority before the day actually starts.
From where do you draw your inspiration?
Life. It is not only about you. When you travel, you see cultures, nature and people. Everything inspires me and how they work together. Eating is a multi-sensory experience and I draw inspiration in the same manner.
What’s your Favourite Dish you are cooking now?
A 2 hour cured yellowtail fish which we cold smoke and serve with charred gem lettuce served with XO sauce with frozen turmeric and coconut dressing.
Favourite Cooking Tools?
I recently got a Green Egg braai which I love working with. I love gadgets in the kitchen. I also like to use the old school noodle making Sev machine to make slangetjies (cracker noodles).
What is your ideal neighbourhood eatery?
In Cape Town definitely Thali – because of my love for spicy food and the night life of the city. I love the vibe the restaurant creates through Indian Cuisine.
Always in your fridge at home?
Steak which I will leave in the fridge the whole month to dry age.
A lot of seasonable vegetables from my garden.
Tom yum paste
Homemade Dumpling sauce
I also have a lot of the usual things in the fridge for the kids.
Name 6 food items you would take to a Desert Island?
Definitely fish sauce for seasoning, I’ll live off the island – easy to fish and hunt,
chilis and lemons and good Coffee.
What is your Desert-Island Disc?
I have quite a diverse taste in music. At the moment I listen to Post Malone a lot.
Your most Underrated Wine?
I don’t see myself as a wine connoisseur but I do understand the role wine plays in enhancing dishes. When planning food and wine dinners I mostly taste wine to see the acidity and sugar levels.
Your craziest Wine or Food or Equipment Purchase?
Food wise I have a lot of craze moments and purchases. I think my biggest is my knives. I often purchase Japanese knives, linked to certain families and then I import them. I recently bought a knife of roughly R5000 during my recent trip to Singapore. I also like old school gadgets to re-invent dishes. I am practising with an Indian fig mould at the moment to make Khoya-Modak for dinner dessert.
Saturday night after service?
If I leave early enough I will go home and take the children for ice cream or go home and watch a move.
People who think they know everything. People sometimes expect the food to taste exactly the same as they tasted it in Asia, but they forget that we are a restaurant influenced by the Asian flavours and I still enjoy to use our local produce and flavours as well. People need to be more open minded to food.
Your key Wardrobe Item?
I think my apron!
Talent you would like to have?
I like to create, so something like carpentry or to play an instrument.
Bees in your Bonnet?
To move forward in life – and food.
Who is your Music Person?
I listen to a lot of different music. My ultimate would be Charlie Puth. Growing up I listened a lot of R&B (boys to men; Puff Diddy? And then again Post Malone.
Not a big reader, more of a browser for inspiration in books. Currently I am working through a book Noma Guide to Fermentation by Rene Redzepi & David Zilber. Also have Quay: Food inspired by Nature by Peter Gillmore. He is a chef and restaurant owner in Australia.
One guest for dinner – who would that be?
I don’t have a definite name, but it will have to be an Iconic chef or a mentor who I like. Someone like Daniel Humm from Eleven Madison Park or the brothers from KOI dessert bar in Australia. When people who know their food come for dinner, then it becomes a challenge and I enjoy that. I worked at Nobu also, so maybe chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa.
Routine after lunch or dinner service?
After lunch you get ready for the next service if you are working dinner. I used to drive to Gordon’s Bay and jog on the beach between services, but haven’t done that in a while…
I’m currently working on….
Recently launched the new signature menu. I will now focus on changes for the menu at Indochine to bring in more summer dishes – more salads with berries and stone fruits for desserts. I am also experimenting with oyster sauce, trying to create my own. Also a lot of fermentation projects – working with tea leaves. This is something that hasn’t been done yet.
My favourite weekend getaway is….
Anyplace near the beach.
I think shopping. My wife does not allow me to go shopping alone because I am a big spender.
One day, I will….
Be in the top 50 restaurants in the world. It is a big dream, but I need these dreams because otherwise what is the point of pushing yourself?
The Delaire Graff Lodges and Indochine Restaurant will be closed for renovation from April to November.
Restaurant Indochine at Delaire Graff Wine Estate
Contact details: 021 885 8160
Street address: Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch
Telephone for reservations: 021 885 8160
GPS: S: 33° 55. 236ˈ E: 18° 55. 207ˈ