Part of the reason I love my job so much is that I get to meet so many interesting people. Although it’s daunting to interview ‘celebrity chefs’ whom I’ve admired and who inspired me during my time as a timid commis chef it really reawakens the passion inside me to know that they too were once… ‘normal’. Over the past month and a half I have met and interviewed Nobu, Liam Tomlin and was lucky enough to attend an extremely early press conference with Gordon Ramsay – which, I might add, I would’ve rather traded for an extra hour of sleep in my cozy bed on an extremely wet and blustery day in Cape Town!
But enough about Mr Ramsay, this post is about the man who’s cookbook, Season to Taste, got me through and kept me passionate about food during three nightmarish years at chef school. The book who’s glossy pages are worn, tatty and splattered with the reductions and foams (as well as a few suspicious-looking dots that I suspect are drool… ) of the recipes that grace its beautiful contents. The occasion for my interview was the opening of the brand new Chef’s warehouse and cookery school that Liam Tomlin has opened in Cape Town – a much-needed haven for foodies and chefs.
The warehouse is most definitely for the die-hard’s and this was clear when I walked through the large wooden doors which are not without their cheffy touch – a pair of wooden spoon handles welcomes you inside.
I was extremely lucky to have my friend and photographer Richard Aaron around to take a few snaps – although ‘snaps’ clearly does not do his photography justice :)
Liam has made sure that the warehouse is stocked with hard-to-find essentials sourced locally and abroad from unusual baking tins and tart cases...
... appliances, crockery and glassware...
...exotic spices and ingredients...
...interesting chopping boards (which would make a beautiful gift for a foodie friend!)...
and a large collection of cookbooks...
But what really got my heart a-flutter was the most beautiful butcher’s block I have ever seen – not being dramatic at all I promise! Liam has the work benches custom made to your wishes – any design can be applied to the wooden surface (think measuring conversion charts or meat cooking times) and the drawers and surface can be altered to suit your work style and storage needs.
Gorgeous isn’t it? *sigh!* Now I just need to find a rich husband…
Ok, I’m getting distracted – apart from the warehouse, Liam also holds cooking classes in the cookery school – his own 20 course “Basic Techniques & Methods of cooking” as well as specialized courses run by well-known outside chefs such as Peter Templehoff, Neil Jewell, Margot Janse and Luke Dale Roberts amongst others, right next door to the warehouse – so much cheffiness under just one roof!
I jumped at the chance to sit down and chat with Liam about his many years of experience, some of which included a stint as Top Billing Magazine’s Food Editor, which of course hits very close to home!
KW: When did you start cooking, and how did your journey begin?
LT: I was never one of those people who knew from a young age that they wanted to be a chef. I actually got into it by accident – a lot of my friends were doing chef apprenticeships in Dublin, where I grew up, and I gave it a go and did it as a job for a couple of years but the penny only dropped when I went to Switzerland. I realized that cheffing was a serious profession and that you had the opportunity to travel and also that there were a whole lot of ingredients I’d never heard of. Then I started planning my career for the first time and I ended up going to Australia supposedly for a year but it ended up being 15.
KW: What great influences have you had along the way in your cooking career?
LT: Australia was a good experience for me as I’d had European culinary training and Australia has such multi-cultural and diverse food scene. It influenced my cooking style since I started using Japanese and Asian ingredients I’d never even heard of in my European training. My cooking style to this day is still a modern interpretation of classical cuisine but still with a slight Asian influence. Each successful chef usually has 3 or 4 chefs whom they’ve worked with who influence or change their philosophy on food and one of those chefs for me was Dietmar Sawyer whom I worked with for the first 7 years in Australia.
KW: What is the most rewarding part about being a successful chef?
LT: The world has become a smaller place and one of the best things about being a successful chef is the opportunity to travel and meet great chefs from around the world. I love the chef comraderie of travelling as I get to go to all the interesting markets and hole-in-the-wall places that the other chefs show me.
KW: How would you describe your style of cooking?
LT: My style is very different now from what it used to be since I don’t have other chefs working with me and giving their input. The Chefs Warehouse is a different environment – its a lot more relaxed and fun so my food is a lot more simple.
KW: What made you decide to open The Chef’s Warehouse in Cape Town?
LT: We were going to open a Guesthouse and during winter we were going to run chefs courses to tide us over income-wise but the neighbours objected to it so the project was put on hold. The building we are in now became available and it was too big for just a cookery school so we decided to make use of the space by selling cooking equipment, ingredients and books. In this way we are not relying on one market – if any of these elements don’t work, we always have the other to supplement.
KW: What can customers expect when they walk in the door?
LT: At the cooking school we teach people the basics – how to season food properly, choosing and buying ingredients, how to present food beautifully and tricks of the trade. Chefs Warehouse, the retail arm of Chefs Warehouse & Cookery School, is open to both the trade and general public and carries a wide range of quality products sourced locally and abroad, and includes kitchen equipment, appliances, books for cooks, crockery, cutlery and glassware, knives and utensils, chefs-wear, bar tools, lifestyle furniture and essential ingredients. The “Basic Techniques & Methods of Cookery” - a set curriculum of 20 classes is presented by myself. This course will cover the essential principles of cooking and will be held every second Saturday of the month.
KW: Do you think South Africa offers visitors a unique food experience? and how can we improve?
LT: If you look at the St Pellegrino awards – 3 of our restaurants did really well and that just shows that SA is going in the right direction. We’re up on top with the worlds’ best. The produce here is wonderful – we have winelands, our restaurant design is as good as anything else in the world. The only thing that I believe can be improved is the service - USA Europe it is a profession to be a waiter.
KW: What do you see as the next big food trend here in SA?
LT: As far as restaurants are concerned, with the recession a lot of restaurants around the world are looking at what they offer and give customers better value. Restaurant industries around the world are suffering and therefore need to reinvent themselves and their food using cheap ingredients and lesser known cuts of meat.
For more info and to book for their amazing courses visit chefswarehouse.co.za
Photography by Richard Aaron