Head Chef John Norris Rogers Leads the Team at La Petite Colombe
John Norris Rogers is the man leading the kitchen at the lovely La Petite Colombe, in Franschhoek. This is no mean feat – the pressure of carrying a name as lauded as La Colombe must be daunting. John is not new to the group though, having worked in the kitchens at La Colombe for a number of years under the tutelage of Chef Proprietor Scot Kirton and Head Chef James Gaag.
John hails from Pretoria originally and is a Silwood School of Cookery graduate. He spent time working overseas honing his chef skills, notably in the kitchen of Chef Esben Holmboe Bang at the 3-star Michelin Restaurant, Maaemo. He’s been a part of the La Colombe team for some time now and has now taken on the challenge of running La Petite Colombe. We chat to chef John Norris Rogers to find out more about his journey.
You are heading up La Petite Colombe… in a word… ‘pressure’. How are you feeling about it so far?
It has been an incredible journey so far! It’s extremely daunting taking on something of this nature, especially opening up under the banner of La Colombe and it’s been very challenging, to say the least. Being so young, I still have so much to learn and aspire to but with the help and guidance of both Scot and James, it’s been amazing. I’m very excited for what is to come and am loving the challenge so far!
What are the final moments like before opening the doors to a new restaurant?
Planning for La Petite Colombe began a few months prior to opening, while I was still the sous chef at La Colombe, which luckily gave us enough time to plan it quite carefully. We had many meetings where we would discuss everything as well as test as much as we could beforehand, so it was quite a journey leading up to opening.
It is a complete mix of emotions just before the doors open for the first night!
Excitement, anxiety and a good old-fashioned cold sweat but once the doors open and the pace picks up, it’s an amazing feeling to see all the planning and hard work just coming together and everything becoming a reality. It’s quite magical to see it all unfold.
You’ve moved out to Franschhoek to run the new restaurant, how are you finding it?
Living in Franschhoek is completely different to living in the city, so it’s been quite an adjustment for me, but it has been great and I’m thoroughly enjoying it so far. It’s incredibly beautiful out here as well.
Morne, our restaurant manager, has been really helpful, having loads of local knowledge which has proved invaluable.
It also doesn’t hurt living 3 minutes away from work with no traffic.
Can you tell us a little bit about the planning and conception of the dishes on the menu at La Petite Colombe.
The menu planning and development is really a collaborative effort between Scot, James and myself. We discuss menu ideas throughout the week, following which, James will come out during the week and we will test our ideas and implement them once we are happy with them.
The pastry kitchen is headed up by Andrea, who uses the space to showcase her creativity and skill. She is a true asset to our team and her talent makes the whole experience that much sweeter.
The menu we are running at the moment, runs seasonally, depending on what products we can find. We do also develop a menu based on what we find interesting at the time. Part of the beauty of being a chef means we get to play around and develop dishes as we feel we want to, so it’s never boring.
We loved so many of the dishes that we tried when we visited that it is hard, almost impossible in fact, to choose a favourite; are the any that are really close to your heart?
Our take on a Japanese style ‘ramen’ during our ‘meet the chefs’ course is something that I really love. It is quite a unique blend of ingredients and is incredibly punchy when mixed all together.
The open layout of the kitchen helps facilitate our guests’ experience while eating the ‘ramen’, which is also really nice –it allows them to be a part of our day, as well as us being a part of their experience.
It is great having interested guests peering in seeing what is going and hanging around for an explanation on how the kitchen works. It makes our day that much more worth the effort.
What is your style when running a kitchen during a busy service?
A lot of concentration goes into making sure everything runs smoothly. I like to try and stay calm for the most part. That being said, I still have so much to learn, so hopefully, with some experience, I will be able to find a style that works the best for me.
Do you find with an open plan kitchen-restaurant, which is the contemporary style of doing things, that you have to be able to keep frustrations in check?
Yes absolutely, emotions do run high during a busy service but I do like to try to stay composed as far as possible. I’m very privileged to be able to work with an incredible team who know the importance of getting the details right. When an issue arises, it’s a matter of getting it sorted as quickly as possible, and moving on.
What made you want to become a chef?
I can’t pinpoint a single moment or experience in my life where I wanted to become a chef. I always loved baking and cooking alongside my mother when I was younger, so that must have had an effect on me. During my teen years, I would spend many school holidays working in various kitchens just to get a feel for it. I really enjoyed the environment and the fact that it was always a challenge.
What are some your favourite food memories from childhood?
Baking bread is one of my earliest memories and still one of my favourite memories.
Can you share a memory of a funny moment or a mistake that you made in the kitchen that had funny consequences?
There was an occasion a while ago while still a student during an extremely busy lunch service, I reached for a pot with the sauce we used for the dish, and quickly sauced the plate, only to realize that it wasn’t the sauce but rather a pot of coffee one of the other chefs had made.
Needless to say, having to stop and redo it made an already busy service that much more intense and it was a tricky one explaining to James how I had ruined the scallop dish.
Late night, petrol station indulgence: Woolworths coriander salami stick and a creme soda Steri Stumpie.
Most expensive recent purchase: I recently bought a set of golf clubs.
Celebrity you’d most like to have lunch with: Rene Redzepi.
Habit you hate in others: Hate is a strong word but… loud chewing.
Food trend you wish would die: Pulled pork… needs to go.
To try the food created by John Norris Rogers and his team, book a meal at La Petite Colombe in Franschhoek, it’s a culinary experience not to be missed.
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