5 Minutes with Chef Marijke Duminy

Words: Jess Spiro

Marijke Duminy is a force to be reckoned with. Having gone from law to culinary school, she is a brain that turns out some incredible food. She also makes up the other half of Wynberg treasure, Four & Twenty Café. She’s exciting, genuine and fun, just like her food.

What has been your journey to get to this point in your career?

Marijke: I finished high school convinced that I was meant to be a lawyer and dutifully completed a BComm in Economics and Law at UCT, but I never felt excited or enthused by any of it. In a moment of spontaneity and reckless abandon, I followed my inexplicable gut feeling and applied to study at Silwood Cookery School. My life changed forever – I was in rapturous amazement every day and had never felt so profoundly inspired before.

As fate would have it, I also met Tracy at Silwood where she was teaching practical cookery. Our friendship soon took us to France together where we wept at how beautiful a box of macarons tasted, danced in the street uncontrollably from eating the best apple tart tatin ever, ate duck-fat potatoes for breakfast while gasping with garlicky joy and sat in our hotel room shrieking with delight at the perfect stinky cheese and braised endive that we had snuck in, in our bags. We realised that we were both utterly obsessed with flavour (and eating) and that we had the same deep emotional response to food. Food literally makes us cry with joy sometimes. We decided we also wanted to make food that makes people feel something and so, the concept for Four & Twenty Café was born.

Four & Twenty Café opened in April 2013 and undoubtedly, nothing prepared us for the immense personal enormity of producing food under our own names. Suddenly, we were able to say something significant through our food, and the story was all ours to tell. Every single day in our café has been a lesson and an opportunity to create something meaningful behind the noise of life. The journey has not been glamorous: it’s dirty and tough and very ‘unlady-like.’ and often heart-breaking. But this journey is not bigger than us, it is part of us and can be found in everyday things too, like chopping the perfect, crisp mushroom or getting a ‘sick’ kitchen burn!

Has there been a defining moment in your career that made you realise that this is exactly what you are meant to be doing?

Marijke: This is a toughie, because I have had several defining moments along the way. The most intense is, however, every single time I step into my kitchen to play with recipes for menu development: I realise over and over again exactly why I am here, doing this. I feel like dancing and singing and laughing – it makes me indescribably happy.

How would you define your culinary style?

Marijke: Much like me: lighthearted but sincere. I use old-school techniques with reverence, but from there on out it’s gloves off play-time.

What is your earliest food memory that you think inspired you towards this career?

Marijke: My parents took us on a family trip to Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong when I was five and a half years old. The street food blew my mind: sticky wok-fried cockroaches and grasshoppers, things that looked savoury but tasted sweet, and my favourite, almost mystical ice kachangs. We had no frame of reference for any of the flavours, all we could do was TASTE! It was the most satisfyingly bewildering and intoxicating experience of my life and I remember it as if it was yesterday.

What is the best career advice you have ever been given? Who gave it to you?

Marijke: Never forget to honour and value the people who stand beside you every day, who buy into your vision and make your dream happen, with you – Franck Dangereux.

If you had all the time and money in the world, what would be your ultimate food day? What would you eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Marijke: Breakfast: Pho in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Lunch: Sitting on my grandmother’s balcony, eating her oxtail stew, drinking merlot (her favourite) and laugh-crying at silly memories. Followed shortly by her famous hand-churned jasmine sorbet (made from an extract from her own harvested flowers from her garden).

Dinner: Venetian seafood risotto (followed by Tiramisu OBVIOUSLY).

Most memorable meal? This is SO difficult! There are many vying for the top position, but I had a Bogavante Paella. (Spanish crayfish basically) in Zaragoza at a small side street café, that changed me forever! It was crimson in colour and tasted like the crayfish were roasting inside your mouth for the first time. Simply insane! I had a bright red ring around my mouth that I wore proudly like a trophy! I fell into their tiny kitchen with tears streaming down my cheeks, begging for their shellfish stock recipe, which of course they refused to relinquish!

Top of your restaurant bucket list? Arzak, San Sebastián.

Favourite way to end a busy day? Good music (singing along and dancing are optional, depending on just how busy the day was), even better wine and lots and lots of couch!
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Read about more badass women in the kitchen HERE.

Read more about Four and Twenty here.

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