Q&A with Shane Louw, Executive Head Chef at Mont Rochelle
Mont Rochelle’s Head Chef, Shane Louw, was born and bred in Cape Town where he trained in catering and hospitality at Cape College. He undertook a series of fast-paced and challenging roles in restaurants in South Africa and the UK, including in Michelin star restaurants Roger Hines at the Harrow and The Square in Mayfair.
Shane held the role of Executive Sous Chef at other well-established properties for five years, before completing his studies in business management. Since then he has held the role of Executive Head Chef and leads the kitchens for both of the hotel’s restaurants, Miko and the Country Kitchen.
Crush: Can you tell us what inspired your career choice in cooking? Have you always been a natural in the kitchen?
Shane Louw: So often, I hear of chefs who were raised watching their grandmas cook but my story is not quite the usual. I was a kid of the 21st century raised by a strong single mom, so I learnt my way around a kitchen simply because I had to. I would cook for myself at home, experimenting and learning in the process.
A career as a chef was never on my radar. I am quite handy with a pencil, so graphic design was on the cards for me. In 1996, a rare opportunity arose to help out the Chef de Partie whilst I was working as a runner in a local kitchen. As they say, the rest is history and 22 years later here I am.
Crush: Do you have a food mentor or someone who inspired your love of cooking?
Shane Louw: I always say that inspiration can come from anywhere; be it old memories, dishes that went wrong or fellow chefs. You never really know when the creativity might strike you. As for people in kitchens, chefs like Andre Chiang and Fergus Henderson are two standout names that I really admire.
Crush: Food culture has been pushed into the spotlight in recent years, which has a lot to do with reality TV, do you think this is a positive thing?
Shane Louw: For me, reality TV means that everyone now has an opinion on food and the wider industry. Along with social media channels, food has been catapulted into the forefront of popular culture and people are increasingly interested in different cuisines and foodie experiences. This can only be a positive for the industry!
Crush: The rise of the ‘celebrity chef’ has glamourized this job but the fact is that it’s really hard work running a commercial kitchen; do you think young, aspiring chefs understand this?
Shane Louw: Cheffing can be an incredibly rewarding career for those who are eager to work hard. Personally, I am a big fan of apprenticeships and work experience placements, as it means that young chefs have a clear understanding of the working world when they complete their studies.
Crush: What is the most challenging part of being a chef? And the most rewarding?
Shane Louw: With two restaurants on site at Mont Rochelle, there is a lot of planning that goes on behind the scenes. Running a busy kitchen and the admin that goes alongside this certainly keeps me on my toes!
As for the most rewarding, I would definitely say teaching and mentoring the young chefs within my current brigade. You can’t help but feel their enthusiasm rubbing off on you, and there is no better feeling than seeing them create a dish from scratch that they feel truly proud of.
Crush: Can you tell us a little bit about the process of designing a new seasonal menu and what you draw inspiration from?
Shane Louw: Menu design is a process of research and open discussions with the rest of the team. Ideas that might have been dwindling in the back of one’s mind always make an appearance and develop, through chatting with the rest of the team and suppliers. Some dishes start out a rough sketch, while others start with one base ingredient.
Of course, one of the biggest inspirations is seasonal produce, which we always aim to source as locally as possible. It’s all about ensuring maximum economic benefit to the community and minimal transport and ‘food miles’, so our vegetables, lamb and springbok come from local farms. We even have an on-site herb garden, where you will often find me rummaging for berries or herbs to use in the dishes!
Crush: What can guests expect on the upcoming winter menu at Mont Rochelle?
Shane Louw: We love showcasing local flavours, and guests can look forward to tucking into the more unusual ingredients from South African cuisine. Meebos, falooda, buchu, and venison are all on the menu this season.
Crush: Do you have a favourite dish that you have created?
Shane Louw: It’s so difficult for a chef to choose just one favourite dish, and I always say that I have the mind of a squirrel. My favourite dish this week will be totally forgotten by the next! I tend to get hooked on a certain ingredient for a while until I am happy with it, then I move on. I have to say one of my favourite ingredients to work with is seafood. My latest venture is Cape Malay spiced prawns with candied ginger and tomato & grapefruit tartar – the warming and refreshing flavours are perfectly balanced so perfect for winter!
Crush: Can we have the recipe for that espresso crème brûlée? (Just kidding!)
Shane Louw: You will need the following; eggs, sugar, cream, and the vital ingredient… a pastry chef called Pringle!
Favourite thing to do to unwind… Ons gaan nou braai… and anything motorsport related.
Inspiring person you follow on Instagram… André Chiang.
Secret food guilty pleasure… I have a few, but warm steamed puddings give me those warm “Dr Phil” moments.
Last book you read… The Perfectionist – Life and death in Haute Cuisine.
Most expensive recent purchase… An unplanned holiday. It’s been a long year and I need to let my hair down in a country where nobody knows me.
Book yourself a Mont Rochelle winter getaway this season.
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