Female Chefs In South Africa: Epice’s Charné Sampson

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

It’s Women’s Month and given that we love food, we want to celebrate the powerful female chefs of South Africa. These women represent what it means to rank their own needs second or even third by facing obstacles under high pressure, working long hours, and getting a few cuts and burns that comes with working in a kitchen. We want to thank these female chefs for continuing to push their restaurants to top-tier status and for sharing their passion for food with us.

Celebrating Women In The Food Industry- Charné Sampson


In the fourth instalment of our Women’s Month series, we spoke to Charné Sampson, Head Chef at Epice Restaurant. At the young age of 16, Charné started making novelty cakes for friends and family which developed into a little business. Charné then went on to study at Silwood School of Cookery, where she excelled and entered numerous competitions. In her second year at Silwood, she was able to hone in her skills by working at La Colombe, Waterkloof, Myoga, and The Test Kitchen to name a few.

The art that Charné creates using food as a medium became evident in dishes she experimented with while fulfilling her role as Sous Chef at La Colombe. She was offered to explore the concept of developing layers with spice on a trip to India 2019. And on returning the hard work began as Head Chef of Epice in Franschhoek.


Interview with Chef Charné Sampson

Why did you become a chef?

I started baking novelty cakes from the age of 16; seeing the satisfaction after delivering a novelty or specialised cake to someone made me happy. I then went to culinary school (Silwood) straight after high school, where I fell in love with cooking and baking even more and the rest is history.

When are you happiest at work?

When the team is all excited to be there, prepping to a good tune and everyone is just jamming. Having a laugh, and of course, a good staff chow when all the staff can sit together and enjoy a meal.

What’s the most valuable attribute of being a great chef?

Absolute passion for what you do. There are a lot of sacrifices; the long hours, missing some birthdays, Christmas or other events. You need to keep your staff motivated to keep them doing better, I’ve found that when staff can see that you’re happy and really passionate about what you’re doing, it makes them want to stay and be better.

What has been your most meaningful, memorable meal?

I would have to say potjiekos (made by my grandmother) with rice and pickled beetroot. This was one of my first memories of layers of flavour in food that I can remember. Als,o when my gran made her famous potjiekos, it was often accompanied by good company with the whole family getting together, which meant lots of chatting and noise, but as soon as everyone started eating, all you heard was silence -that’s when you knew the food was good.

How does your personal heritage feature in your food?

In terms of Heritage, the spices throughout the menu, trying to include Cape Malay flavours and leave with a memory of good food and service.

With regards to style, more of a home feel to the food, executed in fine dining style.

What’s the most valuable thing you have learnt in the kitchen that translates in your life outside of the kitchen?

Life’s too short to hold a grudge about what someone said in the heat of service, talk about it and sort it out before it creates an uncomfortable environment. The saying “failing to plan is planning to fail” is something to live by when starting your day at work, as this will somewhat ensure a successful day, however, everything might not work out exactly as planned, so adapt and improvise, find a way to make it work and stay positive.

What has been your experience during lockdown and how have you had to evolve your business/kitchen.

We’ve unfortunately remained closed, but are hoping to re-open in October.

There are a lot of differing opinions about “Best Female Chef” awards versus awards that recognise achievements in the industry with no gender attached, with good arguments for both sides – do you have an opinion on this?

Hopefully, one day awards like this will be solely for the good food not about gender or politics. In my opinion cooking and flavour combinations are based on feelings and personal experiences that we all, as human beings, have throughout or lives. As long as people choose to eat at the restaurant and enjoy my food and the flavours, I am happy.

Why is it important to have women in the field?

As we all know, the chef industry has been predominantly male, but this is slowly but surely changing. I think it’s especially important to have women in the industry to help uplift and support each other where possible. Being in a more senior position such as Head Chef, Sous Chef or Pastry Chef is an accomplishment and this encourages women from all fields of work to see that its possible to reach these positions and be successful, and to not give up.

What is the future for female chefs in SA?

Hopefully, more females will be interested in the industry and not be intimidated by the male-dominated nature of the business. We are fortunate to live in South Africa, which is no stranger to positive change and our industry can only grow with an increase in positive mindsets all round.

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