Female Chefs In South Africa: Hazendal’s Michélle Theron

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 – Michélle Theron


In the second instalment of our Women’s Month series, we spoke to Michélle Theron, Executive Chef at Hazendal. For the past two years Theron has led the stellar brigade at Hazendal Wine Estate. Serving a taste of Russia underscored and inspired by South African ingredients, the culinary options on the estate abound. Travel inspired and evolved Theron’s palate and cooking style and she spent time in Europe at various Michelin starred restaurants honing her skills.

Back on home soil, Theron enjoys harnessing the plethora of fresh ingredients and produce available from suppliers that hold the same commitment to sustainable and ethical practises as she does. The flavours and dishes of her childhood remain a bedrock but inspiration is never far off and Theron enjoys trying, testing and then delivering dishes that take you on a journey- always with a satisfying destination.


Q&A With Chef Michélle Theron

Why did you become a chef?

I grew up in a family where spending time in the kitchen was a big part of our lives, I am a very social person and love how food and mealtimes bring people together….it’s a cliche but it’s literally the only thing that I have ever wanted to do.

When are you happiest at work?

I think in the current situation all of us are just happy to be able to work and spend time in our kitchens, be it to work on new ideas and ways forward in an industry which has taken a huge blow globally.

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

Knowing that you are always going to learn more as you go, and being willing to share as much knowledge as you can with up and coming young talent to help build our industry

What has been your most meaningful, memorable meal?

I cannot really pinpoint a single one, to me the effort someone puts into cooking a meal for me and the thought and care that goes into it can make any meal memorable, be it fine dining or a casual braai with friends.

How does your personal heritage feature in your food?

Food should be honest and simple, no matter what you cook. That pretty much sums up how I look at the way I cook, the flavours and foods I grew up with and the way I still cook today but still changes as I get inspiration or new ideas.

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

Working as part of a team that becomes your family, having patience and supporting one another in a high-pressure environment. As a woman that is a pretty hard thing to do in our industry. We really have to work hard to set a footprint in a high-pressure environment to show our grit and grace.

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

It’s been pretty tough but we decided as a team to think about how we could approach the “New Normal” as they say and try to make it work the best way we possibly can.I don’t think anyone will be able to just pick up where they left off, we all need to see how we can move forward to try and be as successful as possible in the current times.


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?

Look, there will always be opinions on this, to me, it is simple – if you ask me what I do I will tell you that I am a Chef, not a female chef, and that answer makes me who I am… a person who absolutely adores this industry. I try to learn as much as I can to stay inspired so I can try and help and teach the next generation as far as I possibly can, to be the best example I can be to the up and coming talent of how to deal with pressure, treat your colleagues and work your way up in a difficult environment with integrity and compassion.

Why is it important to have women in the field?

Women need to be given the opportunity to excel in the industry if it’s the field they want to be in. Each individual, be it woman or men, have skills that they can potentially bring to the industry by the way they choose to carry themselves and support the industry as a whole. At the end of the day, especially now in these times, it’s about working hard and doing whatever we can to rebuild an almost annihilated industry after the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is the future for female chefs in SA?

If we can change the mindset to only chefs and not female chefs, it will make it much easier to insist on equal rights in the field.

I believe in maintaining a certain culture in my kitchen, not because I am a woman, but because I want to make sure that the young, up and coming chefs are exposed to an environment where they can learn.

This relates to not only how to cook but also how to deal with all other aspects of our industry, be it coping with long hours or learning how to lead with respect and grace and to get the most out of your team… If we as chefs can get that recipe right we will most definitely inspire more young people to get into this great industry.

hazendal.co.za | Facebook | Instagram

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>