An Interview with Greenhouse head chef Ashley Moss

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Ashley Moss

Would you believe the guy who spearheaded the now famous weekly waste challenge at the Greenhouse at the Cellars-Hohenort in Cape Town just kind of “fell into” becoming a chef?

Growing up in Kommetjie, we used to do a lot of crayfishing. I remember rushing home from school so I wouldn’t miss out. I would help my dad bait the nets and prepare the boat. When we got back I would head for the kitchen to help my mum clean and blanch the crayfish before we basted them in garlic, lemon and parsley butter and finished them on the braai.

Becoming a chef is just something I kind of fell into. I started working as a barista on the weekends when I was 15, then as a waiter, and I finally realised I wanted to be where all the action was, in the kitchen.

I used to think fine dining was all about luxurious ingredients and complex cooking techniques. Now, to me, it’s about creating delicious food with provenance, heritage and respect.

My current favourite ingredient is kelp. It’s an amazing superfood and has natural glutamates, which add a great umami kick to dishes. We add it to our stocks, soups and sauces. It’s also delicious braised in soya sauce, thinly sliced and served with sticky rice. At home I’ve found it most convenient to dry it out, blend it into a powder and use it as a seasoning.

I made a great veg curry the other evening using leftover veg in the fridge and a few bits and pieces I had kicking about. I hate leftovers going to waste, so I prefer to shop daily. I look at what I have to get inspiration and incorporate it in some way. To make it fun I think of it as a MasterChef-style mystery box challenge.

The weekly waste challenge at Greenhouse didn’t start out as a waste challenge per se. I was looking for a way to keep the chefs creative and inspired. After looking at what we were discarding, I decided to create a dish from the offcuts and trimmings. I challenged my chefs to do the same. This soon evolved into something far more meaningful.

I don’t think the most successful part of the challenge has been what goes on the menu, but what doesn’t end up in the bin. All the chefs are far more conscientious. They come up with ways to use everything, whether it goes on the menu or into staff meals. It has given all of us a new sense of responsibility and respect for the ingredients we’re working with. We’re going to take it up a notch. It’s easy to see the waste when it’s right in front of you, but what about all the waste it caused to get there? I’m referring to irresponsible farming, unnecessary packaging and transportation. We’re going to be focussing on local, small, sustainable suppliers. You won’t find Norwegian salmon or French foie gras on our menu and we’re challenging other restaurants to do the same.

My sister is vegan and she has opened my eyes. Often, when we go out, she is offered little or no choice of bland, flavourless dishes, but at home she creates amazing, tasty, fresh fare. Why can’t professional chefs do the same? Vegetarian food doesn’t have to be a boring bowl of mushroom risotto! Vegetables can be far more interesting than their meaty counterparts. They’re more diverse in flavour and texture, and there is so much you can do with them. At Greenhouse, we have created 11-course vegetarian tasting menus with all the complexity of our normal menu.

We’ve had a great response to our Chef for a Day project so far. The idea came about when we were talking about a chef’s table. As space is limited, this was an out-of-the-box solution offering guests
a chance to be hands on. They get to see how much work, time, effort and thought goes into every little element. After a day in the kitchen with us you’ll leave with a better understanding of how a professional kitchen operates, some cool new cooking skills, and sore legs!

Greenhouse, The Cellars-Hohenort Hotel, 93 Brommersvlei Road, Constantia.

Tel: 021 795 6226; greenhouserestaurant.co.za

Follow @ashleybmoss and @greenhouse_ct on Instagram.

Discover more TASTE features here.

Annette Klinger Article by: Annette Klinger

Woolworths TASTE’s features writer maintains that almost any dish can be improved with butter and cream. She’s a stickler for comfort food, especially German treats that remind her of her late grandmother, such as pork schnitzel with sauerkraut and spätzlen. She is a voracious reader of food magazines and recipe books, and instinctively switches over to the cooking channel whenever she checks into a hotel or guesthouse.

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