What I know now: David Higgs

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What I know now: David Higgs

He’s been in the food industry for almost 30 years, doing stints in hotel cooking, industrial catering, teaching and fine dining – picking up a slew of awards along the way. Between giving orders in the kitchen of his newest venture Marble, he indulged us in a trip down memory lane.

I grew up in Walvis Bay in Namibia. My happiest food memory is probably the fish braais we’d have. We’d go fishing every day. Galjoen on the braai was definitely my favourite.

I got into the food industry kind of by accident. After I finished my military service, I applied for a management position at a company and I was rejected, so I was a bit stuck. I always knew I wanted to be involved in the hospitality industry in some way, but not necessarily that I wanted to be a chef. I ended up walking into every hotel on the Foreshore in Cape Town. One hotel, The Tulbagh, was looking for a breakfast chef and I ended up working there for a year.

I’ve been in the industry since 1990. Back then, you’d see a lot of tomato roses, curly leaf parsley and iceberg lettuce, because we just didn’t have any alternatives available. These days the produce we have is incredible.

As a chef you have to keep adapting to your environment and what your diners want. I’ve worked across many disciplines, from cooking for hotels, industrial catering and small-scale catering to fine dining. It’s about building relationships with your guests. When they’re having a good time, I’m having a good time.

It’s interesting to see how the restaurant industry is changing. Not just here, but around the world. There’s a de nite move away from formal fine dining to eating out with an element of entertainment. I’m not talking live bands. People want to eat great food and have a good time in the process. They want an atmosphere, a vibe. I’ve also found myself getting irritated with eating in a hushed environment.

It was interesting being on the judging panel for the Eat Out awards this year. This was my first time being on the “other side”. A lot of what I’ve experienced lately in terms of what people are enjoying when dining out was a affirmed for me. I definitely related a lot of what I experienced to my team at Marble.

A personal career highlight was definitely when Rust en Vrede won the award for restaurant of the year, chef of the year and service excellence at the 2010 Eat Out Awards. My time at the restaurant was a culmination of all the disciplines I’d been involved in, and I had reached a point where I could just have fun with my cooking.

The Eat Out Awards are without a doubt the awards of the industry. And there’s no-one who can say being in the top ten doesn’t help a restaurant a huge amount. If any chef says they don’t care about it, they’re daft. Winning those awards made a huge difference. It gave me a huge platform to build on. It gave me an opportunity to network with chefs overseas and cook with them at events like the San Pellegrino Chefs Discovery Dinner series.

I was really impressed by the high standard of the San Pellegrino Young Chefs Awards while judging this year. Those junior chefs are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Chefs as young as 27, 28 working at some of the best restaurants in the world. Something that stood out for me in their food was the movement towards simplicity. Perfectly cooked food, but minimal ingredients. Not too many different flavours in a dish. One of the top three finalists made a dish with only lamb, artichoke and sheep’s – milk cheese and it was mindblowing.

What still excites me when dining out is spotting interesting techniques and ingredients. In an informal setting, it can be as simple as a plate of hot food that’s been well prepared. Something as simple
as a bowl of gnocchi, cooked perfectly.

For a change, I’m actually not working this Christmas. I’m going to the Free State with my girlfriend. Her family is Lebanese, so there’s going to be a fair bit of eating going on. Especially mince pies. I binge on them.

Follow @David_Higgs and @Marble_SA on Twitter. Marble, 3rd floor, Trumpet building, 19 Keyes Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg; tel: 010 594 5550. www.marble.restaurant

TASTE Article by: TASTE

The TASTE team is a happy bunch of keen cooks and writers, always on the look out for the next food trend or the next piece of cake.

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