The hottest new culinary ticket in town is also the freshest one. At brand-spanking new Chefs restaurant in Gardens, chef Jenny Ward and her crew deliver food so fresh it seems to vibrate with vitality. Don’t believe me? Go check it out.
Chefs, the new concept restaurant from which chef Jenny operates, is located in premises at 81 St John’s Road, Gardens. That particular site has seen many previous tenants come and go and has probably crushed more hearts and bank balances than any other business premises I know of. So it was with some trepidation I set off today to experience Chefs‘ food firsthand. ‘Please let it be good, please let it be good,’ I inwardly prayed, because it would just be unbearable to see another business bruised and doomed to fail in that awkward space. Yes, my expectations were low.
And whoa…I arrive at the freshly painted store, step inside and I am floored. Jaw, meet floor. Not only has Chefs taken over and remodelled this former ugly duckling of a store, they totally own the space. More than a breath of fresh air, Chefs has given the space the kiss of life and resurrected it into something so pure and beautiful it’s like going to a food spa or a modern kitchen temple. Or something. I dunno, it just seems like a spiritual experience to eat at Chefs: the essential Zen of fresh. Which is the millennial spirit, isn’t it? It’s fun, too, so don’t expect a high attitude or priestly piousness. This is food in a space meant to be all about fun and pleasure.
Place fits practice hand in glove. In fact, I haven’t seen a business concept fit its premises so perfectly in a long, long, time. Not only does Chefs make the space work, it seems to be an organic, intrinsic part of the core trade. Which is fresh food, served fast without frills. Which doesn’t mean it ain’t serious cooking. It is. You just won’t notice the machinery at work, and that’s where the genius lies.
The space is completely transformed, inside and out. Airy, fresh, bright and clear, the white tiled walls and vast picture windows provide the best lighting of any restaurant in town. So perfect is the lighting, it makes everyone inside look beautiful. As in radiantly beautiful. Yes, go there and see what I mean. Everyone should have their photo taken inside Chefs. Selfie HQ!
Or perhaps everyone I saw there today had simply been eating chef Jenny’s food for a long time, because it certainly makes you feel all lit up and mighty fine inside. (They opened in October 2016.)
Chefs is exactly what I love about food right now: no-attitude fresh, simple, nourishing and pure; taking the very best ingredients and doing just enough to them to turn it into edible magic – cooking done with joy and love in a space that soothes the senses. Jenny does all that and more.
Here is a chef like few other: obsessed with freshness and flavour, Jenny seems to have an instinctive, intuitive understanding of texture + flavour + colour. Her plates are alive with colour, offset by the pure white interior and utterly simple decor which is no decor, just space.
She has incredible lightness of hand: a tempura of green vegetables was so ethereal, it was like eating air. Delicious, nourishing, tasty air with lots of vitamins in it. Show me another chef in Cape Town who can tempura a spinach leaf perfectly, retaining integrity and crunch – that takes some doing! Jenny is on the pass plating, alternating with her crew of sleekly efficient chefs. A wood-fired oven is used to cook almost everything, even providing a hint of smoke to the finest créme brulée I have had in 25 years. Now that créme brulée, lemme tell you, was just sensational. I’ll think of it for days. The silkiest custard underneath the lightest crackling glaze, alongside a delicate pineapple and fresh basil salsa topped with a scoop of citrus sorbet, it’s refreshing and comforting all at once. And very, very more-ish.
My son and I were guests of the restaurant today, and we were both blown away by our food. There are only four choices every day, and you place your order on an iPad at the front desk. Once seated, your food is brought to your table by a chef on clever little moulded metal trays; each indent holding a bowl of dip, sauce or salsa, and a salad. The price per dish includes substantial sides and garnishes, so it’s a filling meal. Choose still or sparkling water, or pay extra for fresh juices. The coffee is superb.
My son had the duo of duck, served atop of tangle of shredded vegetables in a light vinaigrette, and I had the sublime harissa fish with smoked fish croquettes on a bed of olives and roasted tomatoes. A side salad of soft-boiled egg and paper-thin fennel with rocket was dressed in a tangy vinaigrette, and I also had a salsa of roasted sweet peppers and tomato plus what seemed to be a tartare sauce. Very filling yet very refreshing at the same time. The flavour combinations reminded me of the Moro cookbooks, with a hint of smokiness, sweetness and tartness popping up here and there. Delicious!
With only four dishes every day to prepare, you might imagine a certain dullness to creep in, or even expect boredom. Far from it: each dish with its accompaniments absolutely zings with flavour. If a plate could sing Hallelujah, it would be at Chefs. Perfection is required and perfection is delivered. Such pared-down simplicity leaves chef Jenny nowhere to hide behind frills and frippery and she knows it, taking advantage of the challenge instead by executing neat little harmonies and sassy riffs of flavour and textures. Here is the chef who smiles while she works, because she knows. She knows.
I’ll admit I love it. Really, I do. I haven’t been this excited about a new restaurant in Cape Town in a long time, and that’s saying something.
If you want to experience it for yourself, please take time to read the press release about this fascinating and exciting new restaurant below, and then make your booking! First, some photos of our food today:
Designed for people on the go, Chefs is a disruptive offering that aims to solve the problem of accessing great food without needing to spend hours sitting down in a top restaurant. There are no printed menus. Instead, daily website updates show which three meals are available that day. There are no waiters. You order and pay on arrival via an iPad, take a seat at a table, and a Chef will appear swiftly with your plated meal on the signature Chef’s tray.
The result is something incredibly fresh and uplifting. Everything that could stand between you and the meal has been removed. You are paying for good food and nothing else. The kitchen is inseparable from the seating area and there’s no sense of remove between product and patron. Chefs is all about getting people to connect with food by removing the barriers between the Chef and customer and making the kind of meals that everyone wants to eat – super fresh, healthy, generously served and stylishly presented. The foodie capital of Cape Town is the launching pad for this first flagship concept, which, if successful, will be rolled out both locally and internationally. Chefs is a platform for exposing culinary talent and will be on the hunt for rising Chefs to head up each of these new ventures.
Chefs is the brainchild of Justin Letschert, the man behind the globally successful skincare brand Bio-Oil. He had no intention of being involved in the food industry but once he had the idea, simply had to see it through. To help manifest the idea, he roped in his friend, Adam Whiteman, of Mother City hotspots The Power and The Glory and Hallelujah, as well as Chef Jenny Ward and MD Campbell Stevenson. So now, what started off as a mere idea two years ago is a game-changing eatery on St Johns Street in Gardens.
“There is a big gap between what you can get at a top restaurant and what you can get when you are in a rush. Chefs aims to fill that gap,” says Letschert. “We went around in circles for some time trying to figure out how to merge the excellence of Chef-created food with speed and a non-fussy approach. Then Adam came up with the idea of the customised tray to move everything through the kitchen and on to the table. That was the Eureka moment!”
Chefs’ menu is directed by Ward, a master of wood-fired cooking with a passion for preparing honest food, using simple traditional techniques with raw ingredients from her selection of carefully sourced suppliers. Having achieved a cum laude qualification from the Institute of Culinary Arts, Jenny’s culinary experiences include cooking in top-rated restaurants, such as Bizerca Bistro in Cape Town, to preparing gourmet cuisine for private jet catering company Par-Avion and celebrity clients like Mariah Carey. Her talented Sous Chef, Jaffarie Sabe, is formerly of Ellerman House and also cheffed at Bizerca, which is where this kitchen duo first met.
The menu consists of contemporary choices – plentiful salads cozy up next to dishes such as cured salmon tartare served with raw coconut chilli salsa and the bourbon BBQ-basted Karoo lamb with crispy straw chips on the side. These share menu space with boldly flavoured vegetarian options such as wood-roasted artichokes served with sweet potato thyme gnocchi, mixed mushrooms with house labneh cheese, sautéed baby spinach and lemon seed mustard vinaigrette. The meal options change daily yet there are always three categories: the light meal, veggie option or the more substantial meat, chicken or fish-oriented meal. There’s also a dessert of the day that can be added to your meal.
The barrier-less kitchen allows customers uninterrupted visual access to all the food prepping and assembling – not forgetting the constant view of flames from the brass-fronted oven. Large, open windows allow plenty of natural light and highlight the stripped back, honest aesthetic. A long strip of tables takes centre stage, encouraging an atmosphere of patron interaction and the simple enjoyment of excellently prepared meals. Considered and astonishing details – like the blue Chefs tape as a recurring leit motif – add spark to the pared back design concept.
You can choose what you want to eat before you arrive, as the three meal options of the day are uploaded to the website, which can be viewed at www.chefscapetown.co.za. Chefs is open Monday to Friday from 12pm to 4pm with plans to extend trading hours until 8pm at a later stage. Chefs is located at 81 St John’s Street in Gardens, Cape Town. Reservations are not necessary.
For more information, please call + 27 (0) 21 461 0368 or visit www.chefscapetown.co.za.
Please follow Chefs on Instagram (chefs.ct) or Facebook (@ChefsCapeTown), and engage via the hashtags #chefs and #chefscapetown.