Food24 interview

Kim Napo is a private chef and owner at Gourmet Moods

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background
I come from a communications background. For over 15 years I worked in the PR industry for PR agencies as a Communication Strategist and in government, SARS specifically, as a Communication Specialist. My culinary journey started rather late when in 2013 I decided to go to culinary college to train as a chef.

How did your love for cooking develop?
My mother is a great cook, she had these amazing recipe books and at an early age I was just compelled to recreate those recipes, even though I had never heard of most of the ingredients mentioned in those recipes, and had no idea what words like braise and sauté meant. I was lucky that my mother let me play in her kitchen and encouraged my culinary escapades. I grew up thinking every new ingredient my mother bought was bought for my use and every kitchen gadget bought was mine. There are gadgets in my mother’s kitchen, which up to now she still doesn’t know how to use.

Tell us about the food you serve and what your favourite ingredients are?
I serve really simple food made with fresh ingredients but always with a twist or a surprise element – food that does not hide behind heavy sauces. I want my clients to taste very element and every ingredient and understand why those ingredients were put together. My favourite ingredients of all time are olive oil, lemon and fresh coriander but now and again a new ingredient will feature for a while only to be replaced later – right now that ingredient is olives and before that it was sundried tomatoes.

What are your thoughts on South Africa’s culinary scene at the moment?
Our diverse cultures and the fact that we have the best and freshest ingredients at our fingertips paired with some amazing chefs who are fearlessly always pushing the envelope, make the South African culinary scene very exciting. I believe that this is just the beginning of great things to come.

What has been the biggest challenge on your business journey so far?
I think the biggest challenge has been learning to create a balance between business and home. As a chef, the lines between home and business can get easily blurred and it’s very easy to take “work” home because you cannot really run away from food, it’s there all the time everywhere.

What is your recipe for success?
My recipe for success is hard-work, never losing sight of your vision, staying focused on your goals and learning from yours and others’ mistakes regardless of the industries they are in because certain principles run across.

You’re stranded on a desert island, what 5 foods would you want with you? What would you make?
I would want rice, spinach, tomatoes, eggs, feta and olive oil. I would make a frittata the one day and a quiche the next and the day after that I could make scrambled eggs with feta. . . I could make something different for a while.

What is the most essential item in your kitchen?
I would say my knives. Preparation is the most important step in cooking and a good knife makes prep a joy.

What ingredients should every home have in the cupboard/refrigerator?
A bottle of good quality olive oil, sundried tomatoes, eggs, fresh or dried herbs and feta – feta makes everything taste great.

If I can invest in only five things for my kitchen (meaning, spend more than I normally would), what should I buy as a home cook?
A good chef knife, a pestle and mortar (to make pestos and grind your own spices), wooden spoons, heavy-based pots and pans (these are great for heat distribution and even cooking) and a quality wooden chopping board.

What’s your favorite newly discovered ingredient?
My favourite newly discovered ingredient is dukkah which is an Egyptian condiment made from spices and nuts. I sprinkle it on yoghurt to make dips, I use it as a crust on salmon and steaks, I sprinkle it on salads, I use it on scrambled eggs. . . I use it everywhere.

What has been your worst kitchen disaster?
I was baking a chocolate cake and the recipe called for two cake pans of a certain size. I wasn’t up to doing two cake pans so I decided to use one large one. In the middle of baking I checked on how the cake was doing, like one normally does and disaster. . . the cake had risen so high and there was batter flowing out of the cake like lava onto the oven floor. It was a disaster! Now I had to clean the pan and the oven. I should have just used two pans.