Born with a passion for fresh flavours and always chasing the newest tastes, Executive Chef Ursula Nieuwoudt has just celebrated her first year at Turbine Boutique Hotel’s Island Cafe. We sat down with her to find out a bit more about where she’s come from, where she’s going and how she feels about this stunning Knysna restaurant.
How long have you been working professionally as a chef?
14 years. I graduated from Prue Leith Chef’s Academy in 2004 and have been working in the industry ever since.
What made you decide to become a chef?
I’ve always known I wanted to be a chef. Food is a big thing in my family, and always has been. Both grandmothers, and my mother were passionate about food. It was the only thing that I really had an interest in.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
As a chef you go through stages. You discover new things and become obsessed with trying new flavours, and figuring out recipes. Lately, I’ve discovered smoking products like cheeses and meats with tea. I also put a lot of emphasis on freshness, and staying on trend.
What do you do to stay current with new trends?
Reading magazines, and watching Masterchef Australia. You can be in such a rut, and have so many menus you need to create, and by simply watching something like Masterchef all that can change. It’s inspiring. It’s all about taking a concept and making it your own.
Do you have a favourite ingredient?
Garlic. Ask any of my staff. There’s not a lot that doesn’t get garlic. And fresh herbs, which give such flavour and freshness.
What’s your favourite item on the menu at the moment?
It’s definitely the crispy Asian duck breast on the main dinner menu. It’s served with jasmine rice, and a fresh, crisp stir fry made up of bokchoy, Chinese cabbage, red pepper and sprouts.
What you do on your days off?
I love the beach. Listening to music and reading books. Visiting the Heads, and walking in the Knysna Forest. Sounds cliche, but I love being quiet.
What is your favourite food to eat?
I actually like to keep it quite simple. Beautiful Karoo lamb chops with green beans, almonds, butter and cauliflower.
How’s your experience at Turbine’s Island Cafe been so far?
I absolutely love it. People walk in every day and are so impressed. It’s like a museum- it’s so beautiful. I’m so blessed
Is there another chef that you admire? Who and why?
Locally, Jenny Morris, the Giggling Gourmet. I met her as a student at the Food and Wine Show. She’s down-to-earth, friendly and chatty, and absolutely loves food. Internationally, Marco Pierre White. He’s old school and hardcore. All about the food, being professional and being the best you can be.
Something exciting you’ve done with your time at Turbine?
Knysna-based Chocolats Marionnettes and I did a high tea for their staff, to celebrate their hard work. They make chocolates to pair with individual wines, so it was incredible to reward them for all they do.
Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?
Consistency. As simple as that. That’s why people come back.
Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?
Consider carefully. Being a chef is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.
Anything exciting coming up at the Island Cafe?
The wine tasting and food pairing evenings are great, and everyone should keep an eye out because we’ll be organising a few in the next few months. We’re releasing our new menu soon, so that’s definitely worth coming to the Island Cafe to try! There are also some new banting options on the menu, which are popular, healthy and delicious, so everyone should stop by.
For more information on the exciting specials and delectable menu at Turbine Hotel’s Island Cafe, visit our website or call +27 (0)44 302 5746 .