SA’s own Chantel Dart­nall

Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By Shireen Fisher

‘ Ididn’t have a clue that I would win,’ says Chantel. ‘It was just such a priv­i­lege to have been nom­i­nated with peo­ple I’ve looked up to and ad­mired from afar. I at­tended the cer­e­mony just be­cause I’d get to meet some of these gi­ants.’ Her win felt slightly sur­real for a long time, she says. ‘Af­ter a fre­netic end-of-year ser­vice I had to go away, un­wind and re­ally let it sink in.’

The Best Chef Awards show­case the culi­nary artistry and vis­ual pre­sen­ta­tion of the world’s top chefs. The win­ners are se­lected in six cat­e­gories by 300 vot­ers – made up of chefs, food writ­ers and culi­nary ex­perts from all over the world – as well as over 1 mil­lion fol­low­ers on the com­pe­ti­tion’s dig­i­tal plat­form.

The 37-year-old’s jour­ney to the top seems to have been in­evitable. ‘I’ve al­ways been pas­sion­ate about food – apart from the 15 min­utes in Grade 9 when I thought I wanted to be a hair­dresser!’ she jokes. ‘I’ve al­ways wanted to cook, and I’ve al­ways wanted to run my own restau­rant.’

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Prue Leith Chefs Academy, Chantel was of­fered a spot in the kitchen of ac­claimed UK chef Nico Lade­nis at his three-star Miche­lin restau­rant, Chez Nico, in Lon­don.

‘When I be­gan work­ing in Lon­don I was fresh out of col­lege,’ she says. ‘I’d worked in some won­der­ful kitchens in South Africa dur­ing my prac­ti­cal place­ment, like Eller­man House with Chef Craig McCor­mack, then Ile de France with Chef Marc Gue­bert. I was very ex­cited to be­gin work­ing with Lade­nis and with Chef Michael Caines at Gi­dleigh Park af­ter that.

‘Our work­ing hours were in­tense, but it taught me about stamina, ded­i­ca­tion and per­se­ver­ance. The most im­por­tant les­son I learned, not only in Lon­don but also from the lo­cal chefs I trained un­der, was con­sis­tency. The say­ing “you’re only as good as the last plate you send out of the kitchen” was drilled into us. Noth­ing but “per­fec­tion” was al­lowed to leave the kitchen.’

‘I’ve al­ways been pas­sion­ate about food – apart from the 15 min­utes in Grade 9 hair­dresser!’ when I thought I wanted to be a

All the long hours and hard work have paid off, earn­ing Chantel the po­si­tion she finds her­self in to­day: hav­ing es­tab­lished one of this coun­try’s finest culi­nary es­tab­lish­ments and col­lab­o­rat­ing with some of the world’s top chefs.

‘To be able to open Restau­rant Mo­saic 11 years ago and build up its rep­u­ta­tion on both the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional stage was a dream come true.’

Restau­rant Mo­saic at The Ori­ent bou­tique ho­tel in Pre­to­ria is sit­u­ated in the beau­ti­ful Fran­colin Con­ser­vancy, which is also where Chantel, an only child, grew up. It’s home to abun­dant wildlife and indige­nous plants, and it’s where Chantel’s culi­nary imag­i­na­tion can run wild.

‘This was my play­ground as a lit­tle girl, where I could ex­per­i­ment and ex­plore, and it still is. When I came back from Lon­don it seemed only nat­u­ral for me to open the restau­rant of my dreams in an en­vi­ron­ment that is so close to my heart.’

She de­scribes her cui­sine as pas­sion­ate, fem­i­nine and botan­i­cal, and in­sists on us­ing or­ganic and sea­sonal pro­duce. Her mis­sion is to de­liver ‘na­ture on a plate’. Michel Bras, the fa­ther of botan­i­cal cook­ing, in­flu­ences her sig­nif­i­cantly.

‘His restau­rant is on top of the Aubrac plateau in Laguiole, France, about four hours from Paris, in the mid­dle of nowhere. You get there by driv­ing along wind­ing coun­try roads. Just one salad has 29 dif­fer­ent veg­eta­bles. You can just feel your­self start­ing to glow with health af­ter eat­ing it!’

Chantel says most of the reg­u­lars at her restau­rant are as pas­sion­ate about food as she is and love the com­plete food and wine ex­pe­ri­ence they get there. Restau­rant Mo­saic boasts one of the most com­pre­hen­sive and lauded wine cel­lars in Africa, com­pris­ing more than 75000 bot­tles un­der 5500 dif­fer­ent lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional la­bels. Each course is paired with what the team be­lieves is the per­fect wine to en­hance it.

The eatery also pairs meals for pa­trons who don’t drink al­co­hol:

‘We put as much thought into the non-al­co­holic pair­ings as we do for the wine pair­ings,’ says Chantel.

She has a great re­la­tion­ship with her team, many of whom have worked at the restau­rant since it first opened.

‘I couldn’t have achieved what I have with­out them. I’m proud of how Restau­rant Mo­saic has ma­tured, men­tored and grown its staff in the decade we’ve been op­er­at­ing. It’s all about pass­ing the pas­sion and the knowl­edge for­ward,’ she says.

‘I’ve al­ways ad­mired chefs like Spain’s Elena Arzak and France’s Sébastien Bras, and I com­peted against them,’ she says. ‘So many have in­spired me – Alain Roux, An­drew Fair­lie, Anne-So­phie Pic, Ge­orges Blanc, Gert de Man­geleer, Pe­ter Goossens and Pas­cal Bar­bot. I’m also for­tu­nate to travel and dine in some of the world’s finest es­tab­lish­ments. These culi­nary jour­neys have been truly in­spi­ra­tional.’

Named South African Chef of the Year by EatOut mag­a­zine in both 2009 and 2015, Chantel was also voted 2017 Chef of the Year for Africa and the Mid­dle East by the Lux­ury Travel Guide Awards, which recog­nise and cel­e­brate ex­cel­lence across all sec­tors of the lux­ury travel and tourism in­dus­try. At the 2017 EatOut Restau­rant Awards, her restau­rant won the Ser­vice Ex­cel­lence Award, the Wine Ser­vice Award for som­me­lier Moses Mag­waza, and claimed se­cond spot in the top 10 Best Restau­rants of South Africa.

With haute cui­sine be­ing such a male-dom­i­nated field, Chantel is clearly shak­ing things up.

‘It’s a tough, male-ori­en­tated in­dus­try and, with­out los­ing your fem­i­nin­ity, you have to be tough as well. You have to un­der­stand that the hours are long. You have to give up a lot. But it’s in my blood.’

Her most re­cent ac­co­lade has placed Restau­rant Mo­saic on both the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional maps.

‘We had to open on ex­tra days to ac­com­mo­date peo­ple who wanted to visit the restau­rant af­ter our win, so we’ve been very blessed. There’s also been a lot of in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion as I was put in the same cat­e­gory as ma­jor Miche­lin-starred chefs,’ Chantel says.

‘Those who have fol­lowed Mo­saic since we opened 11 years ago know that I’ve never re­mained static when it comes to cre­at­ing dishes, so it will con­tinue to be an evo­lu­tion for us. We al­ways push our­selves to be bet­ter and to pro­duce a menu that will please both the eye and the palate. I want to keep on grow­ing in culi­nary terms and ex­plor­ing all facets of food.’

With so much go­ing on, does she ever have a mo­ment to re­lax?

‘Of course! I love spend­ing quiet time at home with my loved ones, re­lax­ing in the gar­den or watch­ing a movie. I also binge on se­ries – all usu­ally on a Mon­day – my day off.’

The ho­tel and restau­rant close an­nu­ally in June and July for a win­ter break, and Chantel uses this time to travel and taste. One of her favourite des­ti­na­tions is France, es­pe­cially Paris, which is her gourmet hub.

‘We usu­ally spend a few days there to un­wind, dine, shop and stock up on es­sen­tial spices be­fore we head to other parts of Europe. I also have a spe­cial place in my heart for the Far East… I’m fas­ci­nated by the cul­ture and tra­di­tions – and, of course, the food!’

So are her friends in­tim­i­dated to cook for her?

Chantel laughs. ‘I’m lucky to have a group of friends who have ex­celled in their own fields – paint­ing, sculpt­ing, film pro­duc­ing and writ­ing – and I’m hum­bled by their achieve­ments. They’re not at all in­tim­i­dated when they cook for me! They know that even the sim­plest dish seems like a gourmet meal when we’re to­gether.’


push our­selves to pro­duce a menu that will please both the eye and the palate. I want to keep on ex­plor­ing

food.’ all facets of

Chantel at the beau­ti­fully styled Restau­rant Mo­saic.

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