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Popular South African chef David Higgs made his name in Johannesburg with his contemporary restaurant Five Hundred located inside the Saxon Hotel.
Since honoured as the Eat Out S.Pellegrino Chef of the Year in 2013, he has also nurtured future chef talent at the Higgs School of Good Cooking before embarking on his most recent project embracing cooking on coals.
Higgs was mentor to the Africa and Middle East finalist at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015, Angelo Scirocco, who has since gone on to open his own restaurant. This year he speaks to us as a judge on the panel of top international chefs responsible for selecting the young chef to be crowned S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016. Here's what he told us.
What advice would you offer to the young chefs of today?
Gather as much information in the kitchen as possible. Keep your eyes open and ask questions. Work quickly and don't be scared to experiment. But you need to understand the basics…
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given to you?
Don't worry about the kitchen politics that go on everyday. Stay out of it and concentrate on the job at hand.
Tell us about a time when you remember making a mistake as a young chef: what happened, where were you working and what did you learn?
I went from working breakfast in a small hotel to working in one of the top restaurants in South Africa after a year. I still had no idea of what tomato concass was or how to turn a potato, and nobody wanted to show me ... I learnt a lot about teamwork and how you should grow young cooks in the kitchen rather than alienate them.
What do you miss most about being a young chef?
It was all about the service and the pressure of service. Looking forward to the next rush. I still have that, but being in your own place the pressures are different. When you are young you just want to be on the line.
What do you anticipate will be the challenges in your role in this year's competition?
It's always challenging when you have a panel of the world's best chefs sitting next to you with all different opinions of what is right or wrong, good or bad, relevant or not. So I see the challenge of choosing the right winner being crucial. It means a lot to these young chefs.
You are seen as one of the leaders of contemporary South African cuisine. How would you describe South African cuisine to someone who has never tasted, seen or heard of it?
SA cuisine is always tricky to explain, but the bottom line is that we all love cooking on fire and we love meat. So with live fire cooking becoming so fashionable and trendy, it really fits in quite well with our local traditions.
What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the immediate future?
I have just opened my own place Marble restaurant with my partner Gary Kyriacou. We have some great plans, but our priority for now is to make sure Marble runs smoothly and then we will see. Marble is a live fire restaurant where we continuously experiment and play with what is possible with fire, coals and smoking.